Based on Virginia Woolf’s novel from 1927, and blessed with a fine cast, including Kenneth Branagh, Michael Gough, and Rosemary Harris, this film was nominated for a BAFTA as best single drama. Written by Hugh Stoddart and directed by Colin Gregg, it was one of six films they achieved in a decade beginning in the late 1970s. It was first broadcast in 1983.
Mr Ramsay (Michael Gough) adores his family, but his academic work is past its best, and his anguish is making him tyrannical. Mrs Ramsay (Rosemary Harris) is wearing herself out trying to ensure everyone around her is happy, husband children and guests alike: they are, after all, on holiday.
Their youngest child, James, is caught between them – his father is vexed with him, his mother cossets him - but his passion to go to the lighthouse is endlessly frustrated. Artist Lily Briscoe (Suzanne Bertish) coolly observes the family dramas but struggles with her painting, and Mr Ramsey’s student (Kenneth Branagh) seethes at being ignored. Their summer ends; World War One and personal tragedies engulf them. Finally, survivors return.
Encouraged by Woolf’s own comment regretting the novel’s setting on Skye as unconvincing, director Colin Gregg locates the film in Cornwall, the setting for her childhood holidays. The film retains the novel’s three-part structure, honouring Woolf’s stated aim “to tackle the flight of time.”
NB: An illustrated talk on the films adapted from Virginia Woolf’s work will precede this film.
With thanks to the BFI National TV Archive.
We welcome Hugh Stoddart, screenwriter of this adaptation, to introduce the film. (11 Aug screening)
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