REVIEW: Play of the Week – Darkness At Noon

  • Broadcast: January 15th, 1963

Character: Glenkin

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TV Times. PETER as Glenkin, top centre.

When Sidney Kingsley’s adaptation of Arthur Koestler’s harrowing novel, ‘Darkness at Noon’ was performed on Broadway in 1951, a New York theatre critic described it as “Savagely gripping and provocative.”

It is a description which also applied equally well to Cyril Coke’s TV version, which was broadcast on Tuesday, January 15th, 1963. The question being asked was: Does the end justify the means?

During the Stalin era in the Soviet Union, the end was everything. But Rabashov (Albert Lieven), hero of the play, as Party chief, has known what the cause could demand, and is now imprisoned.

The year is 1937. The year of the Moscow Purge Trials. Commissar Rabashov has made the unfortunate mistake of expressing an unorthodox opinion at the wrong time. In his cell, he is tormented by his past, his earlier, loyal life in the Party. He has always believed that this particular end justified the means: now he has been caught up in his own belief. Wracked by the realisation of his own guilt, his own acceptance of cruelty, he awaits his fate.

He recalls his past – his girlfriend, Luba (Katherine Blake), his betrayal, his comrades. One of his former friends – another member of the old Communist brigade, Ivanov (David Davies), tried to exhort a “confession” from him. He wants to keep Rabashov out of the hands of the young but merciless officer, Glenkin (PETER WYNGARDE). When Rabashov refuses to talk, Ivanov asks: “Which are we to save? Your dignity or your head?” But before long, Glenkin has Rabashov in his evil clutches…

Cyril Coke, who directed and adapted the play said: “I read Koestler’s book years before, and I’d always wanted to televise it. Now that the Soviet leaders admit the wrongs perpetrated on the ‘Old Guard Of The Revolution’, in Stalin’s time it seemed the right moment to screen it. Those wrongs it exposed still exist today.

“Sidney Kingsley’s play won the Annual Award of the New York Drama Critics in 1951, but this was the first dramatisation of Koestler’s novel in England, and I was delighted to direct it.”

As Rabashov, Albert Lieven had, as he stated at the time, “One of the most exciting parts I could imagine. I think this was one of the really worthwhile things to do.”

Sentiments echoed by Katherine Blake: “It was one of those plays where the meaning was very clear from the very first rehearsal. I could understand the role of Luba immediately so the part was easy to learn; easy to speak.” Equally enthusiastic was David Davies: “It was the best part that I’d ever had, and that includes the part of the drunken father in Gorki’s play, ‘Mother’.”

Although PETER enjoyed playing the evil Glenkin, he said back in 1963 that he might soon win a few more sympathetic roles: “I’m tired of being hated!” he confessed.


The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/

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