Rodney Ackland

Last updated

Ackland photographed by Howard Coster, 1936 Playwright & actor Rodney Ackland.jpg
Ackland photographed by Howard Coster, 1936

Rodney Ackland (18 May 1908 in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex – 6 December 1991 in Richmond upon Thames, Surrey) was an English playwright, actor, theatre director and screenwriter.

Contents

Born as Norman Ackland Bernstein in Southend, Essex, to a Jewish father from Warsaw and a non-Jewish mother, [1] he was educated at Balham Grammar School in London. In his 16th year he made his first stage appearance at the Gate Theatre Studio, playing Medvedieff in Gorky's The Lower Depths and later studied acting at the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art. He married Mab Lonsdale, daughter of the playwright Frederick Lonsdale, in 1952; she died in 1972.

Theatre career

In 1929, after performing with various repertory companies, he toured as Young Woodley in the play of that name. At the Gaiety Theatre in 1933 he played Paul in his own adaptation of Ballerina, which also toured the following year, and at the Criterion in 1936 he played the role of Oliver Nashwick in his own original play After October which transferred there from the Arts Theatre.

In 1941, he co-wrote the screenplay for the film Temptation Harbour starring Robert Newton and Simone Simon. Two musical collaborations came in 1942 with his version of Blossom Time starring Richard Tauber as Franz Schubert at the Lyric Theatre, and his London Coliseum production of the musical play, The Belle of New York . He also wrote and directed The Dark River at the Whitehall Theatre in 1943, starring Peggy Ashcroft. He joined Robert Newton as co-authors of Cupid and Mars (1945), and A Multitude of Sins (1951)

The first staging of his large-cast drama, The Pink Room (or The Escapists), in Brighton and then at the Lyric Hammersmith in London on 18 June 1952, was largely financed by Terence Rattigan, who liked the play and believed it deserved a London production. The Pink Room was a tragi-comedy set in the summer of 1945 in a seedy London club (based on the French Club in Soho). [2] It received a severe critical panning and after that, apart from one further play and an adaptation, it led to a 40-year near-silence from the playwright. According to its director, Frith Banbury, "When the play failed, Terry never wanted to see Rodney again."

However, following the abolition of the Lord Chamberlain's licensing and censorship functions in 1968, there was a growing permissiveness about what could be presented on the stage, and in the 1980s, while ailing with leukaemia, Ackland rewrote aspects of this play, re-titling it Absolute Hell . It was put on in its new form in 1988 to considerable success at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond-upon-Thames, directed by Sam Walters and John Gardyne, and starring Polly Hemingway and David Rintoul.

In 1991 it was adapted and directed for BBC Television by Anthony Page, starring Dame Judi Dench, and the play was revived by Page at the Royal National Theatre in 1995, again with Dench in the leading role. In 2018 the National staged another revival, directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins and starring Kate Fleetwood. [3]

See also Nick Smurthwaite's theatre profile of Ackland for The Stage, Revival of a Realist, 5 February 2004

Film career

Rodney Ackland's first contact with Alfred Hitchcock was as a supporting actor in the 1931 screen version of John Galsworthy's play The Skin Game . [4] But a year later Hitchcock recognised his potential as a screenwriter, collaborating with him on the second film adaptation of J Jefferson Farjeon's London fog-bound thriller Number Seventeen starring Leon M Lion. [5]

Ackland co-wrote the popular British film Bank Holiday (1938), contributed additional dialogue to Young Man's Fancy (1940), and made some uncredited contributions to 1941's Dangerous Moonlight and 1944's Love Story . [6]

His screenplay for Hatter's Castle in 1941, from the novel by A.J. Cronin, provided a rampant star role for Robert Newton as the megalomaniac Scottish hatter. [7] In 1942 he shared with Emeric Pressburger an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay of 49th Parallel , starring Raymond Massey and Eric Portman, (released in the United States as The Invaders). [8]

Ackland is credited with discovering the actress Sally Ann Howes, the child of neighbour Bobby Howes, when he insisted that she audition for his 1943 film Thursday's Child , which he both wrote and directed.

He renewed his association with Pressburger in 1946 with a screenplay for the stagey, now forgotten thriller Wanted for Murder , mainly as a film vehicle for the talents of Eric Portman playing a man obsessed by his father's role as the public hangman. In the same year he made the first adaptation of Georges Simenon's novel Newhaven/Dieppe , directed by Lance Comfort, with another overwrought performance by Robert Newton, set against swirling studio fog.

He twice collaborated with Rattigan as a movie scriptwriter: in 1942 for Anthony Asquith's Uncensored , starring Eric Portman; and again — but neither he nor Rattigan were credited — for the 1948 Associated British production of Bond Street , four stories in one, about a wedding trousseau.

