The Browning Version

From Academic Kids

Terence Rattigan's play, The Browning Version, was first performed on September 8, 1948 at the Phoenix Theatre, London, in a joint performance with Harlequinade.

The play is about the last few days in the career of Crocker-Harris, an old classics teacher at a British public school. The man's academic life is fading away and he deeply feels how he has become obsolete. His talk at the end of year prize giving is replaced by the popular sports master and the school will not give him his pension because of his early retirement, although he was depending on it.

When Taplow, a boy who needs Crocker-Harris to pass him so he can go up to the next year, comes to him for help on his Greek, Crocker-Harris begins to show his true feelings.

Crocker-Harris' wife, Millie, is being unfaithful to him with a younger master, something that he has just been ignoring. When Taplow comes to him he admits to himself, and the other man, that he knew about the affair.

As the play ends Crocker-Harris telephones the headmaster saying that he will make his talk at the prize giving, as is his right.

The "Browning Version" of the title is the reference within the story of Harris Browning's translation of Greek tragedy Agamemnon. In the tragedy, Agamemnon is murdered by his wife, aided by her lover. In the film, Crocker-Harris is spiritually dead, partly from spousal "murder," although the slaughter has been reciprocal, and his wife, Millie, can be viewed as possibly in worse shape. His "death" shows as extreme precision of word and manner, absence of emotional reaction, supercilious bullying of his students, and a cool, high-pitched, stilted, professorial approach to every circumstance. In essence, a "death" of emotion, in particular that of a capacity for empathy. Her "death" shows in a desperate search elsewhere for masculine love, and in harsh, hard, hostile, cold-blooded, humiliating attacks against her husband.

Although the name of the school is not given in the play, it is clearly Harrow School where Rattigan himself was educated, as references are made to a cricket game that is played each year between Eton College and the school.

It was subsequently made into two film versions, and two made-for-television versions. The original film version, starring Michael Redgrave as Crocker-Harris, won two awards at the Cannes Film Festival, one for Terence Rattigan's screenplay, the other for Mr. Redgraves performance. It was remade in 1994, starring Albert Finney, Greta Scacchi, Matthew Modine and Julian Sands. There was a British television version made in 1955 staring Peter Cushing as Crocker-Harris. Another made for TV version in 1985 starred Ian Holm as the main character.

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