Theatre of Blood (1973)

“Oh forgive me, I forgot. It was your reverence and admiration which drove him to take his own life.”

Edwina Lionheart (Diana Rigg)  speaking with Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry), beside her father’s tomb.

I can’t remember when I first heard of, or saw, the exquisite film Theatre of Blood. However, over the course of my journalistic career I have written and critiqued on this piece of cinematic magic several times, culminating in a collaboration with Arrow Video for its Blu-ray release, of which I am immensely proud to have been involved.

There is something captivating, though impossible to decipher, about this film. Usually a specific aspect of a production will stand out – be that cast, settings, story-lines or direction. Seldom however do you find one in which all these elements come together as seamlessly as here. The thespian talent – led by Vincent Price and Diana Rigg (in one of her most memorable roles post that of Mrs Peel in television’s The Avengers) – which brought the various disparate characters to life on screen included a veritable who’s who of English film and theatre that could likely not be afforded today even if it could be found. The marvellous aspect of this however, was the that none present vied for predominance on screen – whether, like Ian Hendry, they appeared for lengthy periods or, as with Diana Dors, for mere moments. Here was a cast who complemented each-other, working together in perfect harmony. The same went for the London backdrop which provided the perfect setting for the film to play out against, whilst the screenplay by Anthony Greville-Bell captured the mordant black humour often present in the Bard’s work, coming alive marvellously under the snappy direction of Douglas Hickox.

Theatre of Blood may be best remembered for the numerous, cleverly contrived murders which pepper the plot. However, watch again, and its depiction of the relationship between Edwina Lionheart and her father Edward, the ‘late’, great, Shakespearian impresario, is never far from the viewer’s mind. Indeed it is the close (almost unnatural) bond between the two, which is often the catalyst for the gruesome proceedings which play out on screen, meaning that the film can also be seen as a study of a father / daughter relationship, and the strength of the bond between the two. Though Lionheart is regularly assisted in his nefarious dealings by the spirit fuelled saviours who, it emerges, rescued him from his own potentially watery grave, it is his devoted daughter who is his real partner in crime, always at hand as he carries out his murderous revenge.

Our chosen scene is the first time Edwina is seen out of disguise. At this stage there has only been one killing – numerous more are to follow – and the viewer is still in the dark as to whether Edwina is actually aware that her father is still alive let alone that she, in conjunction with him, has just overseen a particularly vicious murder. That Edwina is as guilty and involved as her father in the proceeding mayhem only becomes evident as the film unfolds. For the moment however she is seen as the grieving daughter, a part she plays to the hilt during the following encounter with Peregrine Devlin beside her beloved father’s grave.

As Edwina and Devlin debate the probability of her father still being alive, and the possibility that he may be stalking the members of the Critic’s Circle – who Lionheart blamed for stymying his career – another relationship is seen to simmer beneath the surface. Clearly nothing could ever come of it, but there is a sexual frisson between the beautiful Edwina and rakish Devlin. You can tell that secretly, deep down, they have a grudging respect for one-another – though they’d rather die than admit it. The two meet again several times throughout the film, and you can’t help but feel that, under different circumstances, there might have been something more between them.

In truth however there was only ever one man for Edwina – one whom she would, quite literally, kill for. With hindsight it seems appropriate that the statue on Lionheart’s tomb included an effigy not just of him, but also his adoring daughter. Prophetic also as, during the film’s climatic scenes, they were to make their final, triumphant exit in each-other’s arms – together forever in death as they were in life.

The High Definition Blu-ray edition of Theatre of Blood was released by Arrow Video on May 5th, 2014.

Cleaver Patterson

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