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Some Distant Shadow (1971)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Some Distant Shadow (1971)
Granada Television for ITV, tx. 12/12/1971
65 minutes, colour
DirectorChristopher Morahan
ProducerJames Brabazon
ScriptJohn Hopkins

Cast: Shirley Knight (Barbara); Terence Wilton (Jimmy Langley); Michael Hawkins (Barry Matthews); David Savile (Doug Lawton); Wendy Gifford (Lucie Matthews); Gerson Grant (Eric Price)

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A woman in her thirties, comfortably but unsatisfyingly married to a wealthy businessman, looks back dejectedly at a string of earlier lovers.

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Some Distant Shadow was the first piece John Hopkins wrote for his wife, actress Shirley Knight Hopkins, as a birthday present for her. An unconventional gift, perhaps, but Mrs Hopkins was reported to have been pleased with it. However, one does wonder what the contemporary late-night viewers of this rather lengthy Sunday Night Theatre presentation may have made of it.

Like the later 'That Quiet Earth' (Thirty Minute Theatre, BBC, tx. 28/2/1972), Some Distant Shadow's concern is alienation. Shirley Knight Hopkins plays the neurotic Barbara, a dejected woman who we see sitting in studio shadow looking back over her sexually active but emotionally unsatisfying life. The scenes are re-enacted in a series of flashbacks from different periods of this bitter existence; from a schoolgirl's sexual awakening to the final affair with her husband's friend, Barbara re-lives her past at the hands of selfish lovers and with the resigned acceptance of an imperfect marriage to an insensitive husband.

While it is impossible not to admire the high degree of professional skill that Hopkins applies to the work, its complex construction - taking liberties with time - may well have baffled some of its audience. Joining all these seemingly loose pockets of time is the often unclear narrative thread concerning Barbara's dogged search for a long-dead former lover; the elusive substitute for a loveless life.

Unlike 'Talking to a Stranger' (Theatre 625, BBC, 1966), in which the interaction of the four characters and the stresses and tensions between them gradually reveal their inability to respond to each other's needs, here the characters seem to wallow in their despair. The play's time-transition structure allows for only the most fleeting interaction.

After the writing, performances make up a TV play, and there are some splendid moments from Anthony Bate's hot-blooded former lover, oozing seductive smarm, and Peter Vaughan, the apparently oblivious husband given to moments of sinister cheer and lizard-eyed looks. Shirley Knight Hopkins successfully rings the changes from youthful candour to bored bitchiness and finally more mature understanding.

Tise Vahimagi

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Video Clips
1. Coffee house (5:12)
2. School days (4:10)
3. Hotel room (5:49)
Hopkins, John (1931-98)