Samuel Beckett Play Brought to Life in an Eerie Short Film Starring Alan Rickman & Kristin Scott Thomas

Here at Open Cul­ture, when we think of authors who write work made for the movies, we do, of course, think of names like Dan Brown, J.K. Rowl­ing, and Robert Lud­lum — but even more so of names like Samuel Beck­ett, whose push­ing of aes­thet­ic and intel­lec­tu­al bound­aries on the stage we wel­come now more than ever on the screen. And in a way, his works have under­gone more com­plete film adap­ta­tion than have the books of many best­selling main­stream writ­ers, thanks to the 2002 omnibus project Beck­ett on Film, which round­ed up nine­teen auteurs to direct films, rang­ing in length from sev­en min­utes to two hours, of each and every one of his nine­teen plays.

Beck­ett on Film’s ros­ter of direc­tors includes Michael Lind­say-Hogg doing Wait­ing for Godot, Atom Egoy­an doing Krap­p’s Last Tape, Neil Jor­dan doing Not I, the artist Damien Hirst doing Breath, and Antho­ny Minghel­la, he of The Eng­lish Patient and The Tal­ent­ed Mr. Rip­ley, doing Play, which you can watch above. The six­teen-minute pro­duc­tion adapts Beck­et­t’s 1963 one-act, a dis­tinc­tive­ly pur­ga­to­r­i­al sort of roman­tic dra­ma which presents a man (“M”), his wife (“W1”), and his mis­tress (“W2”), each trapped in an urn, each forced to speak about the details of their tri­an­gu­lar rela­tion­ship when, on stage, the spot­light turns to them. On film, Minghel­la choos­es to swap out the spot­light for the cam­era itself, which cuts, swings, and shifts focus swift­ly between the three, com­mand­ing the his­to­ry of the affair from all three per­spec­tives, each deliv­ered with flat, rapid-fire insis­tence yet with sur­pris­ing clar­i­ty and feel­ing as well.

Those qual­i­ties nat­u­ral­ly owe to Beck­et­t’s mas­tery of the word, but also to the per­for­mances of the three actors, giv­en under absurd cir­cum­stances, caked with filth and stuffed into pots: Kristin Scott Thomas as the wife, Juli­et Steven­son as the mis­tress, and the late Alan Rick­man as the hic­cup­ing adul­ter­er. Every line they speak dis­tills some aspect of the Beck­et­t­ian world­view: “Silence and dark­ness were all I craved,” says Thomas’ W1. “Well, I get a cer­tain amount of both. They being one. Per­haps it is more wicked­ness to pray for more.” “Things may dis­im­prove,” says Steven­son’s W2. “Adul­ter­ers, take warn­ing,” says Rick­man’s M, “nev­er admit.” And the ulti­mate ques­tion: “When will all this have been… just play?” But in Beck­et­t’s real­i­ty, there’s noth­ing so “just” about it.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Take a “Breath” and Watch Samuel Beckett’s One-Minute Play

Hear Samuel Beckett’s Avant-Garde Radio Plays: All That Fall, Embers, and More

Samuel Beck­ett Directs His Absur­dist Play Wait­ing for Godot (1985)

Mon­ster­piece The­ater Presents Wait­ing for Elmo, Calls BS on Samuel Beck­ett

Rare Audio: Samuel Beck­ett Reads Two Poems From His Nov­el Watt

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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