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In a career of more than 50 years, Sir Ronald Harwood
has been a prolific writer of plays, films, novels and television dramas.
He won an Oscar for his adaptation of the pianist, starring Adrien Brody,
and a BAFTA for the film version of the Diving Bell And The Butterfly.
His screenplay for Quartet attracted Dustin Hoffman
as first-time director and a very distinguished cast.
Let's have a toast to our quartet. To the quartet.
A double bill of Harwood's plays Taking Sides and Collaboration
ran in the West End in 2009 but his biggest stage hit remains
The Dresser, which opened in London in 1980 and on Broadway a year later.
Since then, it's been revived regularly
and has twice been adapted for the screen.
First as a feature film directed by Peter Yates
and now in a version for television directed by me, Richard Eyre.
Serve the playwright and keep your teeth in.
It's only when I'm nervous.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Sir Ronald Harwood.
Sir Ronald Harwood, it sounds like a name that could be
out of a rather upmarket Agatha Christie.
It's not my real name, you know.
But...you caught me, Ronnie,
because I was going to say you are of course Ronald Horvitz. Horwitz. W.
And you're an exile. An exile.
You were brought up in Cape Town and left Cape Town,
left South Africa at the age of 17.
I did. And you left to become an actor. I did.
I became a very bad actor, too. That was a good thing. I was here.
I was at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for a year
and then my mother ran out of money
and couldn't pay the fees, which were ?21 a term, I remember.
You were robbed.
And the founding principal of RADA was still principal
when I was here, Sir Kenneth Barnes.
And I got a job in Donald Wolfit's company. Walking on.
And when he found out, he said you've got to make a choice,
either RADA or Wolfit. And, thank God, I chose Wolfit.
And Wolfit, of course, is the inspiration
for your most famous play, The Dresser.
Absolutely. Which has been adapted for the screen on two occasions. Yes.
And the second occasion, I was responsible for adapting it,
with tremendous faith in the script and tremendous verisimilitude
and we're going to see a short clip from that version of The Dresser.
Your version. Of our version.
Starring Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen.
Look. What? My hands, they're shaking.
Well, they'll be very effective in the part.
Don't forgot to make them up.
I can't stop them. You do them.
Look here. Must be infectious.
I can face the division of my kingdom.
I can cope with Fool.
I can bear the reduction of my retinue.
I can stomach the curses I have to utter.
I can even with the face being whipped by the storm.
But I dread the final entrance.
To carry my Cordelia...
To cry like the wind, howl, howl.
To lay her gently on the ground to die.
Have I the strength?
If you haven't the strength, no-one has.
the play is ostensibly a backstage play
and, as John Gielgud told you, backstage plays are never any good.
Oh, never do well. Never do well. What did he say to you?
He said... "What have you been...?" I was going into the Garrick Club
and he was coming out and he said, "What have you been up to?"
I said, "I have just written a play about an actor-manager
"and his dresser."
And Gielgud said, "Oh, backstage plays never do well."
And went off.
I was delivering the script to my agent
and I went into lunch absolutely shattered.
And when she read it, she said, "Well, I don't know if he's right."
I said, of course he's right. He's John Gielgud.
Thankfully he was wrong. Thank goodness he's been proved wrong.
But it has always seemed to me much more... it's a workplace play.
But it could have been in a kitchen, in a hotel, in a hospital.
It seems to me much more about mortality and that scene we've
just watched is very much about the hint of mortality. Absolutely.
It's about the end of a life
and his, um, his past catches up with him
in a sense during the play, doesn't it?
I don't remember it very well.
The curious thing is, Richard, that it has never stopped being
played, not just in England but all over the world.
I mean, I don't know why. An American critic...
Where is it being played at the moment, Ronnie?
Well, you have to ask my agent. She's over there.
I don't keep in touch with these things.
You say you don't remember the play
but how clearly do you remember the model for Sir In the play,
Donald Wolfit? I think about him a lot.
And he became a wonderful friend and patron.
I mean, he was a delightful man.
Not in... his public reputation was appalling.
Appalling. Reputation for what?
Being cruel, vicious.
And he was all those things. He was a very complex man.
So he was an autocrat.
Oh...well, the actor-manager system was based on paternalism.
That was how it ran.
He was the father of them all.
And he... he exercised those paternal rights.
Which he did with brutality, sometimes.
Sometimes with great kindness. But more with brutality.
Well, let's listen to a clip
from THE greatest play about bad exercise of paternal rights,
which is King Lear.
And this is a clip from, um, Donald Wolfit playing Lear on the radio.
Blow, winds and crack your cheeks!
you cataracts and hurricanoes!
Spout till you have drenched the steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
singe my white head.
