Frustrated at the class-bound nature of English society and his own unfulfilled ambitions, working-class boy made not so good Jimmy Porter takes out his frustrations on his upper-middle-class wife Alison - who, unbeknownst to Jimmy, is pregnant - and friend Cliff, finally driving Alison away before embarking on an affair with her friend Helena, leading - or at least contributing - to Alison's miscarriage.

We might speculate on the viscittudes of John Osborne's seminal Angry Young Man work over the 50, or so, years since its premiere thus: unquestionably groundbreaking on its arrival, exposing the discontent of a generation frustrated by the failure of British - perhaps especially English - society to open up post World War II, its relevance likely declined in the subsequent decade in the wake of people "never having it so good" and the emergence of a younger Baby Boomer population, who benefitted from opening salvoes against the ancient regime that Porter and his ilk had launched. This probably continued to be the case into the Seventies, as feminism came to the forefront.

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The play's emphasis on class over gender politics and dubious misogyny marks it out as of a different time. Ditto for the Conservative Eighties and Nineties when Porter must have seemed ever more an anachronistic throwback - an impression confirmed by the increasingly reactionary stance assumed by both Osborne and his character, eventually revived in 1991's Deja Vu as an older, but by no means wiser, nor more peaceable, man.

And yet now in 2004, in the wake of ever-increasing disillusionment with our present government, with the new boss ever more like the old boss, the play seems somehow more relevant.

What "good causes" are there when our governments go to war on dubious pretexts, as and when it suits them, and when the socialist alternative seems so throughly discredited? How many Jimmy - and Jenny - Porters are out there, deceived about the value of their education and marginally employed in call centres and the like, their ambitions thwarted and potential unfulfilled?

Unfortunately, such musings are of little relevance when it comes to this 1989 television adaptation by Kenneth Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Co, which - in sharp contrast to Tony Richardson's 1958 film, adapted for the screen by Nigel Kneale from Osborne's play - takes a thoroughly reverential and faithful approach to its material, setting all the action within the confines of the cramped, over-priced flat - yet another contemporary resonance - the Porters and Cliff rent.

True, the piece sometimes seems to fall akwardly between film and theatre, the performances a touch too broad for the former and the direction a touch too intrusive for the latter.

But against this, it could be argued that with television, it's the dialogue that really takes centre stage and here this Look Back In Anger really shines, with the venom and frustration of Branagh's Porter coming through loud and clear.

Not that - in contrast to the overwhelming presence of Richard Burton in the 1958 version - this is a one-man show, with each of the performers getting their chance to shine. As Alison, you feel that Emma Thomson, as the priviliged Oxbridge graduate, who married the working-class Ulster lad, is somehow to the manner born, while the versatile Siobhan Redmond demonstrates that she can play (ostensibly) prim and proper Home Counties as easily as fiery Celtic fringe.

Yet, whatever its individual merits and shortcomings, it seems unlikely that this production will ever be more than a footnote to the original(s).

Reviewed on: 29 May 2004
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TV version of Osborne's play about a working class man who takes out his frustrations on his upper middle-class wife.
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Director: Judi Dench

Writer: John Osborne

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Siobhan Redmond, Gerard Horan, Edward Jewsbury

Year: 1989

Runtime: 115 minutes

Country: UK


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