Tonight’s screening in our ‘Drama She Wrote’ season at BFI Southbank (at 6.10) is a value-for-money triple bill of plays about marriage. As well as spanning 20 years of BBC drama production, when watched in sequence the three plays show a developing dialectic about the purpose and value of marriage; Elaine Morgan’s The Tamer Tamed reaches back to Shakespeare and the 16th century, reconsidering the terms of one of lierature’s most famous fractious marriages; Julia Jones’ Still Waters uses an unfamiliar landscape to create an environment that allows characters to understand how their marriage operates from a different perspective; and Buchi Emecheta’s A Kind of Marriage tests the bonds of a new bride’s marriage (under the testing circumstances of the Biafran War) through exploring Nigerian tribal customs .
Buchi Emecheta (1944-2017) is better remembered as a novelist than as a writer of drama, but her two television screenplays (her 1976 case written for Granada’s Crown Court, The Ju-Ju Landlord will be screened at the BFI in another season in 2019) provide an interesting dramatic counterpoint to her published literature, both contrasting black experience in Africa and the UK. (Stephen Bourne has written about her television plays on this site).
Elaine Morgan (1920-13) and Julia Jones (1923-2015) were two of Britain’s most prolific writers for television. Two themes frequently recur throughout Morgan’s career, dramas set in Wales (including a definitive BBC adaptation of How Green Was My Valley (1975) and the most ambitious drama serial in BBC Wales’ history, The Life and Times of David Lloyd George (1981)), and scientific dramas (including drama-documentary plays for Horizon, The World About Us and The Natural World and the five part BBC biographical serial Marie Curie (1977)).
Lez Cooke has assessed Julia Jones’ career (which encompassed single plays, original serials and children’s drama) in an earlier article on this site. As with many of Julia Jones’ dramas (especially those shot on film) Still Waters is marked by a powerful, evocative sense of landscape. She explained how the inspiration for the play came from the specific conditions of the Welsh countryside:
[Still Waters came] from a location I know very well – near our home in Wales. We’ve walked it a lot, and it’s very beautiful. The idea actually came to me as I was walking along the stream. I just seemed to see a picture of all these people looking from behind bushes at one another. Then one day, when we were going to Wales, we stopped for a picnic – and just down the road, by a river, was an estate car. Someone had laid out his bed in the back – his sleeping bag – and everything he needed. It was just like a little room – quite beautiful. And he had gone fishing. A salesman of some sort – or he looked like one. So that character I had in mind – and the play went from there. (1983)