Monday 4 January 2021

That Dinner of '67 - Review


Sidney Poitier, Katharine Houghton, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy

Written by Tracy-Ann Oberman
Produced by Liz Anstee

Every cloud has a silver lining. So it is that amidst the ghastliness of the current pandemic and its impact upon the acting profession, Tracy-Ann Oberman has been able to assemble a cast of remarkable pedigree to breathe life into her her fascinating 45 minute drama examining the background to Stanley Kramer’s 1967 movie Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. Kramer’s groundbreaking picture sought through both irony and carefully crafted characters, to comment upon inter-racial love in the USA at a time when, in some states and with civil rights still a burning American issue, marriage between black and white people was illegal.

It was a brave motion picture to film, only enhanced by Kramer’s stellar company. Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn played the parents of Joanna (Joey in the story), while playing Joey’s fiancĂ© Dr John Price  was Sidney Poitier, a gifted actor who only some three years prior, had become the first black American to win the Oscar for Best Actor. In Oberman’s fictionalised glimpse behind-the-scenes, Kenneth Branagh plays Tracy, Daisy Ridley is Katherine Houghton (the actress who played Joey in the movie), and Adrian Lester is Poitier. David Morrisey takes on Kramer, while the writer herself steps up to the plate as Hepburn. As a radio play, everything hinges on the phonics – and amidst an array of stunning accents and impersonations, Lester’s take on Sidney Poitier is breathtaking in its pitch-perfect accuracy.

The story behind the movie itself is almost as remarkable as its on-screen narrative. The picture marked Hepburn and Tracy’s ninth and final collaboration, with the bond forged between these two consummate professionals clearly defined in Oberman’s script. Even more than this love however, was the fact that Spencer Tracy, riddled with disease, was close to death throughout the shoot, tragically passing away barely two weeks after wrapping his own principal photography. Such was the concern of his health, that the producers were unable to obtain completion insurance – with Hepburn and Kramer going on to stake their own salaries as a bond to guarantee that filming could continue. Rarely has a movie’s plot so piercingly captured the heart of a nation’s struggles – defined by the fact that just after Tracy died, the country’s anti-miscegenation laws were struck down by the Supreme Court.

But it is not so much these remarkable details that the play highlights, as much as its ability to capture the pulse of both Hollywood and the wider USA in the 1960. In a happy coincidence, this reviewer revisited the movie just before listening to Oberman's play - and if one is not familiar with the Kramer picture, then it's well worth a stream or rental. 

Oberman has delivered a cracking piece of writing.

That Dinner of '67 is available to download from the BBC throughout 2021

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner is currently available to watch on Sky, iTunes and Amazon Prime