And thou, all-shaking thunder,
smite flat the thick rotundity of the world.
Crack nature's mould, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man.
Sounds to me that's... that's rather restrained.
No? Yes, but he had a beautiful voice.
Certainly, a beautiful voice but it seems to be...
I imagine much more volume.
Well, there was in the theatre.
In the theatre...
we had a pillar which
I had to stand inside with struts...
For the storm scene? Yes.
And he'd lean against it so when he leaned against it, I had to lean
forward and keep the two in balance and the storm would be going on.
No, no, a stagehand did that. I was on the storm -
duk-a-duk-a-dum! - doing the timpani.
And this stagehand was pissed one night and he lurched
and hit Donald on the back of the head.
And when Donald came off, I said, "Are you all right, sir?"
I was his dresser so I had to look after him.
"Are you all right?" He said, "Yes.
"But my enemies will not stop at anything!"
But he talked in those terms. But were you also an actor?
Actor, dresser and you were on the timpani... And understudy.
Understudy, and weren't you, didn't she become the business manager?
Yes, when he found out I was Jewish.
This was 1950... 1953. Right.
And so you were touring one week... No, no.
We were at the Kings, Hammersmith, that whole season.
It was a whole year.
We broke for the summer and then came back in the autumn.
There was another writer, or would-be writer in the company, wasn't there?
There was. He was called Harold Pinter.
I wonder what happened to him?
LAUGHTER Yes. We were both in the company.
And there's a character in your play who is a writer who is
complaining that Sir never reads his plays. Yes.
And he is quite aggressive. I wonder who it could be based on?
I've no idea. But you were good friends. You remain good friends.
He's my oldest friend. Yes. We remained friends.
I don't know why.
We were politically poles apart.
Er.. He wrote for a theatre I didn't really understand, you know.
It was a very modern contemporary theatre and he changed it.
He changed it into what he... into his own image.
And was that...?
Where you competitive? Did you think, "I want to be a writer."
No, no. But he did encourage me,
when I found out he'd become a writer,
and I was out of work and married and just married and my wife was
pregnant, I thought well, if Harold can do it, why can't I?
So I started writing.
And you wrote Wolfit's biography.
Wolfit left, was it, ?50 in his will. ?50, my boy. A lot of money. ?50.
And he said, I'm going to leave it but I want you... He didn't tell me.
I only found out when his will was read.
And you wrote, um, it's now a bestseller because I made
everybody in the production of The Dresser... Good man. ..buy a copy.
It can only be obtained second-hand. But it's really fascinating.
The life of a touring company and the life of actors.
It was much more wild and barbarian and gladiatorial than...
Yes, it was. It was rogues and vagabonds. Yes.
Queen Victoria did the acting profession a great disservice
because when she knighted Henry Irving, she decapitated
the rogues and vagabonds and it was a bad thing, really.
Well, but Donald Wolfit was knighted, wasn't he?
Yes, but he had waited a long time. He was very...
When John Gielgud was arrested for...
importuning, Donald said,
"Oh... they'll never knight me now."
And were there other actors that you worked with
who fed into the characterisation?
Well, I tried to use things from ...
Laurence Olivier asked me that and he calls his wife, in the play,
Pussy, which Larry called Vivien.
Yes. Larry was rather pleased, I think.
And there were other things that I...
I tried to cobble together... Yes. A composite likeness.
The fascinating thing to me
is that it can thrive with
actors as different as Albert Finney and Anthony Hopkins. I know.
And the text thrives.
The first film that Peter Yates made
was your adaptation. Yes.
And you took it...
film producers always say, "We're going to open it out."
They didn't say that, actually. And I don't ever call it that.
I call it opening in. Meaning what?
Meaning that you explore more. Yes.
Because you have the opportunity of location
and scenes that you couldn't do in the theatre.
But there's a glorious scene which I would describe as opening out
which, when I said to people I'm going to do The Dresser, they said,
"Oh, will you have that wonderful scene on the station?"
I know. And we're going to watch that wonderful scene on the station.
ANNOUNCEMENTS ON TANNOY
STEAM ENGINE PUFFS
Please wait, driver. They're very elderly actors.
We're doing Shakespeare next week at the Alhambra Theatre
so it's all in a good cause.
You wouldn't go without us, will you? Sod off!
That is based on a true story.
It's a wonderful... enviably wonderful scene.
Well, when Pete and I first talked about the screenplay,
he said, "Is there somewhere we can expand it?"
And I told him that story, it is a true story.
Donald did stop a train at Crewe, "Stop that train!"
He had a hell of a voice.
When you heard him in that Lear extract, it is very mild.
He had a huge booming voice. I can imagine he could stop a train.
He had this huge chest.
When I did his biography, I went to see his voice specialist,
a man called Norman Punt.
