Ted Kotcheff's (1971) TV film of Jeremy Sandford's screenplay was first aired on BBC Television in their 'Play for Today' series. Set during the 60's in a variety of doss-houses and other temporary lodgings it highlights the plight of the homeless at a time in British history when it was simply illegal (i.e. an arrestable, criminal office) to be without a home.
Like Jeremy Sandford's other tour de force 'Cathy Come Home' aired by the BBC during 1966 in their series 'The Wednesday Play', this film charts the progressive deterioration of homeless alcoholic Edna (Patricia Hayes).
A sullen and haunting portrayal of a rootless existence relieved only by the temporary oblivion brought about by the slow and self-destructive effect of alcohol, 'Edna' shows us a quite unimaginable level of despair and confusion.
As a teenager, working with homeless people in Oxford, I was fortunate in obtaining a print of this film to show to school groups whose teachers had shown an interest in the work that was being done to reach out to people like Edna who found themselves criminalised for little more than their obvious personal misfortune.
Without a screenplay like this and the telling characterisation by Patricia Hayes, I cannot think how you could possibly begin to explain to schoolchildren the reality that lies behind the beguiling and romantic notion of the tramp.
This television film stands alongside Orwell's 'Down and Out in Paris and London' and 'The Road to Wigan Pier' in its ability to involve us in the everyday human tragedy it portrays.
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