The Wednesday Play: The Changeling (1974)

Helen Mirren in one of English tragedy's best roles

One of the most famous – and best – plays of the English Renaissance is The Changeling by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. First performed in 1622, it has two parallel plots, one tragic, one comedic. The main plot involves Beatrice-Joanna, Alonzo (to whom she is betrothed) and Alsemero (whom she loves). To rid herself of Alonzo, Beatrice uses De Flores – who loves her – to murder him. The other plot involves Alibius and his wife Isabella. Franciscus and Antonio are in love with her and pretend to be a madman and a fool, respectively, in order to see her. Lollio also wants her.

To preserve the element of suspense, I won’t tell you which is the comedic plot and which is the tragic one.

In 1974, Anthony Page directed a version of the play for the BBC’s Play of the Month strand that starred Helen Mirren as Beatrice-Joanna, Brian Cox as Alsemero, Stanley Baker as De Flores, Tony Selby as Jasperino and Susan Penhaligon as Isabella. Needless to say, it’s pretty good, and it’s today Wednesday Play.

If you like it, buy it on DVD – it’s one of the Helen Mirren at the BBC collection, which also includes The Apple Cart, Caesar and Claretta, The Philanthropist, The Little Minister, The Country Wife, Blue Remembered Hills, Mrs Reinhardt, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cymbeline and The Hawk. That’s 17 hours for £12.50, which I reckon’s pretty good…