Miss Julie (Theatre 625, 1965)

This entry in the Theatre 625 series was adapted and directed by Alan Bridges, from the play by August Strindberg.  ‘Miss Julie’ is a heady and melodramatic mix of class rivalry, sexual lust, and psychological breakdown which is all the more intense from happening within the space of one night and day (or as in the running time here, 70 minutes).

Jean (Ian Hendry) is a valet who has ambitions to rise in the world and open a hotel, but lacks the capital (and probably the initiative) to live out his dreams.  He freely helps himself to wine from his employer’s cellar, but admits that the sight of the Count’s boots makes him feel ‘servile’.  Into this frustrating setting steps his mistress, Miss Julie (Gunnel Lindblom) who is bored with her privileged existence and physically drawn to Jean, despite the class differences between them.  She orders him to dance with her, and then teases and taunts him until eventually things progress to a head and their relationship clearly crosses a line which will eventually be fatal to one of them.

My initial feeling was that Lindblom (a Swedish actress) was too over the top in her role, and Hendry too reticent and modern, but as the play developed their styles began to gel, and in Jean’s character we saw that combination of vulnerability, arrogance, cruelty (the killing of the greenfinch) and sensitivity which characterised many of Hendry’s early roles.  Remember at this point it was still possible to imagine him succeeding in major leading film roles, even romantic ones, before fate placed him into the realms of character playing.  There’s a moment where Jean jokes about drinking being something you do to keep your partner company which may have echoes of the actor’s real life situation at the time, and I found this a rather sad moment of coincidence; still, this was a good role for Hendry – who looks great, speaks the dialogue well, and is eventually convincing in all the nuances of this complex role.

Bridges’ direction does not hold back on bringing the audience into the heart of the play, with extreme close-ups (sometimes of just eyes or mouths), odd flashbacks in vision and sound, and heightened dramatic performances especially as Julie realises a moment of madness has cost her far more than a fleeting moment of pleasure away from her position of privilege.  Her fall is ultimately tragic, the more so as you feel it will have no real consequences for Jean and his cook fiancée, Christine (a small role for Stephanie Bidmead, but she’s good, and you feel she really is the driving force in their relationship).  He is a weak man who will probably again rise to the bait if he is tempted, but he is destined to be answering the ring of bells in the servants’ hall for life.