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Rainy Day Women (1984)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Rainy Day Women (1984)
For Play for Today, BBC, tx. 10/4/1984
85 minutes, colour
DirectorBen Bolt
ProducerMichael Wearing
ScreenplayDavid Pirie
PhotographyMichael Williams
 Ian Churchill

Cast: Charles Dance (Captain John Truman); Cyril Cusack (Reed); Suzanne Bertish (Alice Durkow); Lindsay Duncan (Karen Miller); Joanna Foster (Joan); Gwyneth Strong (Linda); Sally Baxter (Susan)

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The secret diary kept by an Army Captain in 1940 reveals the shocking events that took place in a remote English village gripped by mounting hysteria over the possibility of a German invasion.

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David Pirie's ambitious screenwriting debut, 'Rainy Day Women', confidently combines biblical references and Greek mythology with real-life events from the Second World War, filtered through the tropes and motifs of Gothic literature and Hammer horror films.

Structurally, Pirie evokes L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between (filmed by Joseph Losey in 1971) and its celebrated opening: "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there". Both begin in the present and flash back half a century amid images of rainfall and car journeys. Pirie even uses a similar introductory voice-over: "That Summer the countryside had suddenly become an unknown world. A ghost story without the ghosts..." The final rejoinder is significant, as a quasi-supernatural air of unease is established from the outset, when the uncomprehending Captain Truman (Charles Dance) is met by hostile villagers secretly hoping he will liberate them from a 'witch', the fiercely independent Alice Durkow (a sensual Suzanne Bertish).

Dance plays a deeply conventional man who "prayed for war" to find readily identifiable villains and heroes, but who instead is made to confront his own entrenched chauvinism by a kindly and sympathetic doctor (Lindsay Duncan). At story's end however, when faced with clear-cut villainy, the women and children he's protecting cannot be saved.

A child's perspective is surreptitiously invoked throughout, from the opening scene in which a boy reads the Captain's secret diary, to the repeated shots of Durkow's son spying on adults. As in The Go-Between, the crux of the story involves a young boy and a letter, although here the content of the incriminating note is a misremembered quotation from Yeats' Leda and the Swan, a Freudian parable of male domination and female emancipation that juxtaposes rape with self-knowledge. This points to Pirie's main theme, a psycho-sexual examination of masculinity in crisis set in a village that, according to its female doctor, has lost its "sexual centre of gravity".

Despite Stanley Myers' unnecessarily strident horror score, 'Rainy Day Women' remains a powerful, densely layered, finely acted and highly literate piece of drama. Drawing on the real-life 'Cromwell' invasion false-alarm of 7 September 1940, the climax offers a pitch-perfect delineation of mounting hysteria and paranoia.

The play's oblique title, though cursorily explained in relation to the military operation at the conclusion, may also derive from Solomon: "A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike" (Proverbs 27:15).

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. An unknown world (2:54)
2. Rainy day (2:10)
3. Concussion (3:23)
4. Not free (4:09)
Go-Between, The (1971)
Cusack, Cyril (1910-1993)
Dance, Charles (1946-)
Duncan, Lindsay (1950-)
Pirie, David (1953-)
Play for Today (1970-84)
WWII Dramas