Re:View – ‘Consenting Adults’

The Arts

This standalone BBC4 drama (we used to cal them plays) continues the Beeb’s fascination with recent bits of social history – but how do you make the story of a government report interesting? Lord Wolfenden’s report into prostitution and homosexuality, commissioned in 1953 and published four years later, is not the stuff of high drama even with Charles Dance in the lead, but as a solid play with a few surprising insights it’s worth catching on iPlayer.

The very subject made the committee so uncomfortable that in their discussions Wolfenden proposed to rename homosexuals and prostitutes Huntleys & Palmers, after the biscuits, to avoid embarrassment. The committee had a healthy mix of Tories, Labourites, churchmen, liberals and left-leaners, and even Kinsey came by to provide data.

But what few knew at the time was that Wolfenden’s brilliant drunkard son Jeremy, studying philosophy at Oxford, was openly gay, which placed his father in a difficult position. The debate had been requested after a number of high profile arrests including, famously, Sir John Giulgud – and Guy Burgess, the gay spy, was causing national discomfort.

Julian Mitchell’s script makes some telling points, although it features one strand too many in the story of two ordinary lives wrecked by the current legislation. The outcome of the report, hinging as it does on the interesting legal question of whether a sin is a crime, is well-known, but took another 14 years to be implemented due to government nervousness. A good cast (albeit too modern-looking) includes Mel Smith, now looking a dead ringer for late-period Noel Coward.

One comment on “Re:View – ‘Consenting Adults’”

  1. That’s not a new play, is it? I seem to recall watching it a few years back?

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