Film and Stage Versions Compared

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

While both the stage play and film versions of Shadowlands were written by the same author, William Nicholson, they each present the story differently. This is due in part to the nature of each genre. Dramatic stage plays only have limited set ting possibilities and are focused primarily on dialogue. Movies are generally more visual than stage plays because they are not constrained by the demands of the theater. Film scripts also can be constructed differently than stage plays, which affects the flow of action, dialogue, and character development. Some of these differences are apparent when comparing the stage play to the movie version of Shadowlands.

In the play version of Shadowlands, Nicholson calls for a symbolic staging. The stage is to be divided into two areas (inner and outer) by a translucent screen. Some action takes place in front of it. Other times, the screen rises, revealing Lewis’ study, Joy’s hospital room, the main dining hall at Oxford, and other places. These places are Lewis’ intimate surroundings, where most of his personal transformation take place.

Also dominating the stage, in the scenes that take place inside Lewis’ study, is a giant wardrobe. This wardrobe refers to the famous wardrobe in Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, a series of children’s books. The wardrobe is the portal to a parallel world. It symbolizes a number of things to Lewis, and to Joy Gresham’s son Douglas, including Lewis’ books and their themes and, for both, the loss of their mother. In a highly symbolic moment in Act I, Douglas actually goes into the wardrobe and disappears. In Act II, during the religious ceremony, which unites his bed-ridden mother and Lewis in marriage, Douglas again goes through the wardrobe to the Other World. He retrieves the magic apple, as described in Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, in hopes it will cure his sick mother just as it does in the book. Joy’s bone cancer does go into remission, but she still dies at the end of the play.

The movie has a much richer visual text, though this Shadowlands has much in common with the stage play. Because there is no stage, the screen and its symbolism has been eliminated. The film takes viewers to Oxford and its hallowed halls, to train stations full of smoke and steam, to all corners of Lewis’ home, to Joy’s small place in England, and to the hospital during Joy’s illness and treatment. By actually seeing the period settings, the world in which Lewis and Joy lived becomes clearer. The audience sees how they interact with their environment as well as many other people. It also gives the filmmakers the opportunity to make visual symbols stronger and deeper.

One aspect does not change: the wardrobe continues to play an important role in the movie, but more for Douglas than Lewis. In the movie, the wardrobe—the actual one from Lewis’ childhood nursery—sits in his attic. When Douglas first comes to visit Lewis’ home, Warnie, Lewis’ brother and housemate, shows it to him on a tour of the attic. Douglas and Joy later return to stay for Christmas. At this time, Douglas sneaks up there and opens the wardrobe, hoping to find the portal to the parallel world, as Lewis wrote in his Narnia books. Douglas is rather disappointed that this wardrobe has a solid back instead of an open gateway. Lewis discovers him there, which leads to a conversation about Douglas’s alcoholic father. At the end of the movie, after Joy has died, Lewis finds Douglas in the attic, staring at the wardrobe. Though Lewis tells him...

(This entire section contains 1912 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

of his mother’s death, Douglas is more upset that the wardrobe does not ‘‘work,’’ that there is no portal. It leads to both of them crying in each other’s arms over their loss of Joy. Lewis also cries for the death of his own mother when he was a boy, a feeling he has apparently kept inside since the age of eight.

Another contrasting aspect of the play versus the movie is how characters are portrayed and developed. One criticism of the play that seems corrected in the movie is the development of secondary characters such as Warnie and Douglas. In reviewing the original Broadway production of Shadowlands, Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote, ‘‘the Lewises’ fraternal bond, like the plays’ other important secondary relationship, between Joy’s son and Lewis, is so sketchily drawn that it cannot carry the dramatic weight it must in the evening’s waning scenes.’’ In the play, Douglas and Warnie are only in a handful of scenes and are barely developed as individuals. Warnie is merely a directionless man with a small alcohol problem who takes care of his brother’s every need. Douglas comes off as a young boy who lives in a fantasy world and obeys his mother without question. He is upset at her death, but their closeness does not seem obvious.

