What TV’s on at the BFI in July? Including a Harold Pinter season, Brownlow on Hollywood and a Strangers preview

John Simm in ITV's Strangers

Every month, TMINE lets you know what TV the BFI will be presenting at the South Bank in London

It’s Harold Pinter season in July, with wall-to-wall Pinter plays, including some which he acted in or directed as well. However, there’s also an episode of Brownlow on Hollywood from 1980, looking at silent movies, as well as a preview of ITV’s forthcoming thriller Strangers (formerly known as White Dragon), starring John Simm and Emilia Fox, who will also be attending a Q&A afterwards.

Details after the whole of Brownlow on Hollywood, if you’re intrigued by the history of US movie-making and have 13 hours to spare…

…or if you prefer it, Pinter’s The Birthday Party, in which he also appears, which is this week’s Weekly Play.


Sunday 1 July

17:00 NFT2
The Hothouse
BBC 1982. Dir Harold Pinter. With Derek Newark, Angela Pleasence, James Grant. 155min

Written in 1958 but not produced until 1980, Pinter’s play is an eerily prophetic work about a secretive state institution designed to cure social dissidents. With riotous invention, Pinter shows how the staff are borderline insane, and themselves victims of the bureaucratic machine they’re operating. This extraordinary work is like a farce written by Kafka and proves Pinter was always a political writer.
Plus animated sketch The Applicant (1969. Dir Gerald Potterton. 4min).

Tuesday 3 July

18:15 NFT 3
Harold Pinter: Writing for the Screen
TRT 90min

One of the most important British playwrights of the last century, Harold Pinter also had a significant career writing for the screen. In this panel discussion, our invited speakers will consider the importance of his work for TV and cinema, and how his dramas have crossed media from stage to screen or screen to stage. The panel will explore the collaborative work of the screenwriter and touch on some of the themes in Pinter’s writing.
Tickets £6.50

20:30 NFT2
Television Playhouse: The Room
ITV 1961. Dir Alvin Rakoff. With Catherine Lacey, JG Devlin, Daniel Massey. 49min

Rose, a nervously talkative woman, finds her bedsit invaded by a succession of visitors: her landlord;
a young married couple; a mysterious blind man living in the basement. With his first stage play, Pinter thrillingly lays out the territory he was to make very much his own – the distinctive character of rooms, the perils of withdrawal from the outside world, the inescapable demands of the past. An astonishing debut.

+ Summer Season: The Dumb Waiter
BBC 1985. Dir Kenneth Ives. With Colin Blakely, Kenneth Cranham. 55min

A couple of contract killers await instructions in a deserted basement only to find their orders turning into ever more grotesque requests for food from the restaurant above. Brief, bleak and funny, the piece was one of Pinter’s earliest plays and combines the staccato rhythms of music hall cross-talk with a mounting sense of terror, as if the Hackney Empire of his youth had cross-fertilised with Hemingway’s The Killers.

Sunday 15 July

17:30 NFT3
Theatre Night: The Birthday Party
BBC 1987. Dir Kenneth Ives. With Harold Pinter, Julie Walters, Joan Plowright, Kenneth Cranham. 80min

A rare chance to see Pinter acting in his own work. As Goldberg, who along with McCann comes to take away the feral Stanley, Pinter not only exudes a sinister avuncularity, but reminds us that the two intruders are themselves victims. A first-rate cast, in a light, tight production.

+ Armchair Theatre: A Night Out
ITV 1960. Dir Philip Saville. With Harold Pinter, Tom Bell, Vivien Merchant, Arthur Lowe, Madge Ryan. 53min

In this play about male insecurity, 28-year-old Albert seeks to escape a possessive mother, is accused of inappropriate behaviour at an office party and winds up with a genteel sex-worker. Tom Bell as Albert and Vivien Merchant as the prostitute are riveting, Pinter himself puts in a cameo appearance, and the play beat Sunday Night at the London Palladium to second place in the TV ratings.

