Double Dare (1976) and Blue Remembered Hills (1979)
Dennis Potter's astonishing, multi-layered Double Dare was telecast by the BBC in 1976. For the BBC's Play for Today series, Potter wrote Double Dare as a reflexive commentary on writers and actresses. It was the first Potter production to be done entirely on film.
Playwright Martin Ellis intends to write a play about a prostitute and her client at a hotel. So he invites the actress he plans for the part to join him for a drink at a hotel, hoping this will give him some material to work with. As they talk in the hotel lobby, the boundaries between fantasy and reality begin to blur and overlap.
Scenes included in this clip from BBC Close Up show the play's innovative experiment of double dramas interweaving. Actress Kika Markham's memories of Potter and the production reveal yet another psychological level, as she explains how Potter invited her to meet him at a hotel before he wrote the play. Embedding has been disabled, so to see it, go here. For another Double Dare scene, go here and move to the three-minute mark. Blue Remembered Hills was also written for Play for Today.
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again. --A.E. Housman (1896)
"When we dream of childhood," said Dennis Potter, "we take our present selves with us. It is not the adult world writ small; childhood is the adult world writ large." Potter viewed childhood as "adult society without all the conventions and the polite forms which overlay it," so the cruelty of children emerges in Potter's Blue Remembered Hills (1979), a theme also explored by Ray Bradbury ("The Playground") and Margaret Atwood (Cat's Eye). For Blue Remembered Hills, Potter employed the device he had introduced 14 years earlier (in Stand Up, Nigel Barton): children's roles were cast with adult actors, providing "a magnifying glass to show what it's like to be a child" in this naturalistic memory drama of a "golden day" that turns to tragedy.
On a sunny, summer afternoon in bucolic England of 1943, seven West Country children (two girls, five boys) play in the Forest of Dean. Their games and spontaneous actions (continuous and in real time) reflect their awareness of WWII, but no adults are present to intrude. As the group moves through the woods and back to the grassy hills, their words and actions illustrate how "childhood is not transparent with innocence." When the two girls (Helen Mirren, Janine Duvitski) push a pram into a barn to play house, the casting concept is heightened, doubling back on itself in a remarkable moment: adults are suddenly seen to be acting as children who are pretending to be adults, and lines from Housman echo across the years.
Cast: Colin Welland (Willie), Michael Elphick (Peter), Robin Ellis (John), John Bird (Raymond), Helen Mirren (Angela), Janine Duvitski (Audrey), Colin Jeavons (Donald), Dennis Potter (Narrator). Potter reads the Housman poem at the conclusion.