In the movie, both Warnie and Douglas are still secondary to Lewis and Joy, but Warnie seems more like Lewis’ equal. They have a housekeeper who takes care of them, and Warnie has his own desk in the study. While Lewis still looks to Warnie for opinions and approval as he does extensively in the play, Warnie’s support seems more respected and real. Douglas’s character is even better developed than Warnie’s in the film version. Douglas is not merely an obedient boy-machine who only breaks down in the end as in the play. While he is still very affectionate, he shows more anger about being in England away from his home and father, and his mother’s illness and death. He is scared when his mother comes home to die. In addition to the wardrobe scenes described above, the very end of the movie shows Lewis and Douglas together walking through the nearby countryside with a dog in tow. This gives some closure to about the issue of what happens to Douglas after his mother dies. The play does not say that Douglas lived with his stepfather until Lewis himself died a few years later.

Both Joy and Lewis are also better and more completely developed in the movie than in the play version of Shadowlands. Mimi Kramer of the New Yorker argued that in the play version, Joy only existed in terms of Lewis. She was an obsessed fan who met him and invaded his world. The play does include facts about Joy—she has a husband in New York who asks for a divorce in Act I, she used to be a poet who once won a national poetry award, and she moved to Oxford because it would a cheaper place to live far from her now ex-husband. Yet every scathing remark Joy makes, whether it be to one of Lewis’ boorish colleagues or Lewis himself, is ultimately for Lewis’ benefit and entertainment. Nothing pithy comes from Joy outside of that relationship.

While the majority of the film, and even more of the play, is interaction between Joy and Lewis, in the movie, Joy does have a more separate and individual character. In the movie, she does not move to Oxford, but to London. Lewis is forced to take a train to see her. When she enters a hospital, it is in London as well, so Lewis must journey to her. Only when Joy leaves the hospital after her cancer is in remission does she move to Oxford to live with Lewis. (Douglas apparently starts staying with them as soon as his mother becomes ill.) One critic of the play wrote that Joy seemed like the cat and Lewis the mouse she was hunting. In the play, Joy blurts out her feelings and Lewis holds back, keeping his rein on their relationship. In the movie, they are more balanced. Though Joy still does not have much of a life outside of Lewis in the movie, she seems more fleshed out, affectionate, and independent. More importantly, Lewis is portrayed much differently in the movie, which in turn changes how Joy’s character is defined.

At the center of both the play and the movie is the enigmatic character of Lewis, the writer many people are familiar with because of his Narnia books, religious writing, and works on English literature. In the play, Lewis is depicted as an indecisive man who cannot admit his affection for Joy in any capacity until she becomes very ill with cancer and death seems imminent. He is rather cold, and his life seems to consist only of his relationship with his Oxford colleagues and with Warnie. At the beginning of the play, Joy is merely an interesting pen pal. The situation changes as he and Joy meet in a hotel tea room, at her request. Though Lewis invites her and her son to come to his house for tea, and then to stay for Christmas, Lewis seems very out of touch with his feelings. He does not cry until the end when Warnie essentially forces him to comfort the distraught Douglas.

The Shadowlands movie makes Lewis much more human from the start and gives him different forums in which to express his humanity. The play limits Lewis’ interactions to Warnie, his colleagues, Joy (and illness-related people like doctors), and Douglas. In addition to those people, the movie also shows Lewis with students he teaches at Oxford. There is a very minor, but very important, subplot involving one of his students, named Whistler. The subplot shows what effect Joy has had on Lewis’ life.

At the beginning of the movie, Whistler does not get along with Lewis when he tries to start an intellectual fight at a tutorial. The student later sleeps during another tutorial led by Lewis. Lewis catches Whistler stealing books, and offers him a loan, which the student turns down. By this point, Lewis has spent Christmas with Joy before she returns to the States. After Joy has moved back to England and the couple has married ‘‘technically’’ so that she can stay in the country, she attends a graduation ceremony with him. Afterwards they fight. Joy criticizes him for dealing only with those weaker than him or those who indulge certain parts of him, and she storms off. Lewis is befuddled by her claim. Then Lewis learns that Whistler is dropping out of school, which makes him wonder what it is everyone wants from him. Joy discovers she has cancer, and Lewis learns to love. After the religious wedding ceremony, Lewis runs into Whistler on the train. Lewis has mellowed and asks probing questions about Whistler’s father, about whom the pair have already conversed. Whistler is working as a teacher, which makes Lewis proud. By the end of the movie, Lewis has a new student to teach. This time he does not verbally or intellectually intimidate, but listens to and interacts with the student.

There are many other differences between the stage and film versions of Shadowlands, including the key components of the core story as described here. Neither version is superior to the other, but the film gives Lewis and Joy’s unusual love story a firmer visual foundation and deepens many of the characters. Both versions capture a wealth of emotions and show how hard it can be to suffer through love and loss.

