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What Do Actors Do When They Act?

  • John Caughie

Abstract

In her article ‘Problems with Quality’, Charlotte Brunsdon identifies the ‘best of British acting’ as one of the trademarks of ‘quality television’.1 Acting is one of the particular pleasures of British television drama, and, with its roots in the British theatrical tradition, it is one of the factors which has secured for British television drama both international respect, and, with it, a healthy trading balance in the international market. In recent years, the perennial attraction of the nineteenth-century novel for television adaptation — the classic serial and Masterpiece Theatre — is not simply the visual pleasure of pretty costumes and expensive sets, but is the pleasure of watching a gallery of characters being performed by a stellar display of actors: think of John Mills’s aged and wandered Mr Chuffy in the 1994 Martin Chuzzlewit constantly haunted by memories of the same actor as young Pip in David Lean’s 1946 film adaptation of Great Expectations; or Olivier in Brideshead Revisited (1981) or Peggy Ashcroft in The Jewel in the Crown (1984). Martin Chuzzlewit, in particular, seemed to offer an opportunity to show off the best of British acting, and Dickens, in general, peopled by eccentrics, villains and grotesques seems to offer not so much a narrative as a performance.

Keywords

Quality Television Television Drama Television Adaptation Classic Serial Film Adaptation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    C. Brunsdon, ‘Problems with Quality’, Screen, 31:1 (1990), 67–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    A. Bazin, ‘The Evolution of the Language of Cinema’, in What is Cinema?, selected and translated by H. Gray (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1971), p. 27.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See F. Delsarte, Delsarte System of Oratory: All the Literary Remains of François Delsarte, trans. A. L. Alger (New York: Edgar S. Werner, 1893).Google Scholar
  4. T. Cole and H. Chinoy (eds), Actors on Acting (New York: Crown, 1970).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    See J. Grotowski, Towards a Poor Theatre (London: Methuen, 1969).Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    T. Kennedy Martin, ‘Nats Go Home: First Statement of a New Drama for Television’, Encore, 48 (1964), 21–33.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    See F. Truffaut, ‘Une certaine tendance du cinèma français’, Cahiers du Cinèma, 31 (January), translated as ‘A Certain Tendency in French Cinema’, in B. Nichols (ed.) (1976) Movies and Methods (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1954), pp. 224–37.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in J. Tulloch, Television Drama: Agency, Audience and Myth (London: Routledge, 1990), p. 161.Google Scholar
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    H. James, ‘The Art of Fiction’ (1884), quoted in R. Pearson, Eloquent Gestures: The Transformation of Performance Style in Griffith Biograph Films (Berkeley and Oxford: University of California Press, 1992), p. 31.Google Scholar
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    N. Schor, Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine (London and New York: Routledge, 1989).Google Scholar
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    See T. Adorno and M. Horkheimer, ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception’, in Dialectic of Enlightenment (London: Verso, 1979), pp. 120–67.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    See G. Lukâcs, ‘To Narrate or to Describe?’ [‘Erzählen oder Beschreiben’, 1936], translated as ‘Idea and Form in Literature’, in E. San Juan, Jr. (ed.), Marxism and Human Liberation (New York: Delta, 1973), pp. 109–31.Google Scholar

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© John Caughie 2014

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  • John Caughie

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