Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
As with other DVDs of “Broadway Theater Archive” plays broadcast on PBS in the 1970s, the 1974 “The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd” was staged off-Broadway (at the Long Wharf Theatre). D. H. Lawrence’s play (written in 1911, published in 1914) takes place in the downstairs kitchen/dining/living room of a coal miner’s cottage some time before World War I. The antagonistic husband and wife are obviously the same couple as Lawrence’s parents as he portrayed them in Sons and Lovers, and the boy, younger in “Widowing” than in Sons is presumably a self-portrait, though the part is small.
The very unhappy, genteel wife (Joyce Ebert) married Holroyd (Rex Robbins) to get away from living with her drunkard uncle, and is dismayed to have traded one domineering drunk for another one. Her disapproval is not too easy to live with, and the viewer might wonder if she drove her uncle to drink as well. He spends time in pubs with women of loose morals, and brings a pair of them home, where they flirt with the young son and are shunned by their unwilling hostess.
Lawrence often portrayed sexually frustrated wives. In this instance the woman married down rather than dallying with someone from the virile lower orders (as Lady Chatterley would). There is a man hanging about who has better manners and is interested in Mrs. Holroyd, Blackmore (Frank Converse), but she is too much a martyr to duty to run off with him, even though he is willing to support her children to be with her.
In the second act, Geraldine Fitzgerald appears as her censorious mother-in-law. If I was married to her son, I’d be eager to put as much distance as possible between me and her!
Lawrence’s title gives the major plot development away, and the fed-up wife transmutes into feeling guilt about wanting her husband dead, blaming herself for his death in a mining accident. If he is no longer around to make her miserable, she can seemingly do it pretty well on her own. Her plight is only worsened by recalling once having felt some attraction to the dead man.
I find the play depressing wallowing in marital misery and disabling guilt. I guess that the parts are well played, though it is difficult for Ebert and Robbins to compete with the clear memories I retain of Wendy Hiller and Trevor Howard in Jack Cardiff’s film of Sons and Lovers. And, like “The Glass Menagerie,” that shows the future writer escaping. I’d definitely recommend “Sons and Lovers” in preference to “The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd.” (The play was the second of eight, none of which I’ve read. There is also a BBC production of “The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd” on DVD. I don’t know if it is better, and cannot imagine suffering through the play again to find out and deliver a judgment.)
The real-life widowing in a mining accident, btw, was of an aunt of Lawrence, and occurred before he was born, though the relationship in his story “Odour of Chrysanthemums” that he dramatized as “The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd” is that of his mismatched, antagonistic-to-each-other parents.
The only DVD extra is an ad for other Broadway Theatre Archive DVDs.
©2012, Stephen O. Murray
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