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Rose Affair, The (1961)


Main image of Rose Affair, The (1961)
For Armchair Theatre, ITV, tx. 8/10/1961, 58 min, black & white
DirectorCharles Jarrott
Production CompanyABC Television
ProducerSydney Newman
ScriptAlun Owen

Cast: Anthony Quayle (Betumain); Natasha Parry (Bella); Naunton Wayne (Shane); Dudley Foster (Hugo); Joseph O'Conor (O'Riorden)

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Mild-mannered accountant Shane incurs the wrath of reclusive, disfigured millionaire Betumaine when a discrepancy is found in the rose account. But when Shane's beautiful daughter Bella goes to plead his case, Betumaine finds himself enchanted.

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Writer Alun Owen made his name with realist dramas like 'No Trams to Lime Street' (ITV, tx. 18/10/1959) and 'Lena, O My Lena' (ITV, tx. 25/9/1960). But the fantastical 'The Rose Affair', his fifth work for ABC's Armchair Theatre, was quite a departure.

The play is a witty and imaginative reworking of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, in which a bitter, reclusive millionaire, afflicted with a disfiguring skin condition brought on by his guilt and torment, is entranced by a beautiful maiden who comes to plead for mercy for her father.

In the fairytale, Belle's father steals a rose from the beast's garden for his beautiful daughter; in Owen's play, accountant Shane embezzles from Betumaine's (as in 'bĂȘte humaine') rose account, not for his daughter but to help his beloved bowls club. And Bella may begin by pleading for mercy for her father, but her motives are not without self-interest - she charms Betumaine not to win his love, but his dependence. In the end, she persuades the beast to unburden himself of the guilt which afflicts him by handing over his wealth to her. "Girls understand guilt," she assures him, "Eve passed us on a secret - how to live with guilt and other things, then make them into a feminine mystery to bind men to us."

The play is mock-serious in tone, but with scenes of quite broad comedy. In the supporting roles, Dudley Foster as Shane's creepy, self-serving son-in-law, and Harold Lang as Betumaine's camp manservant, Johnston, are particularly entertaining. With its anti-realist scenario, its rich, flowery dialogue - frequently undercut with references to such mundane matters as bowls or book-keeping - and its deliberately overripe performances, The Rose Affair was intriguingly out of step with its time, while its exploration of the sexual politics of fairytales predates the more celebrated stories of Angela Carter, ultimately brought to the screen in The Company of Wolves (d. Neil Jordan, 1984).

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. The rose garden (6:24)
2. I need you (2:18)
Company of Wolves, The (1984)
Trouble With Our Ivy, The (1961)
Owen, Alun (1925-1994)
Quayle, Anthony (1913-1989)
Armchair Theatre (1956-74)