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White Falcon, The (1956)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of White Falcon, The (1956)
For Sunday Night Theatre, BBC, tx. 5/2/1956
92 minutes, black & white
ProducerRudolph Cartier
ScriptNeilson Gattey
 Jordan Lawrence

Cast: Jeannette Sterke (Anne Boleyn); Paul Rogers (King Henry Viii); Marius Goring (Doctor Cranmer); Margaretta Scott (Catherine of Aragon); Patrick Troughton (Cardinal Wolsey); Rupert Davies (Thomas Cromwell)

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Anne Boleyn's ill-fated marriage to King Henry VIII

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The White Falcon is a typical example of a BBC television play from the mid-1950s. It tackles a historical subject and had already been performed on stage and for the BBC's Home Service. As such it is perhaps surprising to find it produced by Rudolph Cartier, whose antipathy to such conventional material is well known.

Writing in the Radio Times, Cartier explained the play's appeal, praising how the drama portrayed the affair between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn "in an up-to-date, one could almost say 'cinematic' manner. First of all, the dialogue is in a fluent and modern prose. All the characters speak a language everybody can understand; nobody uses 'Methinks' or 'F'sooth,' or similar archaic words, and together with a romantic, light-hearted treatment, the well-known story is divested of all the heaviness of a 'historical costume drama'." It is true that the play is easy to follow and more accessible than many, older, attempts at the same subject. Even so, it is perhaps telling of the play's debt to the stage that Cartier cast Paul Rogers as the King and Jeannette Sterke as Anne, having seem them play the same characters in Shakespeare's Henry VIII at the Old Vic theatre.

Unlike Cartier's trademark work, the play is unusually confined, taking place in just five modest sets over the course of six scenes. Cartier's suggestion that the story receives a 'cinematic' treatment is perhaps over generous. The producer does, however, include two elaborate dance sequences, making use of 22 carefully choreographed dancers, giving the otherwise sedentary play a lift around its centre point. His production is well polished, with only a few of the most minor line fluffs, camera bumps and instances of unwanted studio noise, all common for the period, betraying the play's live nature.

Jeanette Sterke as Anne Boleyn is particularly notable among a strong cast, moving from the frivolous young maid of honour at the beginning of the play to the proud and embittered queen, facing death for alleged adultery at the end. Her confrontation with the king, in which she accuses him of being a puppet ruler, is the play's most powerful and arresting scene. The cast is also notable for comprising a virtual Rudolph Cartier repertory company, with nearly all appearing in many of his other plays. Sterke acted in at least 10 productions for Cartier, Cyril Shaps in 15 and Rupert Davies 11.

Oliver Wake

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Video Clips
1. 'Such a woman' (3:26)
2. 'Will you fill your convents with the Queens of England?' (4:18)
3. Nothing to confess (3:59)
Man for All Seasons, A (1966)
Private Life of Henry VIII, The (1933)
Henry VIII (1979)
Cartier, Rudolph (1904-94)
Goring, Marius (1912-1998)
Troughton, Patrick (1920-1987)
Live TV Drama