His final work for the cinema was on the screenplay of an adaptation of Alexander Pushkin's The Queen of Spades . Ackland intended to direct the film, but fell out with the producer Anatole de Grunwald and star Anton Walbrook. Thorold Dickinson took over at short notice and rewrote Ackland's script with the help of de Grunwald. [9]

Assisted by a co-author Elspeth Grant, Ackland wrote his memoirs, The Celluloid Mistress, or The Custard Pie of Dr. Caligari, published by Alan Wingate in London in 1954.

Plays

John Gielgud and Dolly Haas in the 1947 Broadway production of Ackland's stage dramatization of Crime and Punishment Gielgud and Haas in Crime and Punishment.jpg
John Gielgud and Dolly Haas in the 1947 Broadway production of Ackland's stage dramatization of Crime and Punishment

Selected filmography

Related Research Articles

<i>Separate Tables</i>

Separate Tables is the collective name of two one-act plays by Terence Rattigan, both taking place in the Beauregard Private Hotel, Bournemouth, on the south coast of England. The first play, titled Table by the Window, focuses on the troubled relationship between a disgraced Labour politician and his ex-wife. The second play, Table Number Seven, is set about 18 months after the events of the previous play, and deals with the touching friendship between a repressed spinster and Major Pollock, a kindly but bogus man posing as an upper-class retired army officer. The two main roles in both plays are written to be played by the same performers. The secondary characters – permanent residents, the hotel's manager, and members of the staff – appear in both plays. The plays are about people who are driven by loneliness into a state of desperation.

Emlyn Williams Welsh writer, dramatist and actor (1905-1987)

George Emlyn Williams, CBE, known as Emlyn Williams, was a Welsh writer, dramatist and actor.

Terence Rattigan British playwright and screenwriter

Sir Terence Mervyn Rattigan was a British dramatist and screenwriter. His plays are typically set in an upper-middle-class background. He wrote The Winslow Boy (1946), The Browning Version (1948), The Deep Blue Sea (1952) and Separate Tables (1954), among many others.

Michael Powell English film director

Michael Latham Powell was an English film director, celebrated for his partnership with Emeric Pressburger. Through their production company "The Archers", they together wrote, produced and directed a series of classic British films, notably The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Canterbury Tale (1944), I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951). His later controversial 1960 film Peeping Tom, while today considered a classic, and a contender as the first "slasher", was so vilified on first release that his career was seriously damaged.

<i>The Browning Version</i> (play)

The Browning Version is a play by Terence Rattigan, seen by many as his best work, and first performed on 8 September 1948 at the Phoenix Theatre, London. It was originally one of two short plays, jointly titled "Playbill"; the companion piece being Harlequinade, which forms the second half of the evening. The Browning Version is set in a boys' public school and the Classics teacher in the play, Crocker-Harris, is believed to have been based on Rattigan's Classics tutor at Harrow School, J.W. Coke Norris (1874–1961).

Emeric Pressburger Hungarian-British screenwriter, film director, and producer (1902-1988)

Emeric Pressburger was a Hungarian-British screenwriter, film director, and producer. He is best known for his series of film collaborations with Michael Powell, in a collaboration partnership known as the Archers, and produced a series of films, including 49th Parallel (1941), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951).

<i>The Deep Blue Sea</i> (play)

The Deep Blue Sea is a British stage play by Terence Rattigan from 1952. Rattigan based his story and characters in part on his secret relationship with Kenny Morgan, and the aftermath of the end of their relationship. The play was first performed in London on 6 March 1952, directed by Frith Banbury, and won praise for actress Peggy Ashcroft, who co-starred with Kenneth More. In the US, the Plymouth Theater staged the play in October 1952, with Margaret Sullavan. The play with Sullavan subsequently transferred to Broadway, with its Broadway premiere on 5 November 1953, and running for 132 performances.

"The Monkey's Paw" is a supernatural short story by author W. W. Jacobs, first published in England in the collection The Lady of the Barge in 1902. In the story, three wishes are granted to the owner of The Monkey's Paw, but the wishes come with an enormous price for interfering with fate.

Robert Newton English stage and film actor

Robert Guy Newton was an English actor. Along with Errol Flynn, Newton was one of the more popular actors among the male juvenile audience of the 1940s and early 1950s, especially with British boys. Known for his hard-living lifestyle, he was cited as a role model by the actor Oliver Reed and the Who's drummer Keith Moon.

