“Still Another Judith”: Protest and Performance in Brian Friel’s Film Adaptation of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne


Reid Echols


Northern Irish playwright Brian Friel’s archive is largely devoid of works in film and television, with one notable exception: a 1972 film treatment of Irish-Canadian novelist Brian Moore’s The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1955). While this screenplay, which ultimately never saw production, may be the primary reason for Friel's longstanding aversion to film, it nevertheless reveals a surprising nexus of concerns shaping Friel’s theatrical conceptions of gender, tragedy, and politics. These concerns are made particularly visible by the mechanics of adaptation, in which changes to the source text reveal key moments of deliberation, investment, and interpretation on Friel’s part. The unpublished work contains key dramatic elements that become central to Friel’s later plays; most notably, the representation of Irish social problems through suffering female characters. Reading Friel’s later drama in light of this adaptation, his most immediate response to the “inadequately distilled” experience of Bloody Sunday, offers historical insight into Friel’s deployment of character as both political diagnostic and theatrical device. Further, the screenplay raises key questions about how the study of modern playwrights might place cinematic works—however “minor” or commercial—in a more meaningful dialogue with what is often conceived of as a primarily dramatic oeuvre.

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