Historical Context

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Philosophy of Political Leadership
The decade of the 1950s had much in common with the late 1980s in British history. For much of the 1950s and into the early 1960s, Great Britain was ruled by a Conservative government. Winston Churchill was prime minister from 1951 to 1955, Anthony Eden from 1955 to 1957, and Harold Macmillan from 1957 to 1963. The country was still recovering from the effects of World War II, and while there were some prosperity and expansion, much of it was illusionary until the end of decade. Still, high interest rates limited growth. Also, in 1957, Great Britain declined to join the European Economic Community (EEC), a burgeoning organization designed to regionalize trade and other economic concerns.

By 1989, the Conservatives were again entrenched in power, as they had been since 1979. They only had one prime minister in that time period: Margaret Thatcher. In 1988, after winning her third general election, she had become the longest continually serving prime minister. Under her leadership in the 1980s, Great Britain had eradicated the social welfare state that had been built up after World War II. Most major industries (such as coal mining) were denationalized and much of the power of trade unions was taken away. Like her Conservative predecessors, Thatcher opposed Great Britain becoming part of the European-wide currency.

Despite her best efforts, Thatcher did not totally dismantle the welfare state. Pensions and the National Health Service (NHS) remained, though they were reorganized in 1982 and 1988 to increase efficiency and accountability. Because of a sluggish economy, many were dependent on welfare at this time. Thatcher was forced out of power in late 1990 when she tried to put a uniform poll tax on British citizens in place of local property taxes. This proposal led to riots in London and other parts of the country, and Thatcher lost the support of her own Conservative party. She was replaced by a fellow Conservative, John Major.

Only about four percent of all British, and less than three percent of British working class adoles cents, went to university by the late 1950s, a percentage that was much less than the United States and other countries in Europe. By the late 1980s, more British students went to university, but the proportion relative to the population did not change much. Education was a way to become socially mobile, but few were in the position to take advantage of it.

While in office, the Thatcher-led government worked to reform the government-sponsored educational system. Before these changes, a test given at the age of eleven determined what kind of comprehensive school they would attend. About 88 percent of British children attended these schools. Kenneth Backer created a national curriculum for schools with the Education Act of 1988. More vocational programs and technical colleges were also created in the late 1980s and 1990s to give young people more educational options. By the end of the decade, many more mature students went to university, about 237,000 towards the end of the decade.

To become truly part of Great Britain’s elite (leaders in government, industry, and banking), however, it seemed that one had to attend public schools (comparable to U.S. private schools) such as Eton. By 1988, 119,002 were in such public schools, where just over 95,000 were in such schools at the end of the 1950s. Fees over that period had greatly increased, limiting their access even further. Since many products of public schools went on to Oxford, Cambridge, and other select universities, educational opportunity greatly determined who would be in power and determine policy in Great Britain.

Literary Style

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Shadowlands is a drama set in the 1950s. Much of the action is confined to Oxford, England, except for a brief scene in Act II that takes place at a hotel in Greece. Most of the scenes in Oxford are set in Lewis’ world: a lecture room, his home and study, the main dining hall at Oxford, and the surrounding streets. When Lewis and Joy first meet, they have tea at a hotel with Douglas and Warnie. After Joy moves to Oxford, she has her own home with Douglas, where Lewis visits. So that Joy can stay in England, she and Lewis marry in an uncomfortable scene in the local Registry Office. When Joy becomes sick, many of their most intimate scenes take place in her hospital room. Shadowlands only leaves Oxford for Joy and Lewis’ honeymoon in Greece during a temporary reprise in her illness. These settings underscore what Lewis’ life was like before Joy and after, and how events have profoundly changed him.

Staging/Transitions within Acts
Within each act in Shadowlands, Nicholson has numerous small scenes with clever staging that underline the play’s themes and the characters. It is the staging that often defines the transitions between these scenes. The stage directions call for the stage to be divided in two by a translucent screen. The screen defines an inner area and an outer area. Only certain kinds of scenes take place in the inner area: the scenes in the Oxford dining hall; Lewis’ study and home, except for one towards the end of Act I when Joy goes into another room during the Christmas party and reads a letter from her husband who wants a divorce; Joy’s home in Oxford; the Registry office; and Joy’s hospital room. Others take place in the outer area in front of the screen: Lewis’ monologues; scenes on the street where characters are walking; the hotel tea room; certain scenes in Lewis’ house, especially those in which the outside world is intruding on Lewis; the corridor outside of Joy’s hospital room; the scene in Greece. The scenes in front of the screen generally signify the outside world, while those inside are more personal and deep. Changes in lighting also define the passage of time and the change of scene.

Another staging device is a large wardrobe at the back of the stage, looming over the proceedings primarily in the stage’s inner area. The wardrobe itself refers to a series of children’s books written by Lewis, the Narnia books, including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Douglas is already a fan of Lewis’ books and carries around The Magician’s Nephew with him. After his mother has tea at the hotel with Lewis and Warnie in the middle of Act I, Douglas effects a transition in the scene by ringing the bell on the table, as a character in the book does. This makes the screen rise and Douglas walks into the world of Narnia inside the wardrobe. He returns to the other world in the wardrobe in Act II during the religious ceremony that marries his mother and Lewis. Douglas is reenacting the story line from The Magician’s Nephew, though this time the magic apple does not cure the mother permanently.

