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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

An Englishman Abroad

Alan Bennett

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To purchase An Englishman Abroad

Title: An Englishman Abroad
Author: Alan Bennett
Genre: Drama
Written: 1988
Length: 20 pages
Availability: in Single Spies - US
in Single Spies - UK
in Single Spies - Canada
  • Published (and generally performed) together with A Question of Attribution (see our review) as Single Spies
  • A version of An Englishman Abroad was made into a TV film in 1983, directed by John Schlesinger, starring Alan Bates and Coral Browne
  • An Englishman Abroad was first performed 1 December 1988 in a production directed by Alan Bennett, and starring Simon Callow as Burgess (and Alan Bennett as the Tailor)

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Our Assessment:

A- : affecting, clever little piece about spy Guy Burgess

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 3/3/1989 Nicholas de Jongh
The NY Rev. of Books . 13/4/1989 Noel Annan
Punch . 6/1/1989 Sheridan Morley
The Washington Post . 2/7/1989 David S. Broder

  From the Reviews:
  • "(F)ull of life" - David S. Broder, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       An Englishman Abroad is based on actress Coral Browne's 1958 visit to Moscow, when she met the exiled English spy, Guy Burgess. Bennett first wrote a TV script based on the material; the 1983 film then actually starred Coral Browne, playing herself (with Alan Bates as Burgess). In writing the play Bennett was able to rely on Burgess' letters to Browne, as well as "her original notes of his measurements and even his cheque (uncashed and for £ 6)".
       Bennett notes that: "The original script of the television film was quite close to the version now presented on the stage."
       It is a short piece (usually performed together with A Question of Attribution (see our review) as Single Spies). Parts -- including the beginning and end -- are narrated, with the action itself fading in and out. The action centers on Browne's visit with Burgess in his Moscow flat, with a few scenes then following Browne on the London errands she runs for Burgess.
       Burgess is a sad, lonely fellow in his Moscow exile, all too aware of his sad fate, but managing to make do. Browne offers some connexion with beloved England, and he eagerly grasps for it. His flailing questions about old acquaintances from a lost time and world suggest he doesn't even want to know too much about the present: it is the England he left he mourns for, and which he tries to vaguely keep alive in his sad little exile.
       Browne kindly puts up with him, and runs his errands for him, getting him some English suits ("clothes have never been the comrades' strong point"), pyjamas, and the like.
       There is no romanticism about the Soviet Union here: Bennett paints a realistically bleak picture of the place in the late 1950s. Moscow itself is a horror, leading Browne to say: "I cannot understand what those Three Sisters were on about. It gives the play a very sinister slant."
       But Bennett is sympathetic to Burgess. "If I wore a mask it was to be exactly what I seemed," he has him say. Bennett captures the complexity of Burgess' actions and betrayal very nicely in this short space. It is a rich, human portrait.
       With its fast, sharp, insightful dialogue, An Englishman Abroad is a quick and very enjoyable piece. Very nicely crafted, it makes its points easily and with just the right understatement. A very fine bit of drama.

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An Englishman Abroad: Single Spies: An Englishman Abroad - the TV film: Reviews: Alan Bennett: Other books by Alan Bennett under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author, playwright, and actor Alan Bennett appeared in Beyond the Fringe and has written numerous highly acclaimed works.

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