Sunday 22 July

13:30 NFT1
Brownlow on Hollywood + intro by Kevin Brownlow
1980 Thames Television. Dirs Kevin Brownlow, David Gill. 90min. Format tbc. With Carl Davis score. With thanks to Fremantle Media

Kevin Brownlow and David Gill’s Hollywood series, narrated by James Mason, created a generational shift in the public’s consciousness of the history of Hollywood and their appreciation of silent film – helping spawn the vibrant silent cinema scene we know today. We’re thrilled to invite Brownlow himself to present an episode, plus some bonus extra footage.

15:40 NFT2
The Caretaker
BBC 1981. Dir Kenneth Ives. With Warren Mitchell, Jonathan Pryce, Kenneth Cranham. 120min

Kenneth Ives’s production, filmed for television and then staged at the National Theatre, brought out different aspects of this endlessly fascinating play. Mitchell highlighted the ruthlessness, as well as the insecurity, of the bullying vagrant. Ives also made us realise that the touching relationship between the two brothers, the entrepreneurial Mick and the brain-damaged Aston, lies at the heart of Pinter’s play.

Tuesday 24 July

18:00 NFT1
TV preview: Strangers + Q&A with actors John Simm and Emilia Fox, and creators Mark Denton and Jonny Stockwood, chaired by ITN’s Nina Hossain
ITV-Two Brothers Pictures 2018. Dir Paul Andrew Williams. With John Simm, Anthony Wong, Emilia Fox, Dervla Kirwan. Eps 1 & 2. Total 92min

Join us for a preview of ITV’s new eight-part conspiracy thriller, from the makers of Liar and The Missing. Professor Jonah Mulray’s (Simm) life is turned upside-down when his wife, Megan (Kirwan), is killed in a car-crash in Hong Kong. Now he must cross oceans to bring home the woman he loved. But not long after arriving, Jonah makes a shocking discovery about Megan, which draws him into a web of conspiracy. With the help of Sally Porter (Fox) of the British Consulate, Jonah must navigate this utterly alien environment and uncover the truth about his wife’s death.

Saturday 28 July

15:45 NFT2
The Dwarfs
BBC 2002. Dir Christopher Morahan. With Mark Rice-Oxley, Jamie Lee, Ben Caplan, Daisy Haggard. 105min

Pinter’s only novel gives a vivid picture of life amongst Hackney intellectuals in the 1950s, and explores the politics of friendship. A young actor and an angst-ridden City worker fight over a girl, watched by a disturbed mutual chum. One of Pinter’s most formative, unjustly neglected early works is adapted by Kerry Crabbe. Plus animated sketch Trouble in the Works (1969. Dir Gerald Potterton. 4min).

Sunday 29 July

Laurence Olivier Presents: The Collection
ITV 1976. Dir Michael Apted. With Laurence Olivier, Helen Mirren, Alan Bates, Malcolm McDowell. 63min

First seen on television in 1961, and later on stage, this is a classic Pinter play that seems to be about the elusiveness of truth. It also shows, as two couples seek to resolve what took place one night in a Leeds hotel room, how people manipulate the unverifiable to their own advantage. Olivier, in a stellar cast, is unforgettable as a vindictive couturier.

+ The Lover
ITV 1963. Dir Joan Kemp-Welch. With Vivien Merchant, Alan Badel. 63min

A brilliant play that suggests Noel Coward crossed with Jean Genet: a study in the way any long-term relationship needs to be sustained by fantasy and illusion. Pinter also revealingly suggests, as in The Collection, that women more easily cope with sexual roleplay and contain more equilibrium than men. Merchant and Badel are impeccable as a well-heeled couple spicing up the monotony of monogamy.

Booking times

Patrons and champions’ priority booking: Monday 4 June from 11.30am
Members’ priority booking opens: Tuesday 5 June from 11.30am
Public booking opens: Tuesday 12 June from 11.30am


Members: £9.50
Member concs: £7.20
Non-members: £11.50
Non-member concs: £9.20
Under 16s: £6

Reduced prices for weekday matinees. Concessionary 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.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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