<i>Brighton Rock</i> (novel) 1938 novel by Graham Greene

Brighton Rock is a novel by Graham Greene, published in 1938 and later adapted for film in 1947 and 2010. The novel is a murder thriller set in 1930s Brighton. The title refers to a confectionery traditionally sold at seaside resorts, which in the novel is used as a metaphor for the personality of Pinkie, which is the same all the way through. There are links between this novel and Greene's earlier novel A Gun for Sale (1936), because Raven's murder of the gang boss Kite, mentioned in A Gun For Sale, allows Pinkie to take over his gang and thus sets the events of Brighton Rock in motion.

Ernest Paul Lehman was an American screenwriter. He was nominated six times for Academy Awards for his screenplays during his career, but did not win. At the 73rd Academy Awards in 2001, he received an Honorary Academy Award in recognition of his achievements and his influential works for the screen. He was the first screenwriter to receive that honor. The award was presented to him by Julie Andrews, a friend and star of The Sound of Music.

<i>49th Parallel</i> (film) 1941 film by Michael Powell

49th Parallel is a 1941 British war drama film. It was the third film made by the British filmmaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It was released in the United States as The Invaders. The British Ministry of Information approached Michael Powell to make a propaganda film for them, suggesting he make "a film about mine-sweeping". Instead, Powell decided to make a film to help sway opinion in the then-neutral United States. Said Powell, "I hoped it might scare the pants off the Americans [and thus bring them into the war]". Screenwriter Emeric Pressburger remarked, "Goebbels considered himself an expert on propaganda, but I thought I'd show him a thing or two". They were never to know. After persuading the British and Canadian governments, Powell started location filming in 1940, and by the time the film appeared, in March 1942, the United States had been in the war for several months.

<i>One of Our Aircraft Is Missing</i>

One of Our Aircraft is Missing is a 1942 British black-and-white war film, mainly set in the German-occupied Netherlands. It was the fourth collaboration between the British writer-director-producer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and the first film they made under the banner of The Archers. Although considered a wartime propaganda film and made under the authority of the Ministry of Information as part of a series of film productions specifically aimed at morale in the United Kingdom, it is elevated by the story and production values above the usual jingoistic fare. Today, One of Our Aircraft is Missing is considered one of the "best of British films of the era".

Esmond Knight

Esmond Penington Knight was an English actor. He had a successful stage and film career before World War II. For much of his later career Knight was half blind. He had been badly injured in 1941 whilst on active service on board HMS Prince of Wales when she fought the Bismarck at the Battle of the Denmark Strait, and remained totally blind for two years, though he later regained some sight in his right eye.

Eric Portman

Eric Harold Portman was an English stage and film actor. He is probably best remembered for his roles in several films for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger during the 1940s.

Terry Johnson is a British dramatist and director working for stage, television and film. Educated at Birmingham University, he worked as an actor from 1971 to 1975, and has been active as a playwright since the early 1980s.

Henry Francis Maltby was a prolific writer for the London stage and British cinema from after the First World War, until the 1950s. He also appeared in many films.

<i>Uncensored</i> (film)

Uncensored is a 1942 British World War II drama, directed by Anthony Asquith for Gainsborough Pictures and starring Eric Portman and Phyllis Calvert. The film was produced by Edward Black, with cinematography from Arthur Crabtree and screenplay by Rodney Ackland and Terence Rattigan from a novel by Oscar Millard.

<i>Squadron Leader X</i>

Squadron Leader X is a 1943 British World War II spy drama directed by Lance Comfort and starring Eric Portman and Ann Dvorak. The screenplay was adapted by Miles Malleson and Wolfgang Wilhelm from a short story by Emeric Pressburger.

Sean O'Connor is a British producer, writer and director working in theatre, film, television and radio. He was the editor of the long-running BBC radio drama, The Archers from 2013-16. He replaced Dominic Treadwell-Collins as the executive producer of EastEnders in June 2016. It was revealed in June 2017 that O'Connor had left EastEnders to focus on his career in feature films.

References

Notes

  1. William D. Rubinstein, Michael Jolles, Hilary L. Rubinstein, The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History, Palgrave Macmillan (2011), p. 13
  2. The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 6th Edition. Edited by Margaret Drabble, Oxford University Press, 2000 Pp 4
  3. Billington, Michael (26 April 2018). "Absolute Hell review – postwar Soho gets a Weimar makeover" via www.theguardian.com.
  4. Taylor, John Russell (16 April 2013). Hitch: The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock. A&C Black. ISBN   9781448211616 via Google Books.
  5. "Number Seventeen (1932) - Alfred Hitchcock | Cast and Crew". AllMovie.
  6. "Rodney Ackland". BFI.
  7. "Hatter's Castle (1941) - Lance Comfort | Cast and Crew". AllMovie.
  8. "49th Parallel (1941) - Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell | Awards". AllMovie.
  9. "BFI Screenonline: Queen of Spades, The (1949)". www.screenonline.org.uk.