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Horror of Darkness (1965)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Horror of Darkness (1965)
For The Wednesday Play, BBC1, tx. 10/3/1965
90 minutes, black & white
DirectorAnthony Page
ProducerJames MacTaggart
Script EditorVincent Tilsley
ScriptJohn Hopkins
DesignerTony Abbott

Cast: Alfred Lynch (Peter Young); Glenda Jackson (Cathy); Nicol Williamson (Robin Fletcher); Catherine Clouzet (Micaela); Wallas Eaton (the visitor)

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The relationship between Peter and girlfriend Cathy is disturbed by the arrival of Robin, an old art college friend of Peter's.

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'Horror of Darkness' arrived in the early days of The Wednesday Play (BBC, 1964-70), just before the anthology series acquired its reputation as the often controversial highlight of the mid-1960s BBC TV schedules, epitomised by Nell Dunn's 'Up the Junction' (tx. 3/11/1965) and Jeremy Sandford's 'Cathy Come Home' (tx. 16/11/1966). The play found writer John Hopkins in bleak mood and at his most disquieting, though its underlying element of homosexuality caused only a minor ripple of controversy, even some two years before legalisation.

Set in a comfortably spacious London flat, it is an economically planned studio drama focusing on three people at a point of crisis: the young, uncommunicative commercial artist, Peter (played by a weary Alfred Lynch, all sulky looks and brooding stares), his persistently analytical partner, Cathy (Glenda Jackson, who plays with striking intelligence and understanding), and their newly-arrived, but unexpected, lodger, Peter's old art school friend Robin (Nicol Williamson giving his all to an array of anguish and pathos usually associated with Scandinavian angst).

The play describes a period when the characters suddenly become aware that they have been marking time, asking too much, or too little, of each other. Cathy watches the wistful homosexual Robin, Robin watches Peter, and Peter watches himself becoming as empty and aimless as the pathetic Robin. Behind all their eyes is a sense of puzzled pain and loss which gives the play a strangely moving quality beyond its fa├žade of compromise.

Perhaps because of the greater complexity of the relationships, Hopkins and Wednesday Play producer James MacTaggart opted for a style which was simpler than that of their previous production, 'Fable' (tx. 27/1/1965). The style of this play is a return to that of Hopkins' early Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78) episodes, in which the burden of expression falls almost entirely on the actors.

A powerful, unrelenting performance is delivered by the main cast of three (a mixture of half-smiles, hysterical outbursts and louring close-ups) - Williamson in particular - and it is the living, breathing vulnerability of the characters that turns the play from a metaphysical exercise into an image of three people rent apart by their inability to penetrate each other's inner needs.

Tise Vahimagi

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Video Clips
1. Jealous? (6:22)
2. Something important to say (5:01)
3. The aftermath (2:05)
Hopkins, John (1931-98)
Jackson, Glenda (1936-)
Williamson, Nicol (1938-2011)
Wednesday Play, The (1964-70)