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Hay Fever (1984)


Cedric Messina


Noël Coward (play) (as Noel Coward)


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Cast overview:
Penelope Keith ... Judith Bliss
Paul Eddington ... David Bliss
Patricia Hodge ... Myra Arundel
Benjamin Whitrow ... Richard Greatham
Joan Sims ... Clara
Phoebe Nicholls ... Sorel Bliss
Susan Wooldridge ... Jackie Coryton
Michael Siberry ... Simon Bliss
Michael Cochrane ... Sandy Tyrell


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based on play | See All (1) »









Release Date:

26 December 1984 (UK) See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


This movie was made after Penelope Keith had had a big hit in the West End production, though the supporting cast here is different. See more »


Simon Bliss: Darling, I adore you.
Myra Arundel: That's right.
Simon Bliss: But you're callous, that's what it is, callous. You don't care a damn. You don't love me a bit, do you?
Myra Arundel: "Love's" a very big word, Simon
See more »

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User Reviews

Wit tinged with arsenic
27 November 2011 | by robert-temple-1See all my reviews

Although the three earlier versions appear to be lost, this was the fourth filming of Noel Coward's amusing play HAY FEVER (the others dating from 1920, 1938, and 1939). This is one of the countless TV triumphs of the brilliant Cedric Messina, producer and director of this filmed play, who had previously produced 82 episodes of PLAY OF THE MONTH for the BBC and had directed eight of them. Messina was a titan of the old school, by which I mean people of taste. The BBC is now run by nonentities lacking in any taste, ability, or culture, who are paid ludicrously inflated salaries for poisoning the national culture and pursuing their own private and political agendas at public expense. Messina and his friends at the BBC of the 1970s and 1980s kept culture permanently on the boil, and delivered regular doses of uplifting and stimulating drama to a mass public, keeping the tone of British society at a higher pitch, whereas today everything has plummeted below even the lowest common denominator (that ultimate nirvana of all TV managers of the present age, who compete with each other to be the lowest and unworthiest abject grovelers wishing to appeal to yobs and oafs, who are after all their very kith and kin). This production sparkles with poisonous and devastating wit and satire, showing Coward at his most vicious. The production is dominated by the bravura lead performance of Penelope Keith, certainly one of the finest of her career. Despite the need for the character to be over the top, Keith keeps it believable and just stops it from spilling over the edge and becoming ludicrous. What a professional! Despite being only 44 years old at the time, she successfully manages to look older, so that she can moan, as the vain and egocentric character must, at 'getting old, old, old'. Paul Eddington does a marvellous job as her husband. He is primarily known for YES MINISTER and YES PRIME MINISTER, but perhaps his finest work was in the unforgettable and wonderful mini-series THE CHAMOMILE LAWN (1992), made not long before he died. Another sparkler in this film is Phoebe Nicholls as the young daughter, Sorel Bliss. She more or less recreates her most famous character of Cordelia Flyte in BRIDESHEAD REVISITED (1981). She shows remarkable insouciance and timing, and it is a pity that her voice was too high-register at the beginning of the film for her words to be properly audible. The sound recordist had a struggle, at which he did not much succeed, to deal with the sound in those complicated shots where someone stands in the foreground while someone else tries to speak in the background, far beyond the reach of any boom mike, and at a time when being 'miked-up' was not always successful. The technical problem with this play is that it is a play taking place in a static interior which the director wishes to make less claustrophobic and stagey by enlarging it beyond the capacity of sound to travel or be recorded properly in 1984. Some voices carry and others do not, primarily the high voice of Nicholls. However, this technical fault is soon forgotten as the lively action and dialogue proceed. The story of the play concerns an affluent 'Bohemian' (meaning eccentric) family of four, the mother (Penelope Keith), the father (Paul Eddington), the daughter (Phoebe Nicholls), and the son (Michael Siberry). The action is entirely set in their home, and in a supporting role Joan Sims plays their maid. Each has separately invited a member of the opposite sex for the weekend without telling the others, so four people unexpectedly turn up, with insufficient food in the house, and much banter about who will be given 'the Japanese bedroom'. The son has invited a significantly older and notorious man-eater, Myra Arundel, sinuously portrayed by Patricia Hodge as a cool vamp. The father has invited a pathetically shy young thing played by Susan Wooldridge, who cries and bleats. Wooldridge has recently appeared as Penny Upminster in TAMARA DREWE (2010, see my review, though I do not mention Wooldridge in it). The daughter invites a constipated and poe-faced diplomat from the Foreign Office (excellently played by Benjamin Whitrow), who quickly falls for the mother, who has invited a young and ardent beau played energetically by Michael Cochrane, now a veteran of 107 titles. He wears a white jacket, a wing collar, and a pink tie, and the costume designer had a lot of fun making him look 1920s-trendy. The daughter wears a flapper dress and looks as cute as can be. But this seemingly harmless and happy family play dangerous games. We eventually realize that they must routinely invite people to be house-party 'victims' of mockery with whom they play teasing games of pretended relationships. When Penelope Keith teases Benjamin Whitrow into kissing her cheek, she immediately says she will tell her husband that their marriage is over, and that she and Whitrow feel undying love for each other. The others behave similarly. It is difficult to know just what Noel Coward's motives were in portraying a family as wickedly and cunningly exploitative in their eccentricity as the Bliss family in this play. Methinks the tongue of the viper licks along the edges of this comic story, and its wit is laced with strong arsenic. Was Coward attacking real people? Or were his visions of family life as dark as this? The women come across the worst. The Bliss family happily lapse into a somnolent complacency and self-sufficiency in between the tricks played on their hapless visitors. The film is amusing, witty, disturbing, and unsettling, all at once, as it was doubtless meant to be by its author. Although the play is thus an enigma, I suggest that its author was as well. I have known several women who knew and so 'adored dear Noel', but how deeply did they look beneath the surface?

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