The Bofors Gun (1968)

DVD, Dir Jack Gold, with David Warner and Nicol Williamson

I first learned about this play (by John McGrath) from an early 1970s edition of Pears Cyclopedia, the cultural sections of which I used to read endlessly. In retrospect I might have done better to immerse myself in David Bowie, but that would have involved making an unacceptable noise on the record player or hijacking the one radio in the house. As a consequence, I have an esoteric nodding acquaintance with 1950s and 60s playwrights and synopses of plays I have never seen.

And this is one of them. I saw the film a few days ago and am still ambivalent about it. The fact that it was made in 1968 – around the same time as If . . ., Blow-Up and The Graduate – surprises me: it seems so stagey and traditional and belongs in the 1950s. (But it might not have seemed so at the time.)

And yet . . . it has left a lingering impression on me. They play is very well and tightly constructed. The events of a night have much wider resonance. The animosities and the antagonisms between individuals, classes, regions, religions, countries (they are in Germany to guard against the USSR after all). The horrors of National Service if you didn’t fit in and the pointlessness of so much manpower and discipline dedicated to defending an obsolete weapon in the atomic age. And yet it’s also a very human play: O’Rourke’s manic-depressive behaviour (hinting at a brutal childhood . . . which is also one way of viewing the establishment of an independent Ireland) and Evans’s ineffectualness and desperation to escape.

So, probably better than I gave it credit for as the titles rolled.

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