Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
That Quiet Earth (1972)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of That Quiet Earth (1972)
For Thirty Minute Theatre, BBC2, tx. 28/2/1972
30 minutes, colour
DirectorJohn Hopkins
ProducerDavid Rose
ScriptJohn Hopkins
PhotographyMichael Williams

Cast: Shirley Knight (the woman); David Savile (her husband); Karen Moggs (her child); Glyn Battle (her child); Jill Racy (her mother)

Show full cast and credits

Joyce would appear to have everything to live for: two young children, an executive husband and a nice home, but...

Show full synopsis

In 'That Quiet Earth', John Hopkins paints a luminously intricate portrait of a seemingly inconsiderate, self-interested world in which his central character - billed simply as 'the woman' - drifts from one dispiriting experience to another in a series of almost surreal set pieces. As writer and (first-time) director, he reveals a surprisingly sure-handed ability to illustrate his theme - the failure to communicate effectively and the consequent sense of isolation - and throughout there is a pleasingly elliptical quality to both narrative and dialogue. His wife Shirley Knight Hopkins, a honey-haired, photogenic beauty, lends a suitably haunting, fragile presence to the lost, puzzled figure.

The play's strength lies not only in the intense emotional vulnerability that Hopkins gives it but also in the skill with which he builds it into a compelling television structure. The doubts and tensions of an anguished life are compressed into the space of a single day - compressed like the springs of a jack-in-the-box, so that when the lid is opened they leap into the light and reveal the intricate coiling pattern that has grown up through years of strain.

Shirley Knight Hopkins' achievement lies not so much in the nervous virtuosity of her early scenes, as in the magical way she projects through the woman's vulnerable frame the image of the sensitive soul who long ago ceased to exist as a meaningful individual. Her life is the monotonous routine of a conventional wife and mother to an executive nine-to-five husband, who she delivers each morning to the railway station, and two average children, who she drops off at school every day; there is also evidence of a less-than-friendly mother-in-law lurking somewhere in her life. All of them are, in their ways, casually insensitive to her feelings.

What strikes one most of all is the casual density of Hopkins' observation - the way the woman gazes wistfully after her daughter strolling up the driveway to her school (in a later scene she similarly observes a young couple sauntering through the woods), or her lone, uphill clamber in the woods, coming to rest finally under the peaceful shade of a low tree. At the same time we are reminded (through some rapid crosscutting) that the monotonous day-to-day routine of her suburban world continues its humdrum rhythm with barely an acknowledgement of her absence from it.

Tise Vahimagi

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. The Evangelist (3:57)
2. At the railway station (3:35)
3. On the train (2:21)
Hopkins, John (1931-98)