Source: Annette Petrusso, in an essay for Drama for Students, Gale Group, 2001.

Comparison in Review of Shadowlands

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

I reviewed the stage play, Shadowlands, three years ago (Crisis February 1991), praised it, but issued a warning that I now repeat re Richard Attenborough’s film adaptation. ‘‘Let devotees of the life and works of Clive Staples ‘Jack’ Lewis go to . . . Shadowlands . . . forewarned though not necessarily forearmed. If they go to sniff out omissions and distortions of facts, they will have a field day. But they won’t have as good a time as those who attend the play to discover what idea, what compelling image the playwright William Nicholson perceived in . . . Lewis’s marriage to Joy Davidman, and how close Nicholson comes to realizing that image theatrically.’’

The stage version is made of sterner stuff than the new film. In the play’s first scene, Jack Lewis, delivering a lecture, addresses the question of why God makes or lets us suffer. His answer, ‘‘the blows of God’s chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect,’’ is something that Lewis believes intellectually but doesn’t feel with his entire being. By the final curtain, because of the suffering he has undergone, Lewis faces the audience as a transfigured man, prepared, even longing to undergo his own death because only death can release him from the ‘‘Shadowlands’’ of earthly life into the higher reality of heaven where he will be reunited with Joy. Head knowledge has become heart knowledge. The stage play, when well performed (as it certainly was on Broadway with Jane Alexander and Nigel Hawthorne), provides a deeply spiritual experience.

Not so the movie. Artfully directed, photographed, and played, it is a poignant, funny-sad movie that can provoke an instant nostalgia for the dreaming spires of Oxford even in the breasts of those who have never been anywhere near Oxford. But it is also about as untranscendent as any film about C. S. Lewis could possibly be. Quite a feat, that. How did Attenborough and Nicholson bring it off?

The lineaments of the plot are the same. Jack, self-trapped in the forlorn bachelorhood he shares with his brother, Warnie, and in the academic routine he shares with a bunch of academic stiffs (no Tolkien, no Owen Barfield, no Hugo Dyson on view in this movie, since any suggestion of bracing intellectual companionship would queer Nicholson’s dramaturgical pitch), encounters an American, Jewish, ex-Communist, soon-to-be-divorcee Joy Davidman Gresham, marries her to give her British citizenship, then marries her before God when her first bout with cancer makes him realize how much he loves her. Joy has a seemingly miraculous remission, then succumbs. Lewis is left to spend the rest of his life. . .how?

The answer given by this movie indicates how a spiritual experience has been yanked sharply down to earth. In the early scenes, Lewis is still seen delivering his lectures about pain being the chiselblows of God, and this statement is still perceived as an untested, purely cerebral concept. But, at the conclusion, Lewis does not affirm his belief as now verified by his experience. Instead, he quotes a remark of Joy’s, ‘‘the pain now is part of the happiness then.’’ This Lewis isn’t braced for the afterlife by the heartbreak of Joy’s death. Rather, he has accepted suffering (as J. W. N. Sullivan said Beethoven did) ‘‘as one of the great structural lines of human life.’’ Earthly happiness is worth the suffering we undergo when we lose the bringer of happiness. I found this conclusion quite as poignant as that of the play’s but not quite so grand. Oddly enough, it makes Lewis’s fiercely held Christian beliefs quite inessential to the main dramatic action. After all, an atheist or agnostic can learn to accept earthly suffering in the same way that this movie’s version of Lewis does. There is no wholehearted acceptance of the strokes of God’s chisel at this movie’s fade-out, no more talk of Shadowlands.

Another way Nicholson diminishes the spiritual aspect of his story is by deleting the scene in which Joy tells Jack Lewis of her first apprehension of God’s existence. Though many of Joy’s qualities attracted Lewis, he would obviously be especially drawn by her personal experience of the holy. And since Joy came to her conversion after a long period of Communist commitment, we may well wonder how this transformation came about. But the script never answers this question and Lewis never even raises it. A breathtaking omission in light of who Lewis and Davidman were in real life, yet a logical omission considering the kind of movie Attenborough and Nicholson want to make. For Shadowlands is no longer the story of the romantic union of two equally life-perplexed, God-seeking individuals, perfectly matched in intellect and mettlesome high spirits. It is now the story of an overgrown teddy bear, lovably bookish and unworldly, who is rescued from emotional suffocation and his own virginity by a warmhearted, tough-tender earth mother who shatters his routine, skewers his narrow-minded colleagues, and takes him on a motor tour of the English countryside. Let’s face it: this Shadowlands is really the latest rendition of Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

And a nice rendition it is. Richard Attenborough’s direction is the best work of his career. It’s as if the intimacy of the story had reined in Attenborough’s penchant for visual fustian and incoherent storytelling. Each directorial stroke makes its point succinctly.

