Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I reviewed a series set in Northern Ireland, The Fall. Sim shared photos of modern architecture near the Embankment Underground station and asked for help figuring out what it is. Becky reviewed Return to the Secret Garden and Death of a Gossip. Jean is getting near the end of The Faerie Queene. Tina shared her favorite sites for armchair travel to England and her favorite souvenirs from a previous trip.
The BBC used to have a series called “Play of the Month.” I can’t tell if some of them were filmed stage productions, but The Millionairess was an adaptation with multiple moving cameras. I was almost always aware that I was watching a play, because the sets were few and the action was minimal, but the quick, witty dialogue made that an enjoyable experience.
The plot was quite goofy, old-fashioned in some ways and remarkably up-to-date in others. The title character was spoiled, rich, and whiny, yet she displayed competency and confidence when the situation required those traits. George Bernard Shaw wrote The Millionairess as a contemporary play in 1936. The “Play of the Month” kept the 1930s setting for its 1972 production.
In this version, Maggie Smith (the title character of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter films, and Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey, and many other roles) played Epifania Ognisanti di Parerga, the millionairess, with all appropriate haughtiness.
Tom Baker (the fourth incarnation of Doctor Who, the one with the long scarf) played the Egyptian doctor, who doesn’t even get a name. I didn’t recognize Baker, although I knew he was in the production, under the dark makeup and black beard. If I were to stage this play today, I’d start by hiring an Islamic consultant to make sure the representation of the religion is accurate and not insulting. And, then, I’d hire an actor of north African descent.
A more famous adaptation of The Millionairess is the 1960 film version starring Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers. The film altered the script from Shaw’s original a great deal — including casting Peter Sellers as an Indian doctor rather than an Egyptian. Hard to tell whether that would be a more or less cringe-worthy performance for those of us who care that cultures be represented in respectful ways.