The Playgoer: Gielgud the Outlaw

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Gielgud the Outlaw

Jasper Britton as Gielgud, caught in the act.

It's always news when a critic writes a play, I suppose. But Nicholas de Jongh (of London's Evening Standard) has piqued even more than usual interest, given his chosen subject: the very public 1953 arrest of John Gielgud after he was caught chatting up gents in a public lavatory.
The play is based on the real-life incident in 1953 when the late John Gielgud, then at the height of his fame as an actor, was arrested in a public lavatory in Chelsea, and pleaded guilty in court for the charge of persistently importuning men for immoral purposes. His conviction caused a sensation and threatened the continuation of his career – but it also helped break the great taboo upon the general discussion in the national press of homosexuality, which was then an illegal practice in Britain.
I never about this episode, so I must say, as a Gielgud fan, I'm intrigued. Shocking that one of the most illustrious British stage careers was almost derailed by such stupid Victorianism. (As if ruining Oscar Wilde wasn't enough.)

Speaking of Gielgud's career, I find it interesting to remember 1953 was the year of probably was Gielgud's biggest Hollywood role at that point, as Cassius opposite Marlon Brando in Julius Caesar. Nice to see (from his filmography) that the first director to hire him for a major film after "the incident" was his old friend Larry in Richard III.

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