I asked him, "Was there anything special about Donald's voice?"
He said, the length of his vocal chords.
Donald had a range from falsetto to basso profundo.
He had resonance in all parts of the scale.
Ronnie, having adapted The Dresser, hardly changing...
Well, I didn't change a line, but it
made me think a lot about what works on stage and what works on film.
You have spent a lifetime addressing this subject.
What's the conclusion?
What a dreadful question, Richard!
I don't know if I have any conclusions.
If a producer... I don't write original films, I write adaptations.
And why don't you write originals?
Because I think it is a waste of an idea.
The director is going to interfere... Forgive me!
And the producers are going to interfere, don't ask me
to forgive them! And it is not yours.
I mean, I know people have great enjoyment from writing films
but I don't.
So if I have a good idea, what I think is a good idea,
it comes to me or overtakes me, I write it as a play, if I can.
So I have never done an original screenplay.
But when you translate from one of your plays, or from a novel,
are you thinking, "I must stop them talking, I must get them out..."?
Yes, I do. I mean, obviously it is a different medium.
But I also anticipate the pace of the film in pictures, which is
not the same as the theatre.
In the theatre, you can have a long-playing scene.
Nowadays in movies,
if you have a scene longer than half a minute you're in dead trouble.
It is extraordinarily bad history, as so much film history
and film criticism is,
because a lot of the great films had very long scenes of dialogue.
If you look at a Humphrey Bogart. Yes, exactly.
Casablanca, all of those, they have long dialogue scenes.
Or, indeed, a Quentin Tarantino film. Yes.
So it is a sort of odd orthodoxy that has crept in, isn't it?
It is to do with commercials.
The cutting rate in a commercial is so severe
and so quick that they think that is the way to go.
Ronnie, the first novel, I think,
the first film adaptation of yours
was One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich. Yes.
I don't know what year but your first collaboration with Tom Courtenay.
Yes... No, he had done a play of mine beforehand, a television play.
He is my oldest friend now.
Let me see, it was 1968, I think, somewhere around there,
when we made the film. What drew you to the subject?
Well, anti-communism, really.
Here, there was
a kind of tacit belief that communism
Here? Here, in England. In Europe.
What period are we talking about? The '60s.
Just after Stalin, but even with Stalin alive,
there were people who defended it.
I had a great friend who was in The Dresser who defended it,
that was... That was the way.
They didn't like to show that they weren't
pledging their allegiance to Stalin, or to that ideal.
And, you know, he killed more people than Hitler.
You filmed this in the north of Norway.
It is on the same latitude as Nome, Alaska. Bloody cold!
Unusually for you, Ronnie, you were on the set, were you?
Yes, for two, three nights.
I just thought it would be lovely to see the midnight sun.
We had a wonderful cameraman called Sven Nykvist.
Bergman's cameraman. Bergman's cameraman.
He was a delightful expert man, great at his job.
All the actors were old friends and so I sat in their caravans.
We had doctors on the set, it was...
That was directed by a theatre director.
Caspar Wrede. Who was half Norwegian? No, he was Finnish.
Oh, Finnish? And he worked at the Royal Exchange Theatre
in Manchester. Yes, he was one of the founders.
Which is, in fact, the theatre which first presented The Dresser.
It was, yes. In the round. They had a very nice round theatre.
Which I don't really like, I am not mad about round theatres.
But you like anything which puts your plays on?
I couldn't have put it better!
It was there and Michael Elliott,
who I thought was one of the best directors of his generation.
His daughter is a very good director, too. Yes, at the National.
So I thought, yeah. But he didn't direct it, Caspar directed it.
Did you get to meet Solzhenitsyn? No.
Funny thing happened, Caspar and I were in Norway
for the premiere of the film in Norway... Norwegian, I suppose.
When we left Oslo, Solzhenitsyn
escaped from the Soviet Union.
He was exiled, I think.
So we just missed him but he wrote a letter to Caspar,
which I wish I had a copy of,
in which he used a wonderfully arrogant phrase.
He said, "You have been true to truth."
That was his truth, you know.
So I didn't meet him but we offered him all kinds of hospitality
if he wanted to come to England, which he didn't.
He was going around Europe to find out where the best tax deal was.
That was the reason for his journey before he went to America.
I don't... And then he hated America.
But what did he... He saw the film?
He saw the film, yes. Oh, yes.
It was in the theatre opposite the hotel.
Didn't he say, I want more jokes?
He did and we couldn't find one joke in the whole bloody thing.
Yes, he did. He said, it's not funny enough. Yes.
That must have been the humour of the prisoners, you know,
there's always a slang which we couldn't translate, I suppose.
But it's not really in the novel, is it?
