Thursday, 5 February 2009

Of reality and appearances...

The one act play A Question of Attribution by Alan Bennett remains one of my all time favourites. Its major concerns are about reality and appearances and the dialogue still makes me hold my breath.

I saw it over twenty years ago at The National Theatre, with Alan Bennett playing the role of Blunt and Prunella Scales as Queen Elizabeth.

It is helpful to know that in real life, Sir Anthony Blunt was a Soviet spy and member of the Cambridge Spy Ring although this does not become apparent for some years.

Blunt did rise to become Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures - personal art advisor to Queen Elizabeth II. The play portrays his interview with security officers, his work researching and restoring art, and his relationship with the Queen.

While supervising the restoration of a dual portrait attributed to Titian, Blunt discovers a further three figures that had been painted over. As Blunt's public exposure as a spy in 1979 draws near the play suggests that he has been made a scapegoat to protect others.

One of the main themes of the play concerns whether or not the Queen knew that Blunt was a former Soviet spy. This scene is set just after the Queen has been informed of the fakery, which leads her to discuss the nature of fakes and secrets with Blunt.

After she has left and an aide asks what they were talking about, Blunt replies "I was talking about art. I'm not sure that she was".

In this clip the role of Blunt is played by the admirable James Fox and the Queen by Prunella Scales.

Bennett described the piece as an "inquiry in which the circumstances are imaginary but the pictures are real" . The New York Times called it a "razor-sharp psychological melodrama".


  1. This looks right up my alley. It's been added to my Netflix queue! I adore both Fox and Scales.

  2. And, hey, I love your new snowy header! Still noir, but with snow! :)

  3. "An enigma?"
    "That is, I think, the sophisticated answer."

    Doublespeak in the frost of high quarters! And there you go, Ducky - LOL.

    Truly lovely verbiage, aye. That can't be denied. :)

    I love the Tom Stoppard plays like you do Bennett. They're another fun mastermind of 'verbial' play.
    My personal favourite is 'Travesty', as a good friend did the stage play, cast as Lenin in Paris in the '20s. Great fun! But you may know of Stoppard's most famous made into film, 'Enigma' (incl. the trailor)