Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Timid, tasteful, nice....

'So little, England.

Little music, little art.

Timid, tasteful, nice.

Yet one loves it, one loves it.'

I had a pleasantly lethargic Tuesday evening and managed to rent myself the film, 'An Englishman Abroad', based on the stage play by Alan Bennett. It stars Coral Browne and Alan Bates, shown in the clip above.

Alan Bates gives a riveting performance as Guy Burgess, the infamous British spy, traitor and gay outcast who defected to Russia in the 1940s. Based on a true incident, the film is set in 1958, when actress Coral Browne (who plays herself) performed in Moscow.

Desperate for English companionship and gossip from home, a drunken Burgess crashes backstage and sets up a friendship with Browne, allowing her a rare glimpse into the life of this almost broken man. A touching and humorous film, with a witty, concise screenplay that, without artifice, includes Burgess' homosexuality within the story.

Coral Browne was ill during the filming of "An Englishman Abroad." She lived to receive awards for her remarkable role both in the creation of the story and her performance. At a memorial service held for her at the Farmers Church in London on the 5th September 1991, a letter written by her husband, Vincent Price, was read by John Schlesinger.

Dear John,

When I was courting Coral, the first gift she gave me was a photo of herself simply signed: "Remember Coral" -- not really a challenge as the problem was: how could you forget her?

I've come to believe remembering someone is not the highest compliment -- it is missing them. I find I miss every hour of Coral's life -- I miss her morning cloudiness, noon mellowness, evening brightness. I miss her in every corner of our house, every crevice of my life. In missing her, I feel I'm missing much of life itself.

Over her long illness, as I held her hand or stroked her brow, or just lay still beside her, it was not the affectionate contact we'd known as we wandered down the glamorous paths we'd been privileged to share in our few years together; we were marching towards the end of our time and we both knew it. But, in our looks, our smiles, the private, few, soft-spoken words, there was hope of other places, other ways, perhaps, to meet again.

One fact of Coral I'll always miss: her many, many devoted friends -- many here, today, in this beautiful church, celebrating her life more than mourning her death, and missing the liveliness of her wit, her personal beauty, her outgoing self. I love them all for loving her. Many of you have shared more of her life than I have, but that very private and intense passion for her is mine alone.

She survived that last long year on the love of her friends, their caring and concern -- and very especially yours, dear John. I miss you all, and though we may not meet as often, nor in the great good company of my wife, you are in my memory locked.

All my love,



  1. I love Alan Bates! Thanks for another great recommendation. It must be fate.

    (I had to keep the rhymey thing going)

  2. What a beautiful letter! Now I'm a little verklempt. :)