What TV’s on at the BFI in May 2014

It’s time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in May 2014. Edwardian drama is top of the bill this month – bet you didn’t see that coming? In fact, it’s the only thing on the bill, so savour it, since as well as a Q&A with Zoë Wanamaker, there are plays featuring Jeremy Brett, Sean Connery, Patrick Stewart, Ian Richardson, Jeremy Irons, André Morrell, Peter Vaughan, Annette Crosby, Timothy West, Anna Calder-Marshall and Colin Firth, to name but a few.

Thu 1 May 17:50 NFT2
Play of the Month: An Ideal Husband
BBC 1969. Dir Rudolph Cartier. With Margaret Leighton, Keith Michell, Dinah Sheridan, Susan Hampshire, Jeremy Brett. 85min
In the 1960s Rudoloph Cartier was the BBC’s supreme exponent of sumptuous studio drama. This glittering version of Oscar Wilde’s 1895 comedy is among the finest demonstrations of the director’s mastery, as well as perhaps television’s most compelling presentation of the writer’s work. A tale of hypocrisy and political corruption, the play is a fascinating (and often criticised) examination of ‘the woman question,’ and a reflection of the stresses of Wilde’s life. Margaret Leighton contributes a stellar performance as the blackmailing Mrs Cheveley.
+ Riders to the Sea
BBC 1960. Dir George R. Foa. With Sybil Thorndike, Sean Connery. 28min
This austere version of JM Synge’s mystical tale of the Aran Islands, first performed in 1904, was made for BBC Schools. In addition to a convincing cameo by Sean Connery, it features a truly remarkable performance by Sybil Thorndike, who began her professional career in 1904.

Thu 8 May 20:40 NFT2
Theatre Night: The Devil’s Disciple
BBC 1987. Dir David Jones. With Patrick Stewart, Ian Richardson, Elizabeth Spriggs, Mike Gwilym. 120min
In the late 70s and 80s David Jones, who had worked extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company, breathed new life into the studio presentation of classic plays on television. His energy and rigour as a director is exemplified by this enormously enjoyable staging of George Bernard Shaw’s 1897 comic ‘melodrama’ set in Colonial America during the War of Independence. Ian Richardson, Patrick Stewart and Mike Gwilym, all also stalwarts of the RSC at this time, relish the arguments and antagonisms in Shaw’s polished prose.

Thu 15 May 20:45 NFT2
Play of the Month: The Voysey Inheritance
BBC 1979. Dir Robert Knights. With Jeremy Irons, Brewster Mason, Julie Covington. 100min

Harley Granville-Barker’s 1905 play has the surface allure of a society drama centred on a respected solicitor. Yet it begins with Edward Voysey discovering that his father has been misusing clients’ funds, and becomes a powerful critique of Edwardian society. Jeremy Irons is especially effective as a man trying to do the right thing for both the victims and his family, yet who is unable to escape the logic of capitalism. This dissection of law, religion, artistic freedom and modern marriage is wonderfully realised by a standout cast and Robert Knights’ assured use of the studio.

Tue 20 May 18:00 NFT3
Play of the Month: Waste
BBC 1977. Dir Don Taylor. With Paul Daneman, Annette Crosby, André Morrell. 120min
Director Don Taylor was a true auteur of studio drama, as well as a passionate advocate for the form. His controlled precision is perfectly suited to Harley Granville-Barker’s devastating study of sex and power, and the personal and political in Edwardian England. Henry Trebell is a member of parliament who has an affair with Amy O’Connell, a married woman who subsequently dies after a botched abortion. In 1907 the subject matter led to the play being banned by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, and over 100 years later the drama’s radical vision remains strikingly potent.

Fri 23 May 18:00 NFT3
Theatre Night: Strife
BBC 1988. Dir Michael Darlow. With Peter Vaughan, Timothy West, Kate Buffery, Anna Calder-Marshall. 130min
The final day of a bitter dispute in a tin-plate works plays out in John Galsworthy’s 1909 examination of the conflict between management and workers. The playwright’s sympathies are divided, and compared with most drama of the period there is a strong focus on the issue of class that foreshadows the political changes which the coming war will advance. At the centre of the drama is a head-to-head clash of two stubborn men: factory owner John Anthony and strike leader David Roberts, played wonderfully by Peter Vaughan and Timothy West respectively.

Tue 27 May 18:10 NFT3
Performance: The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd + Q&A with Zoë Wanamaker (work permitting)
BBC 1995. Dir Katie Mitchell. With Zoë Wanamaker, Stephen Dillane, Colin Firth, Brenda Bruce. 90min

DH Lawrence’s 1911 drama of working-class life has been adapted for British TV three times. This most recent version is the only small screen production by acclaimed theatre director Katie Mitchell, who for much of the play confines her remarkable cast in a single room of a miner’s cottage until tragedy strikes – creating a drama that one critic described as ‘utterly heart-breaking.’

Champions’ priority booking: March 31 11.30am
Members’ priority booking opens: April 1 11.30am
Public booking opens: April 8 11.30am

£9.50 (members)
£7.00 (member concs)
£11.00 (non-members)
£8.50 (non-members concs)
Under 16s £6.00.

All shows are £6 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.