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Falklands Play, The (2002)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Falklands Play, The (2002)
BBC4, tx. 10/4/2002, colour, 95 mins
Directed byMichael Samuels
Production CompanyBBC
ProducerJeremy Howe
Written byIan Curteis

Cast: Patricia Hodge (Margaret Thatcher); John Standing (William Whitelaw); Michael Cochrane (Nicholas Ridley); Jeremy Child (Francis Pym); James Fox (Lord Carrington); Jonathan Coy (Richard Luce); Clive Merrison (John Nott)

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The inside story of how the Thatcher government went to war to regain the Falkland Islands.

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Ian Curteis was the writer of two well-received BBC plays depicting British Prime Ministers faced with international crises - Churchill and the Generals (tx. 23/9/1979) and Suez 1956 (tx. 25/11/1979). It was natural enough, then, that in 1983 he should be commissioned by the BBC to write a play on the Falklands war. However in 1986, after a fourth draft had been delivered, the BBC shelved the play, deeming its portrait of Margaret Thatcher so celebratory as to make it impossible to broadcast in the run-up to the general election expected in 1987.

Curteis went public, accusing the BBC of political bias. At a time when the Conservative government appeared to wish it could despatch a task force to seize control of the BBC, powerful allies were not hard to find. Curteis's case was taken up by the right-wing campaigning group the Freedom Association, whose chairman, Norris McWhirter, was a long-standing friend of the Thatchers.

Curteis published the text of his play, settling scores robustly in a 50-page introduction in which he dismissed the BBC's head of plays, Peter Goodchild, as "an administrator with no locus standi" and "a messenger-boy". Curteis made it clear he suspected Bill Cotton, the managing director of BBC TV, of pulling the strings. The Freedom Association made a similar charge, implying Cotton was part of a leftist "third layer" at work within the Corporation. Curteis subsequently condemned the world of drama commissioning as a "one party state".

When the play was finally aired on BBC4 (tx. 10/4/2002), both the political and broadcasting landscapes had changed. A Labour government was in power, and 'narrowcasting', the advent of niche channels such as BBC4, made the long-delayed filming of the play a possibility. The production reflects some of the concerns raised in 1986 - particularly in excising the scenes set in Argentina (which tarred Galtieri as a drunkard, and likened a state ceremony in Buenos Aires to a scene from "Comic Opera land").

The likelihood that a two hour-long film about the policy process surrounding an international crisis would be laughed out of any drama development department today makes the play refreshing. Unfortunately, however, Curteis can't resist giving us a celebration of 'Maggie'. Curteis found room in his portraits of Churchill and Eden for their imperfections, but seems unwilling or unable to find any in Thatcher, opening The Falklands Play to charges of being more hagiography than history.

Keith Shuaib

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Falklands: The Story (1948)
Falklands Factor, The (1983)
Tumbledown (1988)
Curteis, Ian (1935-)
Fox, James (1939-)
Hardy, Robert (1925-)
Drama Documentary