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the Complete Review
the complete review - TV script



Professional Foul

by
Tom Stoppard


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Professional Foul



Title: Professional Foul
Author: Tom Stoppard
Genre: TV script
Written: 1977
Length: 82 pages
Availability: in Every Good Boy Deserves Favor / Professional Foul - US
in Tom Stoppard Plays: Three - US
in Every Good Boy Deserves Favour / Professional Foul - UK
in Tom Stoppard Plays: Three - UK
  • A Play for Television
  • Professional Foul was made into a TV film. Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, it was first broadcast 24 September 1977
  • Won the British Television Critics' Award for Best Play

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Our Assessment:

B+ : clever idea, quite well done

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       In Professional Foul Czech-born Stoppard returns to his homeland. The setting is 1977 -- the year of Charter -- and politics is front and center.
       The play centers around an international "Colloquium Philosophicum" (the description giving some idea of the rarefied scholarly air the attendees move about in) held in Prague, which a number of English academics attend. One of them is Cambridge professor Anderson, who is, in fact, far more interested in the England-Czechoslovakia World Cup qualifier that is to be played at the same time. He has a ticket for the match and plans to skip out of the conference to watch it.
       Anderson is to deliver a paper on ethics, but theory and praxis of course find themselves at odds soon enough. A former student of Anderson's shows up at his hotel room. Pavel Hollar returned to Czechoslovakia and got into trouble after the 1968 uprising: no more airy philosophy for him. Instead he now works as a cleaner (of lavatories and the like). But having heard his old teacher will be in town he quickly wrote his doctoral thesis -- on ethics, of course -- and wants Anderson to smuggle it out of the country.
       Anderson declines to do so: he feels it would be unethical, as though he were obligated to his criminal Czech hosts: "having accepted their hospitality I cannot in all conscience start smuggling ... you know ... it's just not ethical." Hollar accepts this, but asks that Anderson himself return the thesis to him the next day: Hollar doesn't dare carry it home because he might be searched and it might be confiscated (and it is, of course, his only copy).
       The base corruption of the regime is revealed to Anderson soon enough (Hollar's worst fears and more are quickly realized) and, perhaps worse, they cause him to miss the football game. It changes his view of things and of acts. The football match saw a "professional foul" -- a last desperate foul to prevent a goal -- and Anderson begins to understand the need for the occasional desperate and wrong act, for the better good (though in the case of the professional foul the Czechs converted the penalty too).
       Anderson delivers a different paper than originally intended at the colloquium -- which doesn't go over very big with his hosts. He also decides to try and help Hollar, committing a professional foul in the process, to the disappointment of at least one fellow philosopher.

       Professional Foul gives a good picture of the perverse and petty Czech-communist regime around 1977, and the difficulties of intellectual life there. It contrasts nicely with the holier than thou English academics, standing on ethical principles in a world perverted beyond all reason -- though it doesn't feel entirely realistic: some of these professors are too pathetic in their embrace only of the abstract, and from the first no one could expect anything but that Anderson would come to his senses. Still, there is some decent philosophic debate here -- and reality, in the form of the Czech regime and the English footballers, makes for an often striking contrast.
       Stoppard makes some nice points, and there is clever dialogue here (the philosophy, the football). Still, the play seems too close to events (Charter 77 and so one), and is too simple a take on them. Ethics, too, aren't as simple as Stoppard makes them out to be here. Stoppard doesn't seem to have the proper distance to really handle this material. It still is quite an effective piece, but not nearly as good as it might have been if he had more often eschewed the obvious.

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Links:

Professional Foul: Tom Stoppard: Other works by Tom Stoppard under review: Works about Tom Stoppard under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British dramatist Tom Stoppard, born in 1937, is author of such notable plays as Arcadia and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

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