Well, apparently, it is. But not in the translation.
Oh, not in the English version.
Ronnie, you will respond, people send you novels and say,
"I want to make a film of this." And you respond or not.
Yes, if it is in my world I respond.
If it's something to do with my world.
There's a brilliant screenplay that you wrote that I'm very
envious of because it is of a book that I tried to get the rights of.
It's called The Diving Bell And The Butterfly.
When it was in French, I tried to get the rights and came within
a day of securing the rights for a modest amount of money. Gosh.
And then your producer, Kathleen Kennedy, came in,
Hollywood came in... Wonderful woman!
..and I was no longer in the running.
Anyway, you were asked to adapt this book for a screenplay
and you found it enormously difficult.
Well, I had read it five years before I was offered it.
My wife read it first and said, "Ronnie, you must read this,
"it is a terrific book."
And so I did and I thought it was a terrific book. I forgot about it.
When this came up, when Kathy offered it to me, I thought,
"Yeah, I will do that. "Of course, it is a wonderful book
"and it is absolutely a world that I would like to explore."
When I got to Paris, we had a flat in Paris and I got to Paris,
opened the book and I thought, "My God, how am I going to do this?"
You know, it is about a man blinking letter after letter.
And I had been paid.
I was on the point of giving them the money back
but nothing concentrates the mind of a writer more acutely than that.
I then had this idea that the camera should be the blind man,
the man with the stroke.
And I solved it.
We're going to see a clip which, I think, exemplifies
your take on the story.
OK, now, say your name, would you?
Go ahead, just try. But I said it.
Try and say your name. Tell me your name.
Try to say the names of your children.
Theophile, Celeste, Hortense.
Don't worry about it. Why? The process is very long.
But you will speak again.
What? What did you say? Can't you hear me? Doctor?
Doc, what is going on?
You mean, I am not talking? They can't hear me? Oh, my God.
You mean, I can't speak?
What happened to me?
My name is Jean-Dominique Bauby.
No, all right.
I think that's...the film is brilliantly written.
The director, who is a painter called Julian Schnabel...
Is that what he is? ..is notoriously...
I mean, film directors, and maybe some theatre directors,
are appalling for the way in which
they appropriate all credit to themselves.
And assisted by the media
who are very unquestioning about who has done what.
And they don't know a thing.
That film, which is about this man who suffered from locked-in syndrome after a car accident,
essentially what appears on the screen
is what you wrote in the script? Yes.
Except he broke the device of seeing it through his eyes
much earlier than I did in the screenplay.
And, er, he was... Megalomania takes on a new meaning.
There is not a definition in any dictionary that describes him.
Oh, God, he was awful. LAUGHTER
We've got that. You got that? Did you hear that?
I just learned to treat it with humour.
Because his megalomania was beyond belief.
And he came up to me after a private showing in Paris,
which my wife and I saw,
I think there were four people in the cinema, a little cinema,
and he came up and said,
"Could I share the screenplay credit with you?"
I said, "No, you bloody well can't."
Because I thought it was outrageous.
And he never acknowledged the concept being mine ever.
But that's par for the course, Richard. You've probably done that.
..At the end of this. My Dresser.
You mentioned a director I admire a great deal, Istvan Szabo...
Lovely man. ..who made the most wonderful film
about compromise and art - Mephisto.
But your quite wonderful film, I think, Taking Sides,
is a film about moral choice, isn't it?
He tipped... I have to say I think the play is better.
No, I agree the play is better,
but I'm interested in where your fascination...
Because film after film, play after play,
you are concerned with people who are in a totalitarian situation,
or a situation where they have to make a moral choice
and you are fascinated by the tactics...
strategies that people adopt to deal with those choices. Yes, I am.
I am and also I don't like propaganda in films.
I don't like preaching.
I like the audience to reach their own conclusions, which they did.
In several of my plays, they've done that,
went home and argued, husband and wives parted, all kinds of things.
But in that film,
Szabo tipped the balance a bit against Furtwangler.
In the play, it's... In the play, it's much more even-handed.
But is this fascination because you grew up under apartheid?
In a totalitarian... In a totalitarian society.
I wasn't aware of it, Richard, really.
I didn't really realise the awfulness of it
until I came to England.
You didn't realise that black people and white people had separate lives?
No, I knew that, we had servants.
We were very poor and we had a servant.
Always had a servant.
I had coloured nannies, as they were...
Cape Coloureds, which is a racial description.
So was the fascination then with how you dealt with totalitarianism
because of your Jewishness? I think so.
I grew up during the First... the Second World War,
but the Holocaust dominated my adolescence.
And it's been with me ever since. That's how I'm made.
I think all Jews have an awareness of that in them
because it was a dreadful, dreadful event. I read a lot about it now.
