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Rattigan, (Sir) Terence

RATTIGAN, (Sir) Terence

Writer. Nationality: British. Born: London, 10 June 1911. Education: Attended Harrow School and Oxford University. Career: Playwright; first play, French without Tears, also screenplay. Awards: CBE, 1958; Knight Bachelor, 1971. Died: Of bone cancer in Bermuda, 30 November 1977.

Films as Writer:


French without Tears (Asquith)


Quiet Wedding (Asquith) (co); The Day Will Dawn (The Avengers) (French) (co); Uncensored (Asquith) (co)


English without Tears (French) (co)


Journey Together (Boulting) (co); The Way to the Stars (Asquith)


While the Sun Shines (Asquith)


Bond Street (Parry) (co); The Winslow Boy (Asquith)


The Browning Version (Asquith)


The Sound Barrier (Breaking the Sound Barrier) (Lean)


The Final Test (Asquith)


The Man Who Loved Redheads (French)


The Deep Blue Sea (Litvak)


The Prince and the Showgirl (The Sleeping Prince) (Olivier)


Separate Tables (Delbert Mann) (co)


The V.I.P.s (International Hotel) (Asquith)


The Yellow Rolls-Royce (Asquith)


Goodbye Mr. Chips (Wood)


Bequest to the Nation (The Nelson Affair) (Cellan Jones)


In Praise of Love (Rakoff)


On RATTIGAN: books—

Darlow, Michael, and Gillian Hodson, Terence Rattigan, the Man and His Work, London, 1979.

Ruskino, Susan, Terence Rattigan, New York, 1983.

Wansell, Geoffrey, Terence Rattigan: A Biography, New York, 1997.

On RATTIGAN: articles—

Obituary in Variety (New York), 7 December 1977.

Obituary in International Film Collector, no. 21, March 1978.

National Film Theatre booklet (London), July 1979.

Modern Drama, September 1990.

* * *

Terence Rattigan's screenplays belong to the long and not altogether successful—cinematically speaking—British tradition of filming adaptations of established novels and plays. Rattigan contributed to over 20 screenplays, seven based on his own plays, but he only ever really regarded cinema as a financial safety net. He advised screenwriters "to throw off the shackles of the director" and remember that the modern cinema is "the child not only of its mother, the silent film, but also of its father, the drama."

Rattigan began his professional career in the writers' room at the old Teddington Studios, an experience he hated. His first ever screenplay was torn up in front of his eyes but he freely admitted in later years that this early experience had been invaluable in that it taught him the most ruthless economy of technique. His marvellous grasp of film craft is evident in his adaptations of his stage successes like The Browning Version, French without Tears, Separate Tables, The Winslow Boy, The Deep Blue Sea, and The Man Who Loved Redheads. His best work consists of polished dramas with a strong sense of social justice and he had a very assured touch with regard to audience involvement and emotional satisfaction. He also wrote original screenplays, notably The V.I.P.s and The Yellow Rolls-Royce where the gaiety of the jokes drowns out the deep moan of human discontent and unhappiness, but only superficially. Even in these polished comedies it is evident that Rattigan's outlook is essentially tragic. French without Tears, for example, is ostensibly a simple comedy centred around the romantic entanglements of a group of young Englishmen in a French crammer. However, Rattigan manages to reveal much of the underlying mood of the wealthy younger generation of the 1930s, hinting at the deeper conflicts in their political and sexual attitudes.

Rattigan contributed incalculably to Anthony Asquith's The Way to the Stars and Journey Together. The Way to the Stars is a classic evocation of wartime Britain which concentrates on the relationships of groups of British and American airmen. Originally commissioned to create a propaganda exercise to promote Allied understanding, Asquith and Rattigan managed to craft a film of great emotional depth and power.

The best of Rattigan's writing exemplified on the surface the cool, orderly gentlemanly code of English playwriting (rather in the style of Noël Coward with whom he is often compared both dramatically and cinematically), but the subtext was always a remorseless attack on the British fear of emotion and its relentless repression. He made moving pleas in his work for affection, kindness, and understanding as well as forgiveness. His masterpiece is The Browning Version, expanded by the author from his one-act play into Asquith's most satisfying film. It is a minutely observed study of a sickly schoolmaster, in which the playwright orchestrates a series of petty humiliations and minor crises which lead to a final emotional climax of great force. The film's philosophical implications go well beyond the story's naturalistic setting, and gave Michael Redgrave, as the schoolmaster, arguably the finest part in his distinguished career.

—Sylvia Paskin

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