The relationship between Harold Pinter’s life and his 1978 play “Betrayal” is as close as a relationship between a playwright’s biography and his or her work can possibly be. In effect, Pinter based “Betrayal” very closely upon his real-life, long-term extramarital affair with Joan Blakewell, a BBC Television personality. At the time, Pinter was married to an actress named Vivian Merchant, while Blakewell was married to BBC Radio producer Michael Blakewell. The facts of the affair are complicated, and replicated accurately in the play, in which the character Jerry is closely based upon Pinter, with the other characters similarly closely modeled on the Blakewells and Pinter’s then wife, Merchant. Upon completing his script for the play, Pinter sent a copy to Joan Blakewell, who was reportedly extremely discouraged by the play’s public revelation of the love triangles that dominated the relationships among and between the couples. Joan Blakewell told an interviewer in once case that “the play portrayed many of the events of the affair between us with an accuracy verging on the literal.” [See “Betrayal Exposed: How Harold Pinter’s Real-Life Affair Inspired an Illicit Love Triangle on Stage and Screen,” www.broadway.com/buzz/172437/betrayal-exposed-how-harold-pinter’s-real-life-affair-inspired-an-illicit-love-triangle-on-stage-screen/]
“Betrayal” is a story of deception on a number of levels, but particularly with respect to the most personal of human relationships. That Pinter would eventually marry Antonia Fraser, with whom he carried on an affair subsequent to the one with Blakewell is further testament to the depth of the playwright’s commitment to the theme of his play: betrayal.