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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: England mrs_emma_peel's Avatar
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    Jan 2008
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    Screen One … A Question of Attribution

    BBC4 … Sunday 6th December 2009 10.10-11.25pm

    An incredibly rare and very welcome repeat showing of a classic virtually ‘lost’ masterpiece of BBC 1991 Screen One television drama.

    A Question of Attribution … is brilliantly scripted by Alan Bennett. James Fox delivers a sublimely subtle performance, in one of his finest ever roles, as the quietly spoken, arrogant and condescending Sir Anthony Blunt … Soviet double-agent and the dishonourable and disgraced 4th spy of the Philby, Burgess and Maclean … Soviet spy ring …

    Astonishingly, Blunt was also Master and Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures and special art advisor to HM Queen Elizabeth II … the Queen is beautifully played by Prunella Scales.

    The New York Times called the television drama … ‘a razor sharp psychological melodrama.’

    ‘Structurally, the film follows three main lines of inquiry. In the first, we see Blunt being unsuccessfully questioned by various MI5 officers. This is contrasted with the second strand, in which Blunt is involved in historical research to try and uncover a figure apparently hidden in a painting of Titian and a Venetian Senator. The third and best-known episode presents an encounter with the Queen, who is only referred to as 'HMQ' in the credits and is played with a mixture of icy shrewdness and school-girl inquisitiveness by Prunella Scales.

    The film ends brilliantly with Blunt revealing that there is a fifth man hidden in the painting. Although John Cairncross is now generally held to have been the real-life 'fifth man', in the film it's Donleavy (Geoffrey Palmer), a friend of Blunt's and Chubb's superior, a character reminiscent of Guy Liddell, the 1950s Deputy-Director of MI5. The finale suggests that Blunt's exposure revealed very little, but may have obfuscated the treachery of others.’

    BFI Screenonline

    A Question of Attribution ... won the 1992 BAFTA award for Best Single Drama … charts the duplicitous double-life led by Sir Anthony Blunt, Soviet agent/spy and Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures. In 1939, Cambridge University educated Blunt joined MI5 and throughout the war he was apparently a respectable British spy.

    Afterwards he became Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures and was knighted for his services. But in 1964, under interrogation, he confessed to being a double-agent and to having assisted Burgess and Maclean escape.

    Alan Bennett’s finely crafted screenplay delivers very clever, mysteriously enigmatic dialogue between Blunt and the Queen … did the Queen know Blunt was a former Soviet spy ?

    Whilst Blunt is supervising the restoration of two paintings attributed to Titian … he suspects the paintings in the Queen's collection may be fakes …

    A Question of Attribution is ostensibly about art, but the screenplay skilfully and specifically uses art as a reflection Blunt's own fake, secret life … and his particularly precarious yet highly respected position of power and status at the time.

    ‘Appearances deceive", Blunt warns. Like so many things … ‘Art is seldom quite what it seems.’

    Alan Bennett uses this notion brilliantly in his screenplay.

    Bennett uses two paintings in particular: Titian's Allegory of Prudence and a Triple portrait, previously attributed to Titian. The screenplay perfectly and gradually increases the tensions focussing upon the paintings, leading to the beautiful and chilling discovery at the end of additional unseen figures … a perfect reflection of the Cambridge spies … including the notoriously mysterious 5th man ... the 5th Cambridge/Soviet spy.

    As Blunt tells the Queen … ‘because something is not what it is said to be, Ma'am …

    does not mean it is a fake … it may just have been wrongly attributed.’

    The Queen calmly yet incisively discusses the nature of fakes and secrets …

    After she has left and an aide asks what they were talking about …

    Blunt replies quietly … ‘I was talking about art … I'm not sure that she was.’

    Sir Anthony Blunt … James Fox

    HM Queen Elizabeth II… Prunella Scales

    Chubb … David Calder

    Donleavy … Geoffrey Palmer

    Picture Restorer/Robertson … John Cater

    Screenplay (adapted from his stage-play) by Alan Bennett

    Directed by John Schlesinger

    A Question of Attribution is a companion-piece to An Englishman Abroad starring Alan Bates and Coral Browne and are both available on the Alan Bennett at the BBC DVD.

    Sources: DigiGuide/Wikipedia/IMDb/ Screenonline/IMDb/New York Times/Amazon

  2. #2
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    Dec 2002
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    A lovely piece of work


  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: UK didi-5's Avatar
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    May 2008
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    Yep, just saw this for the first time on the Alan Bennett DVD set - highly recommended.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Country: United States
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    Jul 2008
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    I've got this on vhs. Excellent!

    And am I the only one who found Prunella Scales' Queen sexy?

  5. #5
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    name='James Fox']I've got this on vhs. Excellent!

    And am I the only one who found Prunella Scales' Queen sexy?
    Quite possibly

    Although she is quite flirtatious, but in a more intellectual way. She's enjoying teasing Blunt.

    I heard that when they did the stage version, some of the palace staff went to see it and Pru is so convincing as HRH that the Buck House staff had to resist their urge to stand up when she came into the room


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