The Admirable Crichton by J M Barrie

The Admirable Crichton by J.M. Barrie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I came across the film first. The Admirable Crichton (1957) caught my eye because of the mention of Kenneth More – an actor who I’d enjoyed in some other films of that period, despite his rather wonderful ability in them to be nothing but Very British At All Times. The Admirable Crichton sees More as the titular butler to a rich family who, following circumstances, find themselves shipwrecked on an island. The family cannot cope but Crichton and the ‘tweeny’ – a maid who’s neither nowt nor summit in the social strata – can. The class system inevitably crumbles, everything gets turned upside down, and everybody in the film fights over falling in love with Ken. It’s spectacular, intensely British, and I rather loved it enormously.

This, then, is the source – a play script first written in 1902 and bearing some of the most delightful and delicious stage directions I’ve ever read. Barrie is profuse in his detail here, and there’s some immensely wonderful stuff. I was particularly fond of the moment when the Pageboy cheers in response to somebody else’s speech. This is the “one moment of prominence in his life. He grows up, marries and has children, but is never really heard of again”. Outstanding. But it’s all like this. Chatty, verbose, deeply detailed, and pretty brilliant.

I found some interesting hints here towards Barrie’s later Peter Pan (1902) and it’s super interesting to read through that perspective. I love moments like this – where you can see little echoes of what’s to come for a writer. Future echoes, maybe, or hints at great ideas that they were about to explore or look at or come to realise. I’d recommend picking up a copy of the Admirable Crichton for anybody interested in Barrie and his work, but also for those of you interested in those Very Intensely British Commentaries On Class that are pretty much part of our literary DNA at that point. Plus, to be fair, it’s worth a recommendation just because it’s pretty funny and smartly written stuff. This is stylish, strong and rather outstanding work.

(Still not over everybody fighting over Kenneth in the film mind, I die, I die).

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