Given that the work of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett can be taxing enough onstage, playwright and screenwriter Conor McPherson has done a creditable job filming the wordsmith's 1957 chamber piece about frustration and irascibility, "Endgame." But while hard-core devotees may tune in, general audiences will find this impenetrable exercise leaves them, well, frustrated and irascible.

Given that the work of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett can be taxing enough onstage, playwright and screenwriter Conor McPherson has done a creditable job filming the wordsmith’s 1957 chamber piece about frustration and irascibility, “Endgame.” But while hard-core devotees may tune in, general audiences will find this impenetrable exercise leaves them, well, frustrated and irascible.

Like much filmed theater, the principal function of this and other entries in Channel Four’s “Beckett on Film” series likely will be to provide a textbook example of the play for drama students, replete with superlative performances. Beyond that, it appears destined to be confined largely to cultural broadcaster skeds.

Set in a dimly lit room with a single window onto the world outside, the one-act play parallels the fruitless final moves of a chess game in which the outcome already is decided with the final stages of life, as death is ushered in by senility, dependence and decrepitude.

Largely a two-character piece, it centers on demanding, blind invalid Hamm (Michael Gambon) and his harassed, resentful servant, Clov (David Thewlis), with Hamm’s “accursed progenitors” (Charles Simon, Jean Anderson), occasionally interjecting a feeble comment or two from the sidelines, where they are confined to trash cans.

Rendered in an efficient, straightforward style by McPherson and simply shot within the claustrophobic space by Donal Gilligan, “Endgame” inevitably is performance-driven. Playing characters embittered by years of extreme proximity, Gambon and Thewlis bite into the dense dialogue and relentless bickering with ferocious aplomb as Clov laboriously negotiates his exit from the old man’s life. Attention is further concentrated on the cruel verbal swordplay by the total absence of music.

Endgame

Ireland

Production

A Channel Four Intl. presentation of a Blue Angel Films/Tyrone Prods. production for RTE in association with Channel Four and the Irish Film Board. (International sales: Channel Four Intl., London.) Produced by Michael Colgan, Alan Moloney. Executive producers, Joan Egan, Joe Mulholland, Rod Stoneman. Directed by Conor McPherson. Screenplay, Samuel Beckett, based on his play.

Crew

Camera (color), Donal Gilligan; editor, Mary Finlay; art director, Clodagh Conroy; costume designer, Consolata Boyle; sound (Dolby Digital), Simon Willis; associate producer, Edward Beckett; assistant director, Andrew Hegarty; casting, Ros and John Hubbard. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (New Territories), Sept. 2, 2000. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Beckett on Film.) Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Hamm - Michael Gambon Clov - David Thewlis Nagg - Charles Simon Nell - Jean Anderson

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