Monday, 11 May 2015

Our Winnie (1982)

"Oh I'm getting it. I see what it is you're after. It's life isn't it? The genuine article. The camera cannot lie"

From the 1982 anthology series Objects of Affection, Our Winnie is a wonderful slice of heartwarming Alan Bennett comedy drama that, as is often the case with the great man's work, has more bite and depth beneath it than one would originally suspect.

The drama revolves around Winnie, played superbly by Sheila Kelley, a woman with learning difficulties who lives with her elderly mother Cora and Aunt Ida played by Elizabeth Spriggs and Constance Chapman. While visiting the cemetery where Winnie's father is buried they meet two art students, one of whom, Liz (Lesley Manville) asks if she can take a photograph of the three women. She takes it while they are not prepared, making them look ridiculous. Cora is angry, so Liz takes another of them properly posed. But she enters the first photograph for a competition, where it wins a prize.

Central to Bennett's piece is the conflicting viewpoints addressed by Winnie's mother, Cora (and to an extent Aunt Ida) and the young photography student, Liz. Cora cares lovingly for her 'retarded' daughter, but the daily drudgery of such care can and has soured the most loving of parents. She refuses to let a public transport surveyor include Winnie in her questionnaire because Winnie ''doesn't count. We don't count Winnie'' and when Liz wants to take Winnie's photo she objects strongly claiming that it would not be what her late husband Frank would want. Yet Winnie is a living, breathing human with feelings and love and kindness and that's what Bennett reminds us of, even though it is all too easy, and convenient, to ignore such an unfortunate girl. Liz's fellow student, busy sketching in the graveyard, equally objects that Winnie shouldn't be photographed because "She's retarded" but Liz's determination belies the message that real art does not deal in lies or a (misguided?) sense of fairness. Ultimately, the snapshot validates Winnie's presence amongst us in the most clearest way as winning a prize for Liz. And yet, Liz herself is not truly immersed in the realities of life herself, scoffing at the cemetery workers concerns with the line "No one gets the sack these days do they?" Her middle class comfortably off culturally aware upbringing and lifestyle removes her away from the realities of life in much the same way that Cora's endless caring for her daughter has removed her from the belief that Winnie is a person who can be seen and included herself.

This beautiful half hour production is available on the DVD Alan Bennett At The BBC and in instalments to view for free on YouTube. 

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here


  1. Ah, didn't know there was an Alan Bennett at the BBC, must check it out, it probably won't include faourites of mine, hopefully Sunset Across The Bay, Me I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf etc. Constance Chapman was wonderful in that Victoria Wood playlet where she wins the pools and gets very grand.

    1. Sunset Across The Bay yes, but not Me, I'm Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. It has the Cambridge Spy plays, A Day out, Our Winnie, 102 Blvd Hausemann...