Cast & Crew
In Bristol, England, Bri's otherwise stressful day of teaching at a noisy boy's school is frequently interrupted by his fantasies of making love to his wife Sheila. When he returns to their home, which is filled with a menagerie of pets and his darkly expressive paintings, he startles Sheila by attaching a student's toy spider to his cheek, and tries to seduce her. Reminding him that their ten-year-old daughter Josephine will soon be home from care and require feeding and a bath, Sheila, an amateur actress, suggests that they ask Bri's mother Grace to babysit, so that he can attend her rehearsal. Refusing, Bri half-teasingly accuses Sheila of having an affair with Freddie Underwood, his best childhood friend and a successful businessman who is in her theater group. After Jo, a severely brain damaged child in a vegetative state, is brought home in her wheelchair, Bri and Sheila pretend that she tells them about her day. As they have done for many years, they make self-mocking, dark-humored jokes, and project onto their child a fictitious personality who is eccentric and willful. Separately, Sheila thinks about Bri's silly pranks and ridiculous accusations and Bri contemplates the attention-getting behavior that marks his desperate need for some kind of fulfillment. He recalls an event that happened ten years earlier, when Sheila was pregnant: In the afterglow of sex, Bri and Sheila discuss previous sexual partners. Bri, who has had fewer lovers than Sheila, teases her about her promiscuity and feels good that she considers him the only man who gives her "real satisfaction." Back in the present, Bri tells Jo about the time she was born: Sheila goes into labor and Bri, because they have no phone, walks to the callbox to ring the midwife to come. The next morning, the chain-smoking Grace arrives, well-meaning but oblivious to Sheila's discomfort. After two days, a young doctor is called, who tells Bri that the difficult labor is due to Sheila's narrow pelvic opening. After five days of suffering, Sheila is taken to the hospital, where labor is induced and Jo is born. Some time later, Bri and Sheila run along the beach with Jo in her carriage, where Bri confides he prayed for Sheila's life during those five days, despite his skepticism about religion. Bri fears that God has taken revenge because he called Him a "manic depressive rugby footballer." In his fantasy, the sea carries Jo and her carriage out to sea, but, in the present, as Bri puts Jo to bed, he assures her that he did not allow the sea to take her away and then tells her how, when she first appeared to be sick, their doctor misdiagnosed it as "wind." He tells her that after she went into a coma, the doctor arranged for her to be hospitalized. He explains: A few weeks later after several tests, an insensitive pediatrician tells Sheila that Jo is a "spastic, multi-plegic epileptic with a damaged cerebral cortex, but with no organic malformation of the brain," and then admits he prefers the term "vegetable," which he pronounces with a "w." In the present, Bri tells Jo about the vicar to whom Sheila confided: Sheila asks if the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty" is about a spastic like Jo and expresses her wish for a miracle. The vicar considers whether God caused disease and infirmity because we misuse the freedom He gave us, or if it exists to stimulate research into disease and infirmity. When Sheila exclaims that she wants magic, not an explanation, the vicar offers to perform a ceremony in which he does his "laying on of hands bit." In the present, Sheila cries in the theater dressing room, as she recalls how Jo's condition improved slightly, until she caught a virus, had a grand mal seizure and completely relapsed. Although Bri lost all faith, Sheila says to herself that she still secretly hopes for improvement. Freddie, who has waited patiently for Sheila, and his wife Pam, who finds Sheila's emotional outbreaks offensive, take her home. There Freddie tries to reassure Bri that he and Sheila are not having an affair, and Bri admits that his false accusations are a way to stir up passion. Bri and Sheila joke about "Joe Egg," and tell the Underwoods it is their pet name for Jo and refers to an old saying Bri's grandmother used to describe idleness. Bri off-handedly mentions that he suffocated Jo, stunning everyone. Although he admits he was joking, Bri asks Sheila seriously if she felt relieved when he said it, but she calls Jo a miracle of life, no matter how flawed. When she adds that Jo is the "life we made," Bri is troubled by the phrase's double meaning, causing him to have a brief recollection of a nun congratulating him that Jo is a blessed innocent who will never know evil. Throughout the night, Freddie suggests repeatedly that they should put Jo in a good, loving institution and move on with their lives. Bri replies that they once tried to institutionalize Jo but the attempt failed. Sensing that Bri has conflicting thoughts about euthanasia, Freddie tries to convince him of its wrongness, reminding him that the Nazis supported it. Pam says she supports state-administered euthanasia and admits that she cannot bear anything "N.P.A.," which is her acronym for "not physically attractive." Anxious to leave, she tells how she is repulsed by Freddie's charitable work with organizations that give aid to deformed children. As they cannot survive in nature, she feels they should not be forced by modern