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The Entertainer

That this 1959 film of the John Osborne play was broadcast at midday on BBC2 says it all. The schedulers are never going to put it up against Love Island.

It’s an irony that the very playwrights – Terence Rattigan and Noel Coward – that the angry young men cast aside and critic Ken Tynan lambasted have proved the more enduring  and their plays more often produced. The Entertainer is set in 1956 at the time of Suez and depicts the decline of musical hall performer Archie Rice, himself symbolic and an allegory  of the national decline. The film is set in Brighton and the Winter Gardens is called the Theatre Royal.

It’s now dated but the acting, particularly Laurence Olivier as Archie Rice, is excellent.

The cast includes the young Alan Bates and Albert Finney as his two sons and Joan Plowright, whom Olivier went onto marry, as his daughter.

There is much railing from her when Archie, after judging a beauty contest, takes up with the youthful, nubile  winner played by Shirley Ann Field.

It’s always fun to spot in the smaller accredited roles a future star and I noted Nigel Davenport as the theatre manager.

There is caricature of a Jewish theatrical agent in slimy Charlie Klein which dates the play as much as anything else.

The fact is that, for all  his railing and ranting, John Osborne is not that good a playwright and – hard as producer and director Tony Richardson and Harry Salzman of James Bond fame try – the play’s flaws are readily apparent.

As a reflection of the Britain of the fifties it has little to engage the modern audience now but it works better as a study of show business.

Archie Rice is a seedy character with his drinking, philandering and dodgy financial practices but he plods on even when, as in the final scene, the audience has long gone home.

That Laurence Olivier performance of pathos managed to elicit some sympathy is the film’s most enduring attraction.

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts