Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009

Cruel Drama: Remembering Dennis Potter

By David Luhrssen
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Dennis Potter is not a name widely familiar in the U.S. despite his occasional work in Hollywood, including screenplays for Gorky Park and Pennies From Heaven. In his British homeland, however, he is acclaimed for his many television dramas. A trio of them, originally aired in the UK within weeks of each other in 1980, has been issued on a DVD set, “Dennis Potter: 3 to Remember.”

Potter came of age on the angry edge of the 1960s and his writing shares some themes with contemporary playwrights such as Harold Pinter. The class system was an obvious target for a writer born on the lower end and he apparently encountered much middle class hypocrisy on his way up. Perhaps the most Pinteresque drama on “3 to Remember,” “Blade on the Feather,” concerns a strangely aggressive young graduate student who invades the country house of an esteemed, aging, ultra-conservative author. But like a Chinese puzzle box, the surfaces open to reveal surprise after surprise.

“Rain on the Roof” and “Cream in My Coffee” both examine married couples. Although of different generations and confronted by different situations, they share a fundamental lack of connection, an inability to meaningfully communicate and a twist of cruelty.

If his work often seemed suffused with pain, it may have been a bleed through from Potter’s own condition. Afflicted by a rare crippling form of psoriasis, he was eventually forced to write with a pen strapped to the stump of his hand. Included in “3 to Remember” is an interview with the author from shortly before his death in 1994. He was only 59.

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