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