I write a lot about it now.
It's haunting, a haunting experience.
But are you haunted in the sense you think, "What would I have done?"
Oh, yeah, that's a... You wonder if you could have escaped,
or if you could have done anything to...
But it was a massive machine against you.
One of the reasons I'm fascinated by your subject matter
is that I'm haunted, being non-Jewish,
of thinking, "Would I have behaved honourably with my Jewish friends?
"Would I have taken arms?"
I can't answer that, that's a difficult question.
It sometimes obsesses me.
Which is... When I was running the National Theatre,
I used to think of Mephisto and the man who was running the theatre
and the Nazis arrived and said, "You must do this play."
And I thought, "What would I do when they say...?"
You are an honourable man, you would have done the honourable thing.
One of the things...
We're just going to watch a scene from Taking Sides.
I watched this play
and I thought of Furtwangler who was the most wonderful musician
and I sit there like the rest of the audience and think,
"I hope I would have behaved better."
That is precisely what was through my mind when I wrote it.
I'm glad you said that.
I can't bear plays that tell you what to think.
I like plays that leave it open.
Very few people do that.
They follow Bernard Shaw really in preaches and lectures.
But the film did make judgments, didn't it?
The film did,
and the end particularly, when he wipes his hands.
It persuaded you to think that he was a bad man.
Yes, or that he felt his own guilt.
But I don't think he did.
His wife came to see it, his widow, who I didn't know was still alive.
I got the shock of my life.
They said, "Frau Furtwangler is in the audience tonight."
I thought, "Oh, Christ!"
And she was delightful. She was absolutely enchanting.
She went round to see Daniel Massey who played it in the play.
And she said... He had a slightly unctuous, Etonian manner...
bowed a lot and kissed hands and things.
And he said to her, "Have you any suggestions?"
She said, "I have two criticisms."
He said, "Yes, yes, what are they?"
"Wilhelm did not have so much hair here."
He said, "I will talk to the wig maker. What was the other one?"
She said, "Um, Wilhelm's... Your lips are not quite right.
"Wilhelm had different lips."
He said, "I don't what I can do about that." Did you know Dan?
I did. He was a lovely man.
And then he did it in New York as well.
She then went round seeing productions of the play in German
and she would always sit with the Furtwanglers,
sometimes with her arms through his arms.
She was a very beautiful woman.
And give notes to all the Furtwanglers.
I don't think she gave notes, but she liked being near them.
There's a wonderful actor, Stellan Skarsgard, in the film
and we are going to see a clip
which has him as Furtwangler arguing his case.
I've always believed that you have to fight from the inside.
Not from without. I ask myself,
"What is the duty of an artist - to stay or to leave?"
Then Goebbels demanded
that I acknowledge Hitler as solely responsible for cultural policy.
Well, that was a fact.
It seemed pointless to deny. I simply acknowledged that Hitler,
and the Minister of Culture appointed by him,
were solely responsible for the culture and policy of the Reich.
What I wanted to express was that I, personally,
had no responsibility whatsoever for their cultural policy.
I've always held the view that art and politics
should have nothing to do with each other.
Then why did you conduct at one of their Nuremberg rallies?
I did not conduct at the rally.
I conducted on the evening before the rally.
That sounds like the small print
on one of our insurance policies, Wilhelm.
What about April 19, 1942?
The eve of Hitler's 53rd birthday, the big celebration?
You conducted for Hitler, didn't you?
Was that in keeping with your view
that art and politics have nothing to do with each other?
That... That was a different matter.
I was tricked. How come?
Can I have a glass of water please?
Where did you get the idea for Taking Sides?
Let's see. Um...
I think I was somewhere abroad, my wife brought over a few books
and one of them was a book that Bernard Levin had written
which contained a piece on Furtwangler and I became intrigued.
I love those dilemmas, those moral dilemmas
and I like writing about them.
So when I got back to London,
I went to a bookstore and got the Devil's Musician...
the Devil's Maestro I think it's called by a Japanese American.
It was a full scale biography.
I then looked up the various transcripts of the trial.
But there is no record of the interrogation
by the Harvey Keitel character?
Is he your fiction?
I made him up, yes. There is no record of him.
The Americans were determined to get the top guys in every profession
and Furtwangler was the top man in music and they went for him.
They didn't win. It was left, sort of, blank.
And were you tempted also to write about Karajan
who has a sort of...?
Well, he's too black and white.
He was a Nazi, he joined the Nazi party twice.
The first thing he did when he was de-Nazified in Vienna
was to employ a Jewish secretary.
Forget it. You know exactly where he stands.
No, no, I was not interested in von Karajan.
And I didn't like his conducting either.
