August 2011 at the BFI

Time for our regular look at what TV’s on at the South Bank in London in August. This month, there’s a season of plays and movies written by Simon Gray, an event dedicated to the fantastic world of Irwin Allen, two episodes of Anthony Newley’s surreal David Bowie-influencing The Strange World of Gurney Slade and a recently recovered BBC biopic of Rembrandt.

  • 2nd: Fantastic Television: The Weird Worlds of Irwin Allen
    BFI celebrates Irwin Allen’s legacy, 20 years after his death, with on-stage discussion, clips, DVD extras and opportunity to win Irwin Allen-related prizes
  • 9th: Screen Two: They Never Slept + Discussion with producer Kenith Trodd, and directors Udayan Prasad & Christopher Morahan
    Possessing the charm of an Ealing comedy and Simon Gray’s feel for irony, this tale of derring-do amongst the murky world of World War II agents is by turns farcical and deeply tragic. A delicate balancing act, with the superb cast managing to keep all the balls in the air. As with all Gray’s comedies, the lightness of touch conceals a darker underbelly, raising questions about propaganda and the price of life in wartime. Includes a discussion with a panel, all of whom worked with Simon Gray extensively, of Gray’s contribution to television drama and the theatre. Illustrated with clips of his works, including some rare and early material.
  • 10th: Rembrandt
    A BBC biopic of the artist, recently discovered in the Library of Congress
  • 11th: The Strange World of Gurney Slade: two episodes + extracts + discussion
    Anthony Newley stars in this cross between The Prisoner and Monty Python, in which an everyman rails against everyday life by retreating into a fantasy land of his own making. Anneke Wills will be at the event, and some special guests are expected.
  • 12th: Play for Today: Plaintiffs & Defendants + Two Sundays
    With Alan Bates, Dinsdale Landen, Georgina Hale. These two plays were written as a pair, the one commenting on the other. Gray deftly captures a sense of mid-life crisis overwhelming our central character, brilliantly portrayed by Alan Bates. As an affair turns sour, he is forced to examine his life and does not like what he sees. What is the significance of childhood memories to the man he has become? Cleverly inverting the lives of the two central characters from Plaintiffs, Gray then plays with how different their lives could have been, exploring in greater depth the complex nature of their friendship at public school. But which boy becomes which man? Bates and Landen seem made for Gray’s searingly intelligent insight into the complexities of male friendship.
  • 19th: Screem Two: After Pilkington
    With Bob Peck, Miranda Richardson, Barry Foster. A darkly comic thriller set amongst the academic community of Oxford. When Professor Pilkington disappears, rumours of his murder abound. Meeting a childhood sweetheart (Richardson) by chance, James (Peck) finds he is obsessed with her again, but little does he realise how fatal the attraction may prove. A recurrent theme in Gray’s work – the power of childhood experiences to determine our adult lives – is once more explored in this beautifully performed Prix Italia winner in which Miranda Richardson gives what many regard as still her most memorable performance.
  • 23rd: Screen Two: Old Flames
    With Simon Callow, Stephen Fry, Miriam Margolyes. Daniel Davenport (Fry) is a self assured barrister, but when an old acquaintance from schooldays (Callow) turns up, both find their lives turned upside down and both prove to have their secrets. One of Gray’s constant themes, the consequences of the past, here examines the murkier recesses of the public school system. Great performances from Fry, Callow and Margolyes combine with an assured tone from Christopher Morahan’s direction that catches just the right level of menace and black humour in this dark comedy of manners with a daring and surprising climax.
  • 26th: Unnatural Pursuits: Part 1: I’m the Author + Part 2: I Don’t Do Cuddles
    With Alan Bates, Richard Wilson, Nigel Planer, Bob Balaban, John Mahoney. This International Emmy-winner was prompted by one of the diaries that became Gray’s best known work. It’s a classic account of a writer’s obsession as he crosses the world to perfect and protect his latest play. Receiving lukewarm reviews in London, writer Hamish Partt (Bates) is tempted by an offer to remount his play in the US. Cue a wonderful clash of cultures between the chainsmoking anti-hero and America. Gray pulls out all the stops with an imaginative use of dream sequences and parody musical numbers, including a nightmarish portrayal by Wilson of a fellow playwright who dogs his every move.
  • 27th: Screen One: Running Late + Screen Two: Femme Fatale
    With Peter Bowles, Michael Byrne, Adrian Rawlins. George Grant (Bowles) is a highly successful television personality renowned for destroying reputations on air. Until the day his wife leaves him… A beautifully constructed day of reckoning with a twist in the tale. Followed by Gray’s final film for television, with Colin Welland, Sophia Diaz, Simon Callow. Callow’s marvellous vicar watches helplessly as the fates intervene in a fantastical tale of lust and death occasioned by the arrival of a fatally attractive young Italian woman into a closed Devon village community. Callow’s narrator ironically comments on the action as the death toll mounts – in a film by turns immensely funny and surprisingly uncomfortable.

Champions’ priority booking: 11.30am July 4
Members’ priority booking opens: 11.30am July 5
Public booking opens: July 12

£8.00 (members)
£5.25 (member concs)
£9.50 (non-members)
£6.75 (non-members concs)
Under 16s £5.

All shows are £5 on Tuesdays. Conc prices are available to senior citizens, students, unwaged and disability visitors. Proof of eligibility may be required.

As always, visit the BFI web site for more details.