After the passing of the legendary Sydney Poiter, I came across BBC Four’s radio drama based on one of his iconic films. Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Adrian Lester and David Morrissey star in Tracy-Ann Oberman’s new play about the making of the ground-breaking movie, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
The play revolves around the challenges of making Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner - with racial tensions and discrimination on the rise, this romantic comedy was quite controversial for its time. With a stellar cast attached - Kenneth Branagh , Adrian Lester , David Morrissey , Daisy Ridley , Tracy-Ann Oberman and Matt Addis - this audio play takes listeners behind the scenes of one of Hollywood's iconic pictures.
In 1967, as race riots swept the streets of America and the Supreme Court considered a landmark case about interracial marriage, Hollywood director Sidney Kramer started filming Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner about a pair of young lovers - one black, one white - seeking the blessing of their concerned parents before getting married.
He had assembled a stellar cast of Oscar winners Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy and Kate Hepburn, with Hepburn’s niece Katharine Houghton making her film debut.
This was a light-hearted, witty film but about a deadly serious subject. It was also the final act of one of Hollywood’s greatest true love stories. After a love affair that had lasted 26 years and nine movies establishing them as one of the all-time great Hollywood double acts, it was also to be Tracy and Hepburn’s final film together.
Spencer was dying but determined that his final film with his beloved Kate would be both important and a masterpiece. Tracy-Ann Oberman’s moving and timely play tells a story about love, a classic movie, and its impact on a divided America.
This aspect of the radio play interested me, especially with Oberman’s decision to focus more on Tracy and Hepburn's relationship. Daisy Ridley and Adrian Lester play Katharine Houghton and Sydney Poiter - both of their characters raise interesting points about the script, with the relationship feeling rushed or Poiter's character being unrealistically idealised. These points are discussed in good scenes, but Kramer's vision was to portray the relationship as simply two people in love.
The main conflict wasn't rooted in the leads - who actually worked very well together - but the racial tensions outside the studio and the producers' apprehension of being one of the first Hollywood films to portray an interracial relationship. We hear scenes where certain aspects of the script had to be rewritten - the opening scene was filmed on set rather than on location as initially planned due to reactions from the general public.
David Morrissey was the perfect casting choice to play the film's director, Stanley Kramer. His determination to get the film made and persistence to remain faithful to the original concept with the cast he envisioned was fascinating to hear played out. Branagh and Oberon’s scenes together were simply superb, and their chemistry shone through each scene. Whether it was moving or funny, these actors breathed such life into their characters. Add Kramer's frustration and bickering with his cast and crew and I was genuinely laughing out loud at times.
This is still available to listen to on BBC Sounds and I would highly recommend giving this play a chance. It's only forty-five minutes, but it's a brilliantly crafted story which explores a lot of important themes in its short run time. If I were to make one critic about this production - they could have made this a bit longer to give an opportunity to delve into other characters and aspects of the story. A full hour would have been fine with me.
My rating of BBC Radio’s That Dinner of ‘67 - ★★★½.