medicine to live in misery. When Pam admits that she cannot manage to love anyone other than her own three children, Freddie forces her upstairs to look at Jo, where, after seeing the sleeping child, she admits Jo has a pretty face. Bri and Sheila resort to their joking to describe Jo's imaginary personality, which they call the "coach tour lady." Outside, carolers are singing, prompting Bri and Sheila to dance with Jo, and Freddie sings along. Grace then stops by to present a new sweater she bought for Jo, which she admiringly says would look good on the child if she were active. Hearing that Jo needs medicine, Pam, anxious to escape, drives to the druggist to fetch it. Soon after, Sheila claims that Jo is ill, and while the others leave to phone a doctor, Bri takes the child outside, from where he can see Sheila frantically searching for them. Looking at Jo, he imagines what she would be like as one of his misbehaving students. Eventually he brings her back, fearing she is dead, and confides that he intended to let her die in the garden, but could not. While everyone, including Pam, scrutinize Jo for signs of breathing, medics, responding to their earlier call, take Jo to the hospital and save her life. The next morning, Sheila suggests that Bri call in sick, so they can spend the day together in bed. Acknowledging they need a second honeymoon, Sheila offers to look for a good residential hospital, where they can leave Jo three or four weeks a year. Bri says he will go to the callbox to ring the school, but instead surreptitiously takes a packed suitcase and departs on a one-way train to London. Sheila, waiting naked in bed for him, listens to the clock tick.
Sir Alan Bates (1934-2003)
Born Alan Arthur Bates on February 17th, 1934 in Derbyshire, England, Bates was the son of amateur musicians who wanted their son to become a concert pianist, but the young man had other ambitions, bluntly declaring to his parents that he had his sights set on an acting career when he was still in secondary school. He eventually earned a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, but had his career briefly interrupted with a two-year stint in the Royal Air Force. Soon after his discharge, Bates immediately joined the new English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre and by 1955 he had found steady stage work in London's West End theatre district.
The following year, Bates made a notable mark in English theatre circles when he starred as Cliff Lewis in John Osborne's charging drama about a disaffected, working-class British youth in Look Back in Anger. Bates' enormous stage presence along with his brooding good looks and youthfulness (he was only 22 at the time of the play's run) made him a star and promised great things for his future.
Four years later, Bates made a solid film debut in Tony Richardson's The Entertainer (1960) as the son of a failing seaside entertainer, played by Sir Laurence Olivier. Yet it would be his next two films that would leave an indelible impression in '60s British cinema; Bryan Forbes' Whistle Down the Wind (1961) and John Schlesinger's A Kind of Loving (1962). Bates' performances as a murderer on the lam who finds solace at a farm house in the company of children in the former, and a young working-class husband who struggles with his identity in a loveless marriage in the latter, were such finely nuanced portrayals of loners coping with an oppressive social order that he struck a chord with both audiences and critics alike. Soon, Bates was considered a key actor in the "angry young men" movement of the decade that included Albert Finney and Tom Courtney.
For the next ten years, Bates simply moved from strength to strength as he chose film roles that both highlighted his range and raised his stock as an international celebrity: reprising his stage role as the brutish thug Mick in the film adaptation of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker (1963); starring alongside Anthony Quinn as the impressionable young writer Basil in Zorba the Greek (1964); the raffish charmer Jos who falls in love with Lynn Redgrave in the mod comedy Georgy Girl; the bemused young soldier who falls in love with a young mental patient (a radiantly young Genevieve Bujold) in the subdued anti-was satire King of Hearts (both 1966); reuniting with director Schlesinger again in the effective period drama Far from the Madding Crowd (1967); a Russian Jew falsely accused of murder in John Frankenheimer's The Fixer (1968, remarkably, his only Oscar nomination); as Rupert, the freethinking fellow who craves love and understanding in Ken Russell's superb Women in Love (1969); playing Vershinin in Sir Laurence Olivier's underrated The Three Sisters (1970); opposite Julie Christie in Joseph Losey's tale of forbidden love The Go-Between (1971); and his moving, near-tragic performance as Bri, a father who struggles daily to maintain his sanity while raising a mentally disabled daughter in the snarking black comedy A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1972).
Bates would slow down his film work, concentrating on the stage for the next few years, including a Tony award winning turn on Broadway for his role in Butley (1972), but he reemerged strongly in the late '70s in three good films: a conniving womanizer in The Shout; Jill Clayburgh's love interest in Paul Mazursky's hit An Unmarried Woman (1978); and as Rudge, Bette Midler's overbearing manager in The Rose (1979).
