Peter Shaffer’s acclaimed play makes a fascinating (if verbose) movie. Richard Burton is Dr. Dysart, a children’s psychiatrist assigned to treat stable boy Alan Strang (Peter Firth), who has blinded six horses. As Dysart searches for clues to the boy’s dreams and behavior, the film takes on the structure of a psychological/philosophical (and sometimes theological) detective story. There’s a wild card in the premise: Dysart finds himself torn between wanting to cure Alan and admiring his passion — which the dry-ice Dysart definitely lacks. Shaffer sets the stage for a classic conflict between cool, civilized stability and fierce, chaotic primitivism. Director Sidney Lumet provides eligiac images whenever he can, to suggest Alan’s beautiful, frightening inner life; Dysart has to make do with words to express his own deteriorating inner life. Maybe that’s part of the point, but in a movie, we’re acutely aware of monologues as monologues; Dysart shouts at us one time too many, when Lumet could’ve found more visual ways to establish Dysart’s stagnation (there’s a neat scene in which Dysart, sitting in his boringly immaculate living room, pores over reproductions of ferocious horse-gods in battle). Still, an eminently worthwhile film, with two showboat performances by Burton and Firth. I could have done without the horse-blinding flashback, though.

Explore posts in the same categories: adaptation, drama

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