Terence Rattigan Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Terence Rattigan wrote many screenplays, including a number of adaptations of his own plays. For the film of The Browning Version, he won the 1951 Cannes Film Festival Award for best screenplay. In 1958, the screenplay of Separate Tables, adapted from Rattigan’s play in collaboration with John Gay, was nominated for an Academy Award. The triumvirate of Rattigan, cowriter/producer Anatole de Grunwald, and director Anthony Asquith created a number of films, including Quiet Wedding (1941, based on Esther McCracken’s play), English Without Tears (1944, based on French Without Tears; also as Her Man Gilbey), The Way to the Stars (1945; also as Johnny in the Clouds, 1946), While the Sun Shines (1946, adapted from Rattigan’s play), and The Winslow Boy (1948, adapted from Rattigan’s play). These films were significant contributions to Great Britain’s postwar film renaissance. The Sound Barrier (1952; also as Breaking the Sound Barrier), from Rattigan’s screenplay, is considered by some aficionados the finest film ever made about aviation. His best-known films are probably Separate Tables (for which David Niven won an Academy Award as Best Actor), The Prince and the Showgirl (1957, starring Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier in the adaptation of Rattigan’s stage comedy The Sleeping Prince), and The VIPs (1963, with...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The first author ever to have had two plays (French Without Tears and While the Sun Shines) run for more than one thousand performances each on London’s West End, Terence Rattigan was one of the most commercially successful playwrights in theater history. With striking versatility, he achieved his goal of moving audiences to laughter or tears in romantic comedy, comedy of manners, farce, fantasy, history plays, courtroom drama, and dramas about troubled middle-class characters. He also attracted many of the finest acting and directing talents of his period. Roles in Rattigan plays made stars of such young actors as Rex Harrison, Paul Scofield, and Kenneth More, and enhanced the careers of such luminaries as Peggy Ashcroft, Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Alec Guinness, Margaret Sullivan, Margaret Leighton, and Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne (a couple who had enjoyed the longest run of their stage careers in the American version of Love in Idleness).

Rattigan’s success, however, was often held against him by critics, who did not bother to look beyond the polished surfaces of his plays. Failing to grasp the depth of psychological insight and the serious themes that usually characterized even his light comedies, most critics rated him as a good boulevard playwright at best. During the 1950’s and the 1960’s, the heyday of the Angry Young Men and the Theater of the Absurd, Rattigan’s work was derided as representing the establishment culture that younger playwrights and critics sought to demolish. London revivals of five of his plays between 1970 and 1977, the year of Rattigan’s death, led to a greater appreciation of his worth. With the widely hailed National Theatre’s production of Playbill in 1980 and the Roundabout Theatre Company’s acclaimed New York revivals of The Winslow Boy in 1980 and The Browning Version in 1982, Rattigan began to be recognized as an artist of high stature.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Darlow, Michael, and Gillian Hodson. Terence Rattigan: The Man and His Work. Rev. and updated ed. London: Quartet Books, 2000. A critical biography, thoroughly researched, using archives from the British Broadcasting Corporation. In this readable narrative of Rattigan, his plays, and their times, the authors write with authority and with permission from Rattigan to reveal much of what he had been unable to write about directly in his own plays. Includes photographs, a bibliography, a list of British and American opening dates and casts, and an index.

O’Connor, Sean. Straight Acting: Popular Gay Drama from Wilde to Rattigan. Washington, D.C.: Cassell, 1998. A look at homosexuality and literature that traces gay writers from Oscar Wilde and W. Somerset Maugham to more modern writers such as Noël Coward and Terence Rattigan. Includes bibliography and index.

Rusinko, Susan. Terence Rattigan. Boston: Twayne, 1983. A chronological summary-analysis of the complete stage, film, and television plays, analyzing Rattigan’s major plays, from his early sunny comedies to his later dramas about dysfunctional families in a dysfunctional society. Includes photograph, chronology, bibliography, index.

Wansell, Geoffrey. Terence Rattigan. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. A biography of Rattigan that covers his works for the stage as well as those for television and the movie theater. Includes bibliography and index.

Young, B. A. The Rattigan Version: The Theatre of Character. New York: Atheneum, 1988. A personal memoir by an author who knew Rattigan. Leisurely in pace and impressionistic in style, it raises some questions, as in the descriptions of Rattigan’s manner of throwing “his dialogue down on the page, caring only for its gist rather than its style.” Includes index, cast lists, and photographs that tell their own story