Following his triumph in The Remains of the Day, Anthony Hopkins’s Jack Lewis comes across as The Butler Escapes. For, like Stevens in The Remains of the Day, Nicholson’s version of Lewis is a man who has fashioned his own leash and wears it with conviction. In researching this role, Hopkins must have read Lewis’s confession that emotional safe-playing was his greatest temptation. Hopkins has zeroed in on that trait and amplified it. This Jack Lewis is an overgrown boy who keeps his eyes on the carpet in the presence of an attractive female. This virginal, flustered quality is the keynote of the first three quarters of the performance. Later, when Lewis is moved to passion, first by the love of Joy, then by anger at her death, Hopkins’s specialty— staccato bursts of emotion issuing out of a seemingly passive exterior—comes into play and makes viewers sit up wide-awake in the knowledge that there is more to this man’s character than they had suspected. And so another triumph is added to Hopkins’s seemingly unbreakable chain of triumphs.

But Debra Winger’s triumph is bigger. While Hopkins tailors Lewis to match his peculiar strengths as an actor, Winger extends the boundaries of her talent to encompass Joy. Though too pretty and still too young for the role, she bestows the best sort of amnesia on the viewer. She wipes out her own backlog of characterizations and makes you accept this woman as the only Debra Winger you have ever seen. Nicholson has given Joy a few too many wisecracks, but Winger never lets us forget the emotional neediness that deploys those wisecracks like SOS signals. When Jack casually asks his Yuletide guest if her husband is looking after himself for Christmas, Winger raps out ‘‘Yes!’’ with a speed and fierceness that bespeak a world of marital woe.

So, by all means, go see Shadowlands but be prepared to take it on its own terms. This is a C. S. Lewis biopic for secular humanists in search of a good cry. I believe they constitute a sizable audience.

Source: Richard Alleva, ‘‘Shadowlands,’’ in Commonweal, Vol. 121, No. 2, January 28, 1994, pp. 22–23.

Overview of Main Points

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

When we meet him, C. S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins) is giving rather smug lectures about the blessed necessity for suffering in our life: ‘‘Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world,’’ he happily informs his listeners.

But what does Lewis—Oxford don, literary critic, fairy-tale writer, Christian apologist—actually know about the ordinary hurts of ordinary life? Or, for that matter, about life as most people know it? His beloved mother died when he was a child, and for decades he has lived in withdrawn bachelorhood. Snuggled up in a charming book-lined cottage with his brother Warnie (the excellent Edward Hardwicke), he is sage but distant with his students, witty but somewhat abstract with his colleagues at the high table.

The man needs shaking up. And Joy Gresham (Debra Winger) is just the woman to do it. She’s an American, something of a poet, something of an imposition. But she’s also someone any writer is bound to cherish, a knowledgeable fan. They meet for tea; she and her eight-year-old son (she’s in the midst of a messy divorce) return for Christmas; and eventually they settle in London. Bemusement soon gives way to concern. Lewis marries her so she can stay in England, but true love does not happen until she falls ill with cancer. A period of remission offers them the opportunity for an idyll. That brief happiness, followed by the pain of her death, does indeed ‘‘rouse’’ Lewis. But in ways deeper and more mysterious than he formerly gabbled about.

Shadowlands is, in essence, a true story, though screenwriter William Nicholson, adapting his own play, admits that given Lewis’ reticence, he has had to imagine much of what went on in the relationship with Gresham. And reticent is the word for Richard Attenborough’s film version. But that’s a virtue, not a defect, when your setting is English academia (no one has more persuasively captured its manners) and your subject is mortality. There is something very moving in the understated way that these people confront it, something very sweetly believable in their courtship and in the brief bliss they shared. Hopkins gets to do what he could not in The Remains of the Day, shake off repression, and Winger is awfully good too; there is a steady pressure in her forcefulness that is never flashy or abrasive. They—the entire movie—are strong, unsentimental, exemplary.