That's like a friend of mine who objected to Kissinger
and when I said is it because of the bombing of Cambodia?
And she said, "No, it's not,
"it's because he doesn't sign his own Christmas cards."
What a grand thing to say. Well, she was very grand.
So this speculation about art and morality is-is...
is a line that goes through all through your work.
Yes, you see, Richard, when I got to England,
when I became a writer in 1960,
it was just the time of the change
when social writing became the dominant thing.
You had to write about class.
You had to write about class.
Well, I didn't know anything about the English class system,
it wasn't part of my upbringing,
I didn't go to school here,
I didn't do anything here except study at RADA for a year
which didn't qualify me to write about the social scene in England.
There was Osborne, Wesker, all those people writing about England
and about the class structure, that was the main thrust of their plays.
I thought, "I can't deal with that.
"I would love to write for the theatre,
"but I wouldn't be able to do that."
So I wrote novels.
And eventually, with The Dresser,
it was the first time I was able to write a play about what I knew,
which was then acceptable in that period, er, 1980.
But music has been... I would have loved to have been a musician.
No talent at all, but I would love to have been a conductor.
Just imagine raising your hands and 120 people doing your bidding.
It would be wonderful. But I have no talent for it.
I have appreciation for it, but no talent.
As a child, did you listen to music? All the time.
I used to conduct to a radiogram which my sister bought us.
I used to have proper concerts - an overture, a symphony,
an intermezzo, whatever.
And I could stand with my mother's knitting needle
in the little lounge we had and I'd conduct.
And do you think music is...does it have a healing...?
For me it does. But, also, it is universal.
You don't have to have a language apart from listening to the music.
And I think that's an admirable quality.
But don't you find the oddness of this sublime music
and sometimes the context and the people who are playing it
I'm always haunted by the image of Schubert's quintet being played
in one of the camps. Yeah. At the insistence of the camp commandant.
Hoess. So how do you parse that equation?
There is no par... There is no solving that.
I mean, Hoess, who was the commandant of Auschwitz,
who I have just written about, was, um...
when he had a bad day,
when they did not meet the quota of Jews they had to kill,
he went and listened to music for soothing,
which is what it's for.
Music is a soothing... It soothes the jagged nerves.
But you and I would argue that music has an inherent humanity,
a human... We certainly would.
But clearly, it doesn't.
But the divorce in Nazi Germany between humanity and murder
is so difficult to penetrate why they believed those...
This was the most cultured nation in Europe.
And yet they destroyed their nation with anti-Semitism. Yes.
You won an Oscar... We don't pay any attention to these things of course.
Oh, yes, I remember that.
..for your screenplay for The Pianist. I did.
This combines the two subjects we have been talking about -
the Holocaust and... Music. ..and music.
And we're going to see a clip.
It's a funny time to say this.
I wish I knew you better.
SHOUTING IN GERMAN
HE GRUNTS AND WHISPERS
What do you think you're doing, Szpilman?
I've saved your life. Now get out, just go!
Tell me about... That scene isn't quite as you wrote it, is it?
No, I wrote, obviously, the setting and I had him run off.
And Roman said to me,
"No, why don't we do what happened to me?"
A man... When he was pushed under the wire of the Krakow Ghetto,
a man said to him, "Don't run, walk."
I thought, "God, I would never invent that,
"that seems to me impossible." And we did that.
That's the change in the scene and it works very well, I think.
Ronnie, what fascinates me,
you wrote...you fleshed out this quite
thinly written autobiography into a very rich script,
presented it to Polanski who said, "Terrific, now we start work."
Yes, he did, the rotten sod.
He did. And what did that mean? Your heart sank?
Well, we spent five weeks together,
he took a house somewhere in France, with his children.
His wife was working in Paris.
We sat down, we had a housekeeper and we worked every day.
Roman is meticulous about the stage directions.
He doesn't like anything like,
"camera goes in, zooms in, zooms out."
And, I tell you, if I put, "Close shot, Richard Eyre,"
it'd be shot from half a mile away. Yes.
He doesn't look at that. He taught me someone wonderful things.
I used to put in "fade in" at the beginning,
which is a sort of convention.
He said, "What's this?" I said, "Roman, it's a convention."
He says, "This meaningless, cut it." So I cut it, I never use it now.
But the little that I've done of film adaptation,
you write a stage direction and all the crew read this
as if this is instructions. So if you put, "There is a glass on the table,"
if you describe the glass, that glass will appear.
That book will appear, the colour of wall will appear.
Exactly, the property masters in films are sensational. Yes.
And they come and check all the time, "Is this what you wanted?"
"Is that what you wanted?" They're brilliant. Wonderful people.
But...five weeks, what did you do all day? Because he didn't...
I'm not telling you.
