12 March 2008 | blacknorth
A man of no convictions
The Philanthropist is Christopher Hampton's witty and incisive reversal of Moliere's Misanthropist. According to Hampton 'it occurred to me that in the climate of abrasive candour which characterised the late 1960's, Alceste would have been quite at home: whereas his opposite, a man concerned above all to cause no offence and be an unfailing source of sweetness and light, would very likely succeed only in raising heckles where-ever he went'.
Thus we have the impeccably mannered Ronald Pickup falling over himself to be pleasing and honest, and instead finding that honesty is taken as a subtle form of insult and that to be pleasing is to be unfashionable and rude.
This BBC adaptation, made in 1975, is superb and superbly cast. Pickup is a wonderfully self-absorbed philanthropist, reminding one of Humbert Humbert without the crime. James Bolam is perfectly cast as Don, ostensibly Pickup's friend, but finding how easy it is to dupe the innocent quite without design. Of all the actors only Helen Mirren fails to come to grips with her role, possibly because she is miscast, rather than misreading the part of Celia.
This great play is included as part of the Helen Mirren At The BBC DVD box-set. I do not really understand the fashion for releasing these plays as sets under the umbrella of an actor - much more useful would be a box-set of Christopher Hampton At The BBC. It's his play, Mirren just happens to be in it.
THE most essential play of the 60's and 70's. And shame on the BBC for leaving it unseen in the archives for 33 years.