[Review] The Children’s Hour

The Children’s Hour

Dir: Ian Rickson
Starring: Keira Knightley, Elisabeth Moss, Ellen Burstyn

Last Saturday, 5th March, my mum and I watched The Children’s Hour which is currently being shown at the Comedy Theatre in London’s West End.

The Children’s Hour is a 1934 stage play written by American playwright Lillian Hellman. The play, and later film adaptations, have a complicated past due to its content.

In a nutshell, the play centres around two women, Karen Wright and Martha Dobie, who are the headmistresses of an all-girls boarding school. A troublesome student, Mary Tilford, runs away from the school and, to avoid being sent back, tells her grandmother that the headmistresses are having a lesbian affair. The accusation proceeds to destroy the women’s lives.

In the 1961 film adaptation by William Wyler, Audrey Hepburn starred as Karen while Shirely MacLaine was Martha. In the 2011 stage revival, Keira Knightley is Karen while Elisabeth Moss is Martha – this being Moss’s West End debut. Ellen Burstyn is Mary’s grandmother while Mary is played by upcoming theatre star Bryony Hannah.

As previously mentioned, reviews aren’t my strong point and I certainly am not a theatre critic, but here is my opinion of the performance…

I hold my hands up – the reason I wanted to watch The Children’s Hour was because Knightley was in it. I have always found Knightley to be a very good actress; I have seen the majority of Knightley’s films and particularly enjoyed The Duchess, The Jacket, Pride & Prejudice and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. I have seen Atonement but, forgive me, didn’t enjoy it that much.

As an ex-actress (amateur dramatics, darling) I know how difficult it is to perform in front of a live audience. While there isn’t an infinite amount of takes, there are more ‘second chances’ when filming a movie. On stage, there is no such luxury.

Overall, I enjoyed The Children’s Hour though ‘enjoyed’ is not particularly the right word – the last 15 or so minutes are highly dramatic as the play comes to its conclusion. It is very bleak and Knightley certainly delivers a heartfelt and moving performance.

The relationship between Knightley and Moss is genuine and the casting is spot on – I could not see Moss portraying Karen Wright and vice versa.

Strong support is provided by Hannah. I could not stand her throughout the play so a job well done. She makes a terrific little troublemaker. Carol Kane, who portrays Martha Dobie’s aunt, I struggled to understand in parts – perhaps she wasn’t projecting her voice enough – and didn’t find that comedic.

The Children’s Hour is definitely worth a watch and I was happily suprised by all involved, especially Moss as I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ll stand by my earlier judgement too; Knightley is a fine actress.

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One thought on “[Review] The Children’s Hour”

  1. I didn’t enjoy this play as much as you did. For the prices they were charging, I wasn’t sure if it was good value for money. I was also unconvinced by Carol Kane’s character – aside from the difficulty to hear her, her portrayal of a batty woman came across as a desperate attempt at comedy.

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