He didn't say, "Ronnie, this line is no good."
We'd sit at a round table he had in -
or the person whose house he was renting had -
and we'd go through it page by page.
And he had a strange memory, Roman Polanski.
Because he was a tiny boy in the Krakow Ghetto,
he knew every belt and the buckle
of all the German units.
And so he got the costume department to fax him what they wanted,
or if they suggested it, and he'd send it back.
He'd say, "That's not the belt, that's the belt of the police.
"I want the belt of the Ghetto," or whatever.
And would he make you put that in the script? No, he wouldn't.
Once he's given his orders, he trusts that.
So he didn't change any of the dialogue?
Well, no, don't think he did much.
And when he was shooting?
Well, I don't think so, no.
Once it got onto the floor, that was it, he locked it. And...
You know, I once said to him, he speaks five languages,
"Roman," I said, "actually you speak six because the sixth is film."
He just knows it.
He's never stuck for where to put the camera or how to move
or whatever. He's a fascinating man. He's a very engaging companion.
And you did Dickens. You did Oliver Twist.
Oliver Twist, which he said one day will be a classic.
I think more people saw it in Poland than saw it in America.
I've never seen it. No. He did it very well.
He did it for funny reasons.
Because he was reading it to his children in French
and they were enchanted by it and so he thought,
"We'll make a film of it."
The other play that you wrote, it's about theatre or opera
or singers and mortality is, of course, Quartet.
Well, it had very, very bad reviews when it was first done in London.
Really? Oh, very bad. Oh, I remember it as rather successful. No.
No. Michael... What was he called?
Michael Coveney. Coveney. Coventry.
Whatever his name was. No-one remembers him now.
He gave it three bad reviews on the same day.
Which was quite excessive, I thought.
I wonder what's happened to him. LAUGHTER
Ronnie, how do you deal with critics?
I try not to.
But I get very upset if I get a bad review, of course you do.
I get depressed.
You work like hell, you put on a play and they dismiss it.
When you think of those reviews and, of course,
we all remember the bad ones. The bad ones, yes, exactly.
They're etched into our soul but do you ever think,
"Actually, they were right or half right"?
I wouldn't dare think that.
No, I don't, I don't.
I have a play that I loved called Mahler's Conversion. Yes. Yes, yes.
About Gustav Mahler. And I loved it.
It got terrible reviews, really awful.
With my cousin Antony Sher in it.
And it came off after four weeks, five weeks - five weeks
at the Aldwych Theatre. I was heartbroken about that.
You just have to put up with it. Yes.
Well, that kind of stoicism is what comes across in the film
of Quartet, the play and the film of Quartet.
We can see a clip in which Maggie Smith,
a soprano, is being persuaded to appear in public again.
My gift deserted me.
It has left us all, Jean, it is called life. Oh, my darling,
old age is not for sissies. No.
Jean? Let go. What's it matter now what anyone says or thinks?
You might even enjoy it. You telling me to go out and smell the roses?
No, I'm telling you to sing.
The roses are long gone but the chrysanthemums are magnificent.
They certainly are, Cissy.
Jean, if you say yes, Cedric will give us
the finale instead of Anne Langley.
Anne Langley? Yes.
Yes, she wanted to sing Violetta
and she was, of course, a very fine Violetta.
Oh, pull yourself together, Cissy.
Violetta's supposed to be dying of tuberculosis.
She sounded as if she was singing Falstaff.
Well, she's singing Tosca now.
Over my dead body.
APPLAUSE Oh, lovely, lovely. Lovely.
Well, we're watching with some affection, our mutual friend
Maggie Smith giving one of her constant exemplary performances.
Oh, she's extraordinary.
Ronnie, if you say the play was not a success, Quartet,
but it was a rather successful film. It was, in certain countries.
In Australia it was a humdinger.
Here it did well.
It did well in the States. Quite well. Quite well.
But tell me how Dustin Hoffman came to direct it.
Well, we couldn't find a director.
And I'm not sure we found one.
Well, yes, we did. LAUGHTER
Is anybody listening?
No, Dustin came in because the producer had worked with
an editor who'd just worked with him and he said to them,
Dustin had said to the editor, "If you ever hear of a film
"that needs a director, I'd like to do it."
And that's how he came onboard.
And he was enchanting to me. And enchanting to the actors.
Oh, the actors adored him. Maggie and Tom absolutely adored him.
I have read you being questioned about this, you know,
how a first-time director could make a successful film of your work.
The answer you gave,
"Well, well, directing is easy, what's the problem?"
Yeah... Did I say that? Yes, you did say that.
Well, I would say... Quite...
I'd say the opposite but I would say writing is harder. Well...
You spend a lot of time...