By the '80s, Bates filled out somewhat physically, but his now burly presence looked just right in some quality roles: as the notorious spy, Guy Burgess, in John Schlesinger's acclaimed mini-series An Englishman Abroad (1983); a lonely homosexual who cares for his incarcerated lovers' dog in the charming comedy We think the World of You (1988); and a superb Claudius in Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet (1990).
Tragically, Bates lost his son Tristan to an asthma attack in 1990; and lost his wife, actress Victoria Ward, in 1992. This led to too few film roles for the next several years, although he remained quite active on stage and television. However, just recently, Bates has had some choice moments on the silver screen, most notably as the butler Mr. Jennings in Robert Altman's murder mystery Gosford Park (2001); and scored a great comic coup as a gun-toting, flag-waving Hollywood has-been in a very broad satire about the Canadian movie industry Hollywood North (2003). Also, theatre fans had a treat when Bates appeared on Broadway last year to critical acclaim (and won a second Tony award) for his portrayal of an impoverished 19th century Russian nobleman in Fortune's Fool (2002). Most deservedly, he was knighted earlier this year for his fine contributions as an actor in all major mediums. Sir Alan Bates is survived by two brothers Martin and Jon, son Benedick and a granddaughter.
by Michael T. Toole
Sir Alan Bates (1934-2003)
When the kitten was born, Sheila wanted to call him Dick but I drew the line there. Well, I mean standing on the front steps late at night shouting "Dick! Dick!", I might have got killed in the rush!- Bri
I want you lot to be as quiet as mice till I get back. No, fish.- Bri
The working title of the film was Joe Egg. The end credits contain an acknowledgment of The National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and of the staff of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Carshalton, Surrey. A short sequence is presented in slow motion, while an excerpt from Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations is heard on the soundtrack. The film contains several flashbacks, and at other times the actors perform soliloquies, speaking directly to the audience or to the character "Jo," in order to provide backstory. As noted in the LAHExam review, director Peter Medak used unusual camera shots, abrupt cutting and other film techniques to tell the story.
Throughout the film, actor Alan Bates performs impersonations, often in a manic style, as part of his character "Bri." For some sequences set in the past, instead of having different actors play the parts, the script called for Bates to impersonate a vaudevillian-style "Mitteleuropaischer doctor" and a trendy vicar, while Janet Suzman, who plays "Sheila," acts as his straight man. At the end of the vicar sequence, Bri breaks into song and dance, performing "Animal Crackers in My Soup," a song associated with the child star Shirley Temple, which was used to convey the vicar's belief that Jo might make a miraculous recovery after undergoing a healing ceremony.
Jo's condition is frequently referred to in the film as "spastic" and there are several fantasy sequences depicting her as she would be if she had been healthy. One of the jokes in the film is that the "coach tour lady" persona projected onto Jo by Bri and Sheila is based on the grandmother "Grace," who is portrayed in the film by Joan Hickson, the actress who originated the role in the London and Broadway productions of the play. Another recurring joke is the frequent use of acronyms, such as P.L.U., meaning "people like us," and N.P.A., meaning "not physically attractive," by the social climbing character Pam, who is portrayed by Sheila Gish. The song "Fly Me to the Moon" is heard during a flashback sequence in which Bri and Sheila take Jo on a Christmas in Space amusement ride.
After a London run in 1967, the play A Day in the Death of Joe Egg opened on Broadway on February 1, 1968 for 154 performances, starring Albert Finney. According to Filmfacts, the author of the play and the film script, Peter Nichols, had a daughter with an affliction similar to Jo's, and, like the story's couple, he and his wife created fantasies about her. In the New York Times review, the reviewer, Vincent Canby, recalled that four years earlier, when Nichols was interviewed for the theater production, he described the daughter, his first child, as "a meaningless accident" and that the couple put her in a home, which he said the fictional couple should have done. Nichols and his wife later had two healthy children.
According to the end credits, portions of the film were shot at Shepperton Studios in London and on location in Bristol. The film opened up the play by including settings outside Bri and Sheila's home and adding some minor characters. Although the film's principal photography was completed in April 1970, according to an August 1973 LAHExam article, it "languished" on Columbia's shelves for several months. Filmfacts and the Variety review reported that the film's distribution was held up until the release of Nicholas and Alexandra, in which Suzman also starred (see below). As noted in the onscreen credits, Suzman was an associate of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Released in United States on Video October 1988
Released in United States Summer June 1972
Released in United States Summer June 1972
Released in United States on Video October 1988