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Lover, The (1963)

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Main image of Lover, The (1963)
Associated-Rediffusion for ITV, tx. 28/3/1963
60 min, black & white
DirectorJoan Kemp-Welch
Play byHarold Pinter
DesignerFred Pusey
MusicDenis Lopez

Cast: Alan Badel (Husband/Lover); Vivien Merchant (Wife/Mistress); Michael Forrest (Milkman)

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A suburban couple keep their marriage alive with erotic game-playing. But the tensions between them begin to show through.

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At the time his first play for television, 'A Night Out' (ITV, tx. 24/4/1960), was broadcast, Harold Pinter was just beginning to attract attention. By the time of The Lover (ITV, tx. 28/3/1963), Pinter was already well-established as one of the most gifted and versatile writers of his generation, switching freely between stage, television, radio and, shortly, film - his first screenplay, The Servant (d. Joseph Losey) was released later in 1963.

The Lover is a typically claustrophobic work, in which a suburban middle-class couple, played by Alan Badel and Pinter's then wife Vivien Merchant, become trapped in the sexual role-playing games they use to spice up their otherwise conventional marriage.

From its striking opening, in which two sets of silhouetted fingers tap upon a drum and entwine themselves like a pair of mating tarantulas, the play creates an atmosphere of eroticism unusual for television in 1963.

In the first scene, Sarah calmly tells her husband she is expecting a visit from her lover; Richard responds with equal serenity. Only later do we learn that the 'lover' is in fact her husband, and gain an insight into the erotic games in which these two sophisticated and highly intelligent people indulge their afternoons - fantasies of illicit encounters with strangers and sexual threat.

These games contrast sharply with the sterile coldness of their 'real' relationship: the superficial chatter of their evenings, the separate beds they occupy at night. But when Richard begins to chip away at the wall separating their two worlds, the fragile structure threatens to crumble. In the interest of "frankness at all costs", he begins to question the arrangement, first with cool detachment, then with mounting cruelty, careful all the while to preserve the fiction. While Sarah talks of her lover in glowing terms - "his whole body emanates love" - Richard dismisses his as merely "a whore", "a common or garden slut".

In his role as the lover, 'Max', Richard continues his merciless assault, accusing her of being 'too bony', and expressing concern about her husband. Later, as Richard again, he even, absurdly, calls her an 'adulteress'. Finally, in an ending reminiscent of the conclusion of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger - the play which reinvigorated British drama in the 1950s - Richard and Sarah revert to their game playing, in an apparent acknowledgement that there is no escape from their mutual trap.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Opening sequence (0:59)
2. A funny question (4:19)
3. Playing games (4:10)
4. Aftermath (2:35)
Night Out, A (1960)
Kemp-Welch, Joan (1906-1999)
Pinter, Harold (1930-2008)
The Television Play