|Games on film, stage and television|
My specialist knowledge of traditional card and board games derives from over 40 years of research and practice, during which I've compiled a large collection of books and resources. I lead adult education workshops on games appreciation and development, and give talks and lectures on the subject. I've contributed to the planning of games exhibitions and to the running of the annual Mind Sports Olympiad. I've tested and reviewed games, assisted major games publishers with the development of in-house products, and am an accredited consultant on games terminology to the Oxford English Dictionary. I'm also usually willing to advise private individuals freely on the rules and details of particular games - the more obscure, the better - provided they have already tried the obvious places such as Pagat or rec.games. playing-cards. Please note, however, that (a) I have no interest in gambling, and (b) I don't act as an agent for placing or promoting games by other inventors.
Being a film enthusiast, my favourite consultancy work is the staging of indoor games in film and TV productions, especially of historical games for period drama. They include the following.
Sarah Phelps's adaptation of Great Expectations, broadcast on BBC TV just after Christmas 2011, was less well received by the critics than by the public. I can see the point of many critical comments, such as the omission of some important characters and an obviously deliberate refusal to admit any of Dickens's comic relief, but what made it enjoyable for me were the stunning landscape photography, David Suchet's masterful portrayal of Jaggers (how different from that of the equally laudable Francis L Sullivan in David Lean's classic version!), the surprising but more convincing take on Miss Havisham (nothing like Martita Hunt and everybody else's old crone, but a youngish, waif-like figure who would obviously scrub up well), and the beautiful Izzy Meikle-Small, who brilliantly portrayed the young Estella (pictured). I was sorry that the proposed Whist-playing scene was cut, and not entirely happy with the dismissal of Dickens's well-chosen contrast of Pip's childish Beggar-my-Neighbour with Estella's sophisticated Ecarté together with the significant accompanying conversation. However, young Izzy proved to be the most knowledgeable card-player I have ever met in the acting profession, and I think it was her idea that she and Pip play German Whist. The 1850s may have been a little early for this, but no one would have noticed, and the game looked completely convincing. I'm sure I will often rewatch it.
Amazing Grace centres on the contribution of William Wilberforce (1759-1833) to the abolition of the slave trade. This may sound rather heavy, but it's handled in a light and very human way. The card-playing scene takes place in Brooke's Gaming Club, London, in 1792. The stage directions specify Faro, which would have been authentic, but unfortunately the set and dialogue rather imply some sort of vying game. As Poker would have been anachronistic, I changed it to Brag, though I think in reality it had passed its heyday in this particular social circle by 1792. The film is directed by Michael Apted.
Pushkin's drama includes a scene in a tavern where three principals (Ralph Fiennes, Alun Armstrong and Toby Stevens) are supposedly gambling at Faro. Actually, Faro was a casino game requiring a large layout, but Pushkin himself would have played the less elaborate domestic variety, similar to Stuss, so that's what we went for. The tavern scene was beautifully filmed, but to my surprise and regret, was dropped on the cutting-room floor. (At least, it didn't appear in the version shown on television, which is all I've seen.)
Jane Austen's novels are rich in references to card games and she evidently knew what she was talking about. Here's the passage from the novel depicted in the film (made at Ealing Studios):
What shall I do, Sir Thomas? [asks his wife]: Whist and speculation; which will amuse me most?'
Speculation, an obsolete game previously known to me only from the contents pages of some early Hoyles, turned out to be more interesting than most gambling games I've tried, as it rewards a fair amount of judicious calculation. There's also a scene where two of them play some simple but unspecified card game in the background, for which purpose Beggar my Neighbour (aka Beat Your Neighbour Out of Doors) seemed a suitable recommendation.
The Wicked Lady
Magdalen King-Hall's historical romance, set "in Good King Charles's Golden Days", features a game of Ombre, accurately described as being then fashionable at court. It was first filmed in 1945 with Margaret Lockwood and James Mason. In 1982 Michael Winner remade it (on location at North Mimms House) with a powerful cast including Faye Dunaway, Alan Bates, Denholm Elliott, Prunella Scales and John Gielgud. Teaching the principals how to look as if they were playing the game was slightly uphill work, as they all claimed not to play cards in real life. Still, as Hitchcock said to Ingrid Bergman in another context, "Fake it". Which is what they did.
Stage and television productions
I taught various actors, including Nigel Stock and Clive Swift, how to play classical partnership Whist, and others how to play Pope Joan, in a BBC-TV production of The Pickwick Papers, and Clive Swift (again) how to play Bezique in a play by Noel Coward, which I've now forgotten. I've also forgotten the name of the play by Timberlake Wertenbaker that required assistance with the staging and jargon of Piquet.
Incidentally, and somewhat to my surprise, I've met remarkably few actors who do play cards. Gone are the days, apparently, when everyone on Broadway and in Hollywood played Gin Rummy backstage and between takes.
|© David Parlett 2012|