The adaptation of a play to a film is quite difficult because you
have to abandon the play in some ways and rethink it in visual terms.
That's what you have to do.
So you get a little bit tense when the director says,
"Do we need that scene?"
Yes. Dustin was very...
frank with his views.
So was it quite a combative relationship?
No, no, we had a very good relationship
until they went on the floor. Right.
But do you think...
Do you ever sympathise for the position of a director who is...?
HE LAUGHS HEARTILY
Have you ever, apart from Julian Schnabel, who clearly was...
Well, he was a lunatic. Yes, but do you fight
in a constructive way with Polanski, for instance?
No, because we spent all that time together thrashing those
things out and once we'd got the script, he locked it in.
So I would say the point of all that was that he was trying to
get into his head exactly what it was that you wanted.
Well, I don't think that's exactly true. No?
No, I think it's what he wanted.
But presumably if he takes all that time, it must be marrying what
he sees in his head with what you see in your head. Perhaps that's true.
He's a great delight to work with.
I mean, he's generous, he has very little ego. I mean, of that kind.
Yes. He doesn't push himself at all
because he knows he's very good and he does understand movies.
But what I find sometimes distressing in film
and when film is talked about is the incredible
ignorance of journalists and public about how a film gets made.
Well, they don't understand the writer's role at all.
And the writer's really shuffled into the wings.
I mean, deep in the wings, in the shadows.
They only think there's a director, journalists.
There's sort of yards of material that are taken.
I'll have...I'll have
three yards of that and I'll have another two yards of that.
Six inches of that.
Have you ever worked as a rewriter?
Didn't you do a bit of rewriting on Australia? No, I started the script.
Oh, did you?
Yeah, he did a bit of rewriting when he went back to Australia.
Baz did? Baz did.
And he turned it into a dreadful film, I think.
I mean, it's really awful and I thought Nicole Kidman was appalling.
So, Ronnie, you wrote the first script from a book.
No, from Baz's treatment, I think.
And I needed the money, you know, that's no shame.
And they paid me very well.
Good, good. You don't write treatments, do you? No, no.
I mean, they seem to me completely pointless.
Well, you write out the story... You write out of yourself the story.
Then the trouble is that the producer reads the treatment and says,
"Go away, write the script," and then says,
"No, no, that's not what I meant at all." I know. Absolutely.
Because the treatment allows people to fantasise that they can
write their own screenplay.
That's true. But I guess that's why, in the end,
you've come back to the theatre.
I love the theatre.
Because everyone in a theatre is aware that the event is only
happening because somebody has written something down. Yeah.
Well, the English theatre, the British theatre,
is so loyal to the playwright. Yup.
You know, we have it in our contracts
that you have to have casting approval.
That's an extraordinary gift. Yeah.
So I love the English theatre, always loved it.
But you've got a play opening not in the English theatre
but opening in Berlin.
I'm going out for it. And this play is, what?
Well, there was a case in the English newspapers all over
the world, actually, about a man called Gurlitt who had...
They found 2,500 masterpieces in his two flats in Salzburg and Munich.
By Picasso, by Matisse, Manet, Monet, anybody - and sculptures.
An extraordinary horde. I was fascinated by it.
His father had been a director of an art museum
and then they found out his grandmother was Jewish
when the Nazis came to power and he was stopped.
And then the Nazis had an exhibition of something
they called "degenerate art," which was, really, Jewish art
or avant-garde art of some kind. Picasso was included.
50,000 people came to that exhibition.
When the Germans put on German art, 5,000 people came.
Now Goebbels was not an unintelligent man
and he thought to himself, "We've got a war to fight,
Jews to kill, God, we need money."
And so he appointed my man's father,
Cornelius Gurlitt... Hildebrand Gillett,
to go to France and sell these things at auction.
Well, Hildebrand did that but he also kept a few.
Ronnie, this play is opening at Renaissance-Theater in Berlin.
Exactly. But is it in German? Yeah.
So it's been translated by somebody who's done your work before?
Yeah, I think so, yes.
But when are we going to see it in English?
Well, when a theatre wants to do it.
I'm not very popular in England, you know, my plays are not very popular.
Ronnie, there's never a time when there isn't a Harwood...
No, this is absolute nonsense. I was never done at the National Theatre.
I've never been done at the National Theatre.
AUDIENCE MURMURS AND LAUGHS I know. I'm sorry about that. I know.
I thought I'd get that in. Yes.
The shame, the shame.
Well, I don't mind now, Richard, I did mind then.
And I was rude to you.
Directing The Dresser was my way of making up for it.
Well, you did make it up to me, you did it beautifully.
Thank you, Ronnie.
I wanted to just say thank you very much, Ronnie. Thank you, Richard.
It's been such a pleasure talking to you. Thank you.