Source: ‘‘Shadowlands,’’ in Time, Vol. 142, No. 27, December 27, 1993, p. 72.

Shady Doings

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Shadowlands, the William Nicholson play about C. S. Lewis, which ran for a year in London in a production directed by Elijah Moshinsky and starring Nigel Hawthorne and Jane Lapotaire, has just opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. It turns out to be a major disappointment. Like the television film of the same name, which Mr. Nicholson wrote for the BBC, the play tells the story of Lewis’s strange, doomed love affair with the minor American poet Joy Davidman Gresham. Anyone who has seen the movie version of Shadowlands (it has been broadcast on PBS and on the Arts and Entertainment cable network) knows how poignantly and affectingly this story can be told. She was a married woman with two children (boys), a Jewish convert to Christianity, and a former Communist, who, having initiated a correspondence with Lewis, sought an introduction to him on a visit to England, which she undertook when her marriage appeared to be failing. Eventually, she was divorced (her husband had left her for another woman), and she moved lock, stock, and barrel to Oxford (with the two boys), whereupon Lewis agreed to marry her for immigration purposes. She became the love of his life, and soon afterward died of bone cancer.

I have no idea what Joy was really like, or how Jane Lapotaire portrayed her in the West End production. But Claire Bloom, who played the role, opposite Joss Ackland, in the television movie, was beautiful, charming, and graceful, with a kind of lively-mindedness that made it perfectly clear why a celebrated author and academic might have turned, for love and friendship, to a Jewish American intellectual divorcée. Jane Alexander, who plays Joy, opposite Mr. Hawthorne, in the current production, brings to the role a combination of toughness and tartness that has served her well in other roles, but for lively-mindedness she substitutes belligerence, which reduces the relationship to a hackneyed conflict between American brashness and Oxford inhibition. Moreover, where Bloom was gawky only in approaching passion, Alexander is gawky in everything. (She seems to come onstage limping.) This, along with a certain freeness of the hands and upper torso, seems to be her way of getting the idea of Jewishness across. Owing partly to a quality of abrasiveness that Alexander brings to the role (something that A. N. Wilson, in fact, attributes to Joy in his new biography of Lewis, which is discussed elsewhere in this issue), and owing partly to Nicholson’s script, which doesn’t give the relationship between the two people much time to develop, Joy appears to be plotting: she seems to have designs on Lewis.

What’s missing from this stage version is any sense that Joy had a life apart from Lewis—she seems to be merely a woman obsessed with C. S. Lewis, a celebrity-seeker—and any sense of the world she was invading. The film used pictures and tiny gestures to establish a moral context and ambience: a world of middle-aged men who talk to each other without looking up from their books. It juxtaposed scenes of Lewis reading, lecturing to students, and strolling through Magdalen deer park with references to and images from the sacred and secular medieval literature Lewis taught and studied. Nicholson’s script for the stage version substitutes Robert Louis Stevenson for Guillaume de Lorris and Chrétien de Troyes; it has Paul Sparer, Robin Chadwick, Hugh A. Rose, and Edmund C. Davys (playing a collection of stereotypical dons and vicars) spouting some sort of ghastly parody of high-table conversation; and it vulgarizes everything that in the film was subtle. As for Mark Thompson’s set, its only nod to the idea of Oxford is a vaguely Gothic front panel that moves endlessly up and down, up and down, allowing stagehands to get ready for the next scene.

Joy’s younger son, Douglas, was in his teens when his mother died. The movie fudges this a bit, making him a child of eight or nine, and fair enough: the movie wants to offer a parallel between Joy’s children and Lewis and his older brother, who lost their mother when Lewis was nine. It suggests visually that those two little boys might very easily become those two middle-aged men. In the movie, though, Lewis’s brother, Warnie, was played by an actor whose puffy, feline face—he was like a maiden aunt—presented an image of passionlessness and sterility. Michael Allinson, who plays Warnie in the current production, cuts a rather dapper figure. He’s tall and distinguished—like an American’s dream of the romantic English gentleman. Moreover, since the play reduces the number of Joy’s children to one, the trumped-up parallel between Douglas and Lewis has to be pounded home verbally.

