Horror of Darkness + Let's Murder Vivaldi

UK 1965/68, 61/64 mins
Directors: Anthony Page, Alan Bridges

Horror of Darkness arrived in the early days of The Wednesday Play (BBC, 1964-70), just before the anthology series acquired its reputation as the often controversial highlight of the mid-1960s BBC TV schedules, epitomised by Nell Dunn’s Up the Junction (1965) and Jeremy Sandford’s Cathy Come Home (1966). The play found writer John Hopkins in bleak mood and at his most disquieting, though its underlying element of homosexuality caused only a minor ripple of controversy, even some two years before legalisation.

Set in a comfortably spacious London flat, it is an economically planned studio drama focusing on three people at a point of crisis: the young, uncommunicative commercial artist, Peter (played by a weary Alfred Lynch, all sulky looks and brooding stares), his persistently analytical partner, Cathy (Glenda Jackson, who plays with striking intelligence and understanding), and their newly-arrived, but unexpected, lodger, Peter’s old art school friend Robin (Nicol Williamson giving his all to an array of anguish and pathos usually associated with Scandinavian angst).

The play describes a period when the characters suddenly become aware that they have been marking time, asking too much, or too little, of each other. Cathy watches the wistful homosexual Robin, Robin watches Peter, and Peter watches himself becoming as empty and aimless as the pathetic Robin. Behind all their eyes is a sense of puzzled pain and loss which gives the play a strangely moving quality beyond its façade of compromise.

Perhaps because of the greater complexity of the relationships, Hopkins and Wednesday Play producer James MacTaggart opted for a style which was simpler than that of their previous production, Fable (1965). The style of this play is a return to that of Hopkins’ early Z Cars episodes, in which the burden of expression falls almost entirely on the actors.

A powerful, unrelenting performance is delivered by the main cast of three (a mixture of half-smiles, hysterical outbursts and louring close-ups) – Williamson in particular – and it is the living, breathing vulnerability of the characters that turns the play from a metaphysical exercise into an image of three people rent apart by their inability to penetrate each other’s inner needs.
Tise Vahimagi, BFI Screenonline,

Ian Penman, writing in The Sunday Correspondent ten years after David Mercer’s early death in 1980, recalled the era of ‘monochrome anger, intense beards, poloneck politics’ which Mercer represented in the British TV drama of the 1960s and ‘70s. In Let’s Murder Vivaldi, Ben (David Sumner) is a version of Mercer himself – heavily bearded, often drunk, disillusioned, paranoid, prone to violent outbursts. As so often in Mercer’s work, the characters are intelligent people tearing each other to shreds – but in a sophisticated way, using wit and sarcasm as weapons just as effective as the knives that eventually come into play. The result is powerful, adult drama, which is also bitingly funny.

Both couples are trapped in failing relationships. Gerald (Denholm Elliott) and Monica (Gwen Watford) hide behind a thin veneer of civilised behaviour, hilariously represented by the ritual of food preparation and consumption. Ben rages incoherently at the world, while Julie (Glenda Jackson) struggles to understand both him and her own feelings for Gerald. All four are relentlessly self-analytical. The play is formally structured as follows:

Ben and Julie
Monica and Gerald
Gerald and Julie
Monica and Gerald
Ben and Julie

Ben and Julie’s first scene is one of physical and verbal violence, but their last finds them reaching some kind of accord and harmony, symbolised by the Vivaldi piece they practice together. Monica and Gerald’s first scene is, on the surface, a model of civilised restraint, but in their last scene Monica goads and humiliates Gerald to the point where he explodes into sudden – and lethal – violence.

Gerald and Julie’s scene is central, not just in its actual placing within the drama, but in its significance to the way the drama will develop and resolve itself in the final two scenes.

The acting is superb, especially from Denholm Elliott and Gwen Watford as the middle-class couple. Watford was one of television’s most underrated actresses, a mistress of the barbed or outrageous phrase, delivered with utter serenity. Elliott conveys oceans of pain with the twitch of an eyebrow. The play’s themes – class and sexual infighting – resonate through so much of 1960s drama and echo Mercer’s own stage work at this time, notably Ride a Cock Horse which also features a character as a version of the dramatist. The BBC imposed a number of cuts – including a reference to the menopause – and rescheduled the play more than once.
Janet Moat, BFI Screenonline,

Directed by: Anthony Page
Production Company: BBC TV
Producer: James MacTaggart
Script Editor: Vincent Tilsley
[Written] By: John Hopkins
Film Cameraman: David Prosser
Film Editor: Alan Martin
Telerecording Editor: Roy Clarke
Designer: Tony Abbott

Alfred Lynch (Peter Young)
Glenda Jackson (Cathy)
Nicol Williamson (Robin Fletcher)
Catherine Clouzet (Micaela)
Wallas Eaton (Philip Moss)

BBC1 tx 10.3.1965
UK 1965
61 mins

Director: Alan Bridges
Production Company: BBC
Producer: Graeme McDonald
Story Editor: Kenith Trodd
Written by: David Mercer
Lighting: Kim Richards
Designer: Richard Henry
Sound: Gordon Mackie

Denholm Elliott (Gerald)
Gwen Watford (Monica)
Glenda Jackson (Julie)
David Sumner (Ben)

BBC1 tx 10.4.1968
UK 1968
64 mins

Women in Love
Sat 2 Jul 17:40; Wed 13 Jul 20:3; Fri 15 Jul 20:30
Horror of Darkness + Let’s Murder Vivaldi
Sun 3 Jul 15:20
Mary, Queen of Scots
Sun 3 Jul 18:15; Wed 20 Jul 20:30
Glenda Jackson in Conversation
Tue 5 Jul 18:15
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Tue 5 Jul 20:40; Sun 24 Jul 18:30
Fri 8 Jul 18:00; Sat 16 Jul 16:30
A Touch of Class
Sat 9 Jul 15:15; Sat 23 Jul 20:45
The Romantic Englishwoman
Sun 10 Jul 18:10; Mon 18 Jul 20:40
Thu 14 Jul 20:30; Sat 23 Jul 12:00
Fri 15 Jul 18:00; Tue 26 Jul 20:40
House Calls
Sat 16 Jul 18:45; Fri 22 Jul 20:30
The Maids
Sat 16 Jul 20:50; Sun 24 Jul 15:50
The Rainbow
Tue 19 Jul 20:40; Sun 31 Jul 13:00
Giro City + Glenda Jackson & Politics (clip compilation)
Thu 21 Jul 17:50
Turtle Diary
Thu 21 Jul 20:50; Fri 29 Jul 20:30
Strange Interlude
Sat 23 Jul 15:30
The House of Bernarda Alba
Mon 25 Jul 17:50
Elizabeth Is Missing
Fri 29 Jul 18:15
Elizabeth R (the complete series)
Eps 1-3 Sat 30 Jul 14:20; Eps 4-6 Sun 31 Jul 14:30

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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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