At the beginning of each act in Shadowlands as well at the end of the play, Lewis delivers a monologue to the audience. It is done in the form of a talk or lecture, as Lewis gave these often in his lifetime. These monologues reveal much about Lewis’ character, motivations, and how he changes over the course of the play. The topic of his talk does not change. It is about human ‘‘love, pain and suffering,’’ and the role God plays (or does not play) in it. During the first monologue at the beginning of Act I, Lewis believes that suffering is God’s ‘‘love in action.’’ He seems to talk of such pain in a detached tone. At the beginning of Act II, Lewis continues the same train of thought in his lecture, but questions suffering from a more personal place. At the end of the play, Lewis has been completely transformed by suffering and his monologue is barely a talk, but more of a conversation with himself. He is quieter and more reflective about his relationship with Joy. God is not directly mentioned.

Compare and Contrast

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1950s: The Labour Party is in power throughout 1951, though the Conservative Party rules Great Britain for the rest of the decade.

Today: The Conservative Party is in power through much of the 1990s, until the Labour Party returns in the late 1990s.

1950s: At Oxford, women and men have separate colleges. There is not talk of allowing women and men into some of the same colleges until the mid-1960s.

Today: Since the mid-1970s, at least some of the previously all-male colleges admit women, though the women’s colleges fear they might return to secondary status again.

1950s: Great Britain is still recovering from the devastating effects of World War II on its economy, infrastructure, and people. Food is rationed until 1954, while coal is rationed until 1958.

Today: Fully recovered from World War II with no rationing, Great Britain still has economic problems but looks to the future in Europe with a common currency.

1950s: At the beginning of the decade, less than a third of those who reside in Great Britain own their home. Few homes contain featured televisions, washing machines, and refrigerators.

Today: Nearly 70 percent of those residing in Great Britain own their home. Since the consumer boom of the 1960s and 1970s, most homes contain ‘‘luxury’’ items such as televisions, washing machines, and refrigerators.

Media Adaptations

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Shadowlands was based on a television movie written by Nicholson and aired on the BBC in 1986. It later aired on PBS and A&E. It featured Claire Bloom as Joy Gresham and Joss Ackland as Lewis.

A feature film version was produced in 1993 with a script by Nicholson. Directed by Sir Richard Attenborough, the film featured Debra Winger as Joy and Anthony Hopkins as Lewis.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Armistead, Claire, ‘‘Visions of Love,’’ in New Statesman & Society, February 9, 1990, p. 42.

Barnes, Clive, ‘‘Stars Shine in Shadowlands,’’ in New York Post, November 12, 1990.

Beaufort, John, Review of Shadowlands, in Christian Science Monitor, November 4, 1990.

James, John, ‘‘Improbable Attachment,’’ in Times Educational Supplement, November 3, 1989, p. 33.

Kissel, Howard, ‘‘Tepid Tea, Anyone?: Shadowlands Conveys Little About Its Celebrated Subjects,’’ in Daily News, November 12, 1990.

Kramer, Mimi, ‘‘Shady Doings,’’ in New Yorker, November 26, 1990, pp. 124–25.

Nachman, Gerald, ‘‘Drama of Oxford Don in Love,’’ in San Francisco Chronicle, November 27, 1990, p. E1.

Nicholson, William, Shadowlands, Fireside Theatre, 1989.

Review of Shadowlands, in Financial Times, October 24, 1989, p. 25.

Review of Shadowlands, in Variety, November 12, 1990, p. 68.

Rich, Frank, Review of Shadowlands, in New York Times, November 12, 1990, p. C11.

Richards, David, ‘‘Why Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,’’ in New York Times, November 18, 1990, sec. 2, p. 5.

Stuart, Jan, ‘‘Probing the Humanity of C. S. Lewis,’’ in New York Newsday, November 12, 1990.

Weales, Gerald, ‘‘Partially Observed,’’ in Commonweal, February 8, 1991, pp. 99–100.

Wilson, Edwin, Review of Shadowlands, in Wall Street Journal, November 23, 1990.

Further Reading
Finkle, David, ‘‘For C. S. Lewis, Does Love Conquer All?’’ in New York Times, November 4, 1990, pp. H1, H5. This article gives background on the relationship between Lewis and Gresham, how Nicholson came to write both the television movie and play, and the stage production.

Green, V. H. H. A History of Oxford University, B. T. Batsford, Ltd., 1974. This nonfiction book gives the historical background at the institution where Lewis taught for many years and is used as a setting in Shadowlands.

Gresham, Douglas H., Lenten Lands, Macmillan, 1998. This book by Joy Gresham’s son who is a character in Shadowlands, describes his perspective on the relationship between his mother and Lewis.

Wilson, A. N., C. S. Lewis: A Biography, Collins, 1990. This is the definitive biography of Lewis and includes information about his relationship with Gresham.

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