Review: 3 ‘Play For Today’ DVD’s from Simply Media

The Imitation Game
The year is 1940. Having previously worked at a wireless listening station dealing with coded Enigma transmissions, it’s the beginning of World War 2 and Cathy Raine (Harriet Walter) is 19 and dissatisfied with her life. She’s a nice girl from a nice family, but instead of marrying her nice but condescending boyfriend, she questions what her, or indeed what all women’s place in the world is during this time.

Escaping work at a munitions factory, Cathy joins the ATF and become friends with Mary (a very young Brenda Blythyn), and they dare to go to the local pub where the landlord attempts to throw them out, insinuating that 2 women alone in a pub can only be after one thing. Events turn nasty and after Cathy grabs the publican’s balls, and she is arrested and her punishment is to be a tea maid at Bletchley Park (the home of the Enigma machine and the  Britain’s war time code-breaking).

Again she begins to question her role, and wonders why none of the women who work there are allowed to know everything, while the few men, DO know everything.

She catches the eye of Cambridge mathematics don John Turner (Nicholas Le Prevost, probably based loosely on Alan Turing) and the pair go to bed. Failing to rise to the occasion Turner blames Cathy, calls her a bitch and more or less calls her a spy. He leaves, and she looks at papers on his desk, with the codename Enigma on them.

She is discovered in Turner’s room reading top secret documents and this act leads to her imprisonment.

Originally broadcast in 1980, this is a play about the subjugation of women in 1940, and now seeing it nearly 40 years after it was first broadcast, it’s no surprise to see nothing has changed and the way Cathy feels 80 years ago, is still relevant today.

Cathy’s desire to be on an equal footing to the men leads to her downfall. She doesn’t know why Turner blames her for his lack of libido, she doesn’t understand why the coded messages she’s working on are so important that the women are not allowed to know their meaning, but the shocker is, Cathy is locked up for the duration of the war, because she looked into Pandora’s box, something only men are allowed to do.

The content and acting in this Play For Today are great, however it is a little dry and seems to go on a lot longer than its 73 minutes. Pretty depressing all round, and will make you sigh if you’re a woman.

Our Day Out
Out of the 3 Plays For Today, this was my favourite. Well acted, beautifully scripted and a snapshot of Britain in 1977. Though like The Imitation Game, this also resonates through time.

Mrs Kay (Jean Haywood) takes the ‘remedial class’ of a group of Liverpool inner city children. Along with the unbending Mr Briggs (Alun Armstrong) and two younger teachers – Susan (Elizabeth Estensen, a liver bird no less!) and Colin (Lennox Greaves), she take the kids on a day trip to Conwy Castle in North Wales.

Written by Willy Russell and shown in 1977,  despite its fuzziness (it hasn’t been cleaned up for re-release) it still sparkles and crackles. The clothes, the accents, and the fantastic acting and writing make this one of the better plays shown.

The central characters of Mrs Kay and Mr Briggs show 2 sides of teaching, one box ticking, controlling and by the rules, the other purely empathetic. She understands these kids are nothing more than cannon fodder and gives a blistering speech in the middle of the piece to Briggs about the inane hopelessness of their lives.

The children were all amateurs and none would act again. But what performances they give, natural and believable.

Without giving the plot away, I can admit to having a really good cry near the end of the play. Fantastic all round.

The Fishing Trip
Brian Glover IS Yorkshire. So hearing his dulcet tones as Derbyshire miner Art brught a smile to my face! Art, along with Ern (Ray Mort) and Abe (Douglas Livingstone) are on a mission, to fish and have a good time. However Art’s idea of fun seems to be different from his friends.
Depicting typical ‘all gob, no trousers’ men, they try to flirt with a waitress, and fail because they are on a mission to not be pigs like their wives think they’ll be. They are all innocents. Literal fish out of water.

But these good intentions start to dissipate once they get on the boat. Things take a turn when they decide to stay the night and end up at a boarding house run by domineering Audrey (Jane Freeman) and her very hen-pecked husband Brian (Frank Mooney).

This is an early play, shown in  1972 and by Peter Terson.

Glover of course is the star of the show and his total admiration and feeling of complete awe at staying in a hotel is fabulous right down to a totally unrealistic idea of the sort of culinary delights they’ll be treated to later, with an entrée and a huge selection of wine.

Alas, we never learn exactly what Audrey would have served up for their evening meal as she’s unwilling to change her serving up time from 6:45 (which is when they’ve booked their boat for).

One stand out scene is all 3 men, each in their own room, start shouting to each other through the walls, which Art feels is beneath him, and when he’s told James Bond does it all the time he argues with the  wall accompanied by a great deal of gesticulating.

When the men return to solid ground from their fishing trip with a huge catch of cod, you are simply charmed, especially when they leave some as a thank you to the thankless pair who have put them up for the night.

I doubt a lot of people reading these 3 reviews will remember the Play for Todays. I myself vaguely remember not being allowed to watch them as my parents thought they were a bit edgy, and they are, and interestingly, they all stand the test of time.

Review by Tina (co-host of 60 Minutes With) from discs kindly supplied by Simply Media.