Douglas Gresham, who seems to have been involved with Shadowlands at every phase of its development, from screen to stage, has provided a program note for the current production in which he says that the play ‘‘comes closer to the truth’’ than anything else he has read ‘‘about the nature of my stepfather’s relationship with my mother.’’ The film version made some sort of spiritual sense out of the dilemma that Lewis’s Neo-platonic relationship with Joy posed to his Neo-platonic Christianity. But the play, which purports to answer the question ‘‘If God loves us, why does he allow us to suffer so much?,’’ succeeds only in Broadwayizing everything. ‘‘Her death,’’ Douglas Gresham writes of his mother, ‘‘taught him . . . that in the very deepest despair there is hope and when by grief the entire universe is suddenly emptied, there is God.’’

The movie script gave bigger play to what may have been Lewis’s true final comment on life as symbolized by Joy’s bone cancer: ‘‘This is a mess, and that is all there is to it.’’ Cancer is a mess, and the stories of people who die from it don’t usually get made into a play. Shadowlands seems to suggest that what makes the events it recounts tragic is the fact that they happened to C. S. Lewis. Given that Mr. Hawthorne, who hasn’t the authority or the presence to play Lewis with any depth or complexity, is a television star before anything else (he plays the shady secretary in the popular series ‘‘Yes, Minister’’ and ‘‘Yes, Prime Minister’’), the whole thing has the feel of a tourist trap—the sort of play that gets mounted in London with the idea of capitalizing on America’s love for anything having to do with Oxford or England.

Source: Mimi Kramer, ‘‘Shady Doings,’’ in New Yorker, November 26, 1990, p. 124–125.

Metaphysical Dilemma

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

For almost every person of religious conviction, the most harrowing test of faith comes with the suffering and death of a loved one. It is hard to believe in a just and kind God who allows innocent people to suffer the physical agonies of dying or the mental agonies of being parted. Yet it is precisely at these moments that religious belief can be most comforting. Being sure that apparently pointless grief does serve some higher purpose, even if one cannot yet divine what it is, may enable a depressed mourner to get himself through the despondency of the day.

That metaphysical dilemma lies at the heart of Shadowlands, a new Broadway play that personalizes the issue in the life of Clive Staples Lewis, a distinguished literary scholar and one of the 20th century’s foremost popular writers on Christian theology. When Lewis was nine, his mother died of cancer. When he was 61, his wife Joy died of the same disease. Both were racked with pain; both endured the false hope of brief remission; both left behind baffled, brittle sons. Part of Lewis plainly believed these horrors somehow reflected the Almighty’s benevolent hand. Another part of him, the play argues, never could. That led him to escape into writing another kind of literature for which he is remembered: children’s fables such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He yearned, it is suggested, for a healing magic he could not find in the everyday world.

Writers’ lives rarely yield good drama. Their work is mostly done silently and alone. They live out their fantasies more openly on the page than in company. They often thwart relationships with others because they view everyone as ‘‘material.’’ Shadowlands might seem doubly doomed because it also embraces disease-of-the-week pathos of a kind that TV generally does better. The plot focuses almost entirely on Lewis’ relationship with Joy, whom he met and married—less to live as man and wife than to enable her and her offspring by a prior marriage to stay in Britain—after a half-century of hearty bachelorhood. The script is far more graphic about her symptoms (her hip ‘‘snapped like a frozen twig’’) than about whether this marriage of convenience ripened into sexual love, and its overall view of Lewis as a near monk clashes with a recent biography. Moreover, the play is lumbered with Lewis’ fellow Oxford dons, middle-aged men joking about women in an awed, distant, prepubescent way that may resonate for audiences in London, where the show originated, but does not for American theatergoers.

Yet Shadowlands does work. William Nicholson, adapting his 1984 TV drama, finds a wealth of delicate metaphor in the imagery of the title, a reference to Lewis’ assertion that true life is inner life or afterlife and what happens on earth a mere shadow existence. He prospers by Jane Alexander’s blunt, practical, meticulously underplayed Joy and by Nigel Hawthorne’s epic performance, reminiscent of Ralph Richardson at his finest, as Lewis. Shuffling and shambling, looking as if forever surrounded by muddy acres and faithful hounds, Hawthorne is the embodiment of an older, surer England coming to grips with a new world that is not so much brave as demanding of bravery. He makes theological abstractions breathe—and weep.

Source: William A. Henry, III, ‘‘Shadowlands,’’ in Time, Vol. 136, No. 22, November, 19, 1990, p. 106.


Critical Overview