A Lady of Letters
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A LADY OF LETTERS Miss Ruddock played by Patricia Routledge Written by Alan Bennett Directed by Giles Foster
Key Features for Consideration: • Key sequence(s)
• Sound / soundtrack
• Exploitation of genre
• Editing / montage
Central Concerns / Themes • Loneliness and alienation from changed society • Illness • Unhappiness • Lack of self-knowledge • The ‘little’ person in society • For each of the themes identified above, write a short
explanation of how each is explored throughout the text (considering use of plot, character and setting in highlighting each theme / central concern). • Of all of these, which do YOU think is the text’s MAIN THEME and why?
Key Sequences A sequence is defined as a series of shots or scenes, edited together, which form a distinct narrative unit. • How many separate sequences can you identify in this
monologue? • For each one, give it a title and write a short synopsis of
what happens. • Which sequences do you think are the most significant
Characterisation Characterisation refers to the act creating a character. • Write down the ten adjectives you think best describe
Miss Ruddock’s character, based on viewing the opening sequence of the TV Drama. • For each one, note down evidence from the monologue in
support of your choice.
Characterisation cont. • How does your impression of Miss Ruddock’s character
develop as the TV Drama progresses? • What techniques has Alan Bennett used to prompt these
developments? • Which sequences do you think are most important in
developing your understanding of Miss Ruddock’s character and why?
Characterisation cont. • Finally, we can only imagine / infer what other characters
referred to in the TV Drama think of Irene. For each of the following, make notes on how you think they each regard her / their attitudes towards her: • Mr Widdop – director of operations at the crematorium • The person who corresponded with Miss Ruddock on behalf of the • • • •
• • • •
optician The Queen’s lady in waiting The couple living opposite The doctor The vicar The police Maureen and Mrs Rabindi – the social workers Bridget – Irene’s prison room-mate Shirley – Irene’s fellow prisoner
Conflict Conflict is essential to the plot of a story or drama. Conflict is not necessarily an argument or fight. It refers to any form of opposition / struggle facing the main character (i.e. Miss Ruddock). 2 types of conflict: External or Internal There are four general kinds of conflict: 1) Man v. Man (physical) 2) Man v. Circumstances (classical) 3) Man v. Society (social) 4) Man v. Him/Herself (psychological)
Conflict cont. • How many examples of conflict can you identify in this TV
Drama, involving Miss Ruddock? • For each one, explain whether it is physical, classical,
social or psychological. • What do you identify as the MAIN conflict in this text?
• How do these conflicts add to your enjoyment /
appreciation of the plot and character in this TV Drama?
Plot / Structure • There are 5 key stages in every good plot: • Introduction / Exposition • Rising Action (usually when the CONFLICT is introduced) • Climax
• Falling Action • Resolution / Denouement
Or this model is maybe more straightforward: Beginning, Middle and End, along with a Conflict and a Resolution to the Conflict occurring within the story. Try to write a 5-stage summary of the plot of ‘A Lady of Letters’ using either of these models.
Structure • As well as considering the structure of the plot, we can
also consider the following: • The fact that a linear / chronological structure is used to tell the
story. Why do you think this is the case? What does this add to the audience’s enjoyment of the monologue as they watch it? • The use of foreshadowing (giving the viewer clues as to what might happen next / suggesting plot developments that are to follow). Can you identify any examples of foreshadowing used in A Lady of Letters? • At times, the audience is left to fill in narrative gaps as they view this TV Drama. What does this add to their enjoyment of/ engagement with the text? Can you cite examples of narrative gaps in the text?
Dialogue • It is important to remember that there is no actual
DIALOGUE in this text. • Because it is a MONOLOGUE, any conversation is reported. • The lack of dialogue with other characters is significant. We know that had Miss Ruddock spoken to people, rather than speculated, she may have changed some of her views! • SEE ADDITIONAL NOTES ON ‘Features of the
Editing / Montage • Consider how the various shots in the TV drama are put • •
• • •
together. Most shots are close-ups of Miss Ruddock. Why are these used / what is their effect on the viewer? Is anything else emphasised through the use of close-up shots? Alana Bennett said: “The more still (and even static) the speaker is the better the monologue works.” Why do you think this is? When longer shots are used, what are they used to show? The direction ‘GO TO BLACK’ is used frequently. What does this mean and why is it used? It is also worth considering that fact that there are very few cuts between shots. The long single-take shots put great demands on the actress! Explain why this is and discuss why you think these long single-take shots are used so much.
Soundtrack • The main feature of the drama’s soundtrack is Irene’s
speech. • Music is also used. Consider the following; • What type of music is used? • At what points in the TV Drama is music used? • What atmosphere does the music used help to create? • Are any other sound effects used? What are their effects?
Mise-en-scene • From the French, meaning ‘to put in the scene’, mise-en-
scene refers to everything that is involved in the composition of a shot, including the composition itself: framing, movement of the camera and characters, lighting, set design and general visual environment. Even sound as it helps to elaborate the composition. • Consider the mise-en-scene used in one of the scenes
set in Miss Ruddock’s front room. What is the overall mood / atmosphere and how is it created? • Now compare and contrast this with the mise-en-scene used in the final prison scene.
Mood • As discussed in the previous section, mise-en-scene can
be used to create a mood or atmosphere. • Based on your viewing of A Lady of Letters, how would you describe the overall mood of the piece? • Can you relate this mood to the plot / themes / characters? Discuss. • At what points in the text does the mood change? Explain what the changes are and how they are created.
Setting • Sets support plot • Miss Ruddock’s sitting room for most of the seven scenes • The bay window / sig of the room • Sombre 4th scene set at dusk • 5th scene – setting unclear (she is in outdoor clothes so
can infer at police station or social services office). This displacement prepares us for the final scene • Last scene – prison • Time-scale links dead children – 1st scene intro family, subsequent growing disquiet, 5th scene learn of death, final scene death of Bridget’s child > Irene’s sympathy about this redeems her to viewer.
Casting • Patricia Routledge (An English character comedy actress) was
cast as the main character and narrator in this TV Drama. Alan Bennett considers Patricia Routledge his favorite actress. The British playwright has written a great many things for her to perform over the years, both onstage and on television. • A Woman of No Importance was Alan Bennett’s first monologue (first televised in 1982) and he wrote this piece for Patricia Routledge. She also played the main character in Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet (Talking Heads, series 2). • The majority of the Talking Heads monologues have female narrators. Alan Bennett explained, “When I was a child the women did most of the talking so that I’ve been more attuned to the discourse of women than that of men…I don’t find male talk easy to reproduce.”
Exploitation of Genre • Monologue • Viewer becomes voyeur or eavesdropper • Self-revelation as narrator continues • Narrator’s transparency calls attention to their plight – affecting and involving the viewer • Use of dramatic irony (where the audience understands more about what is going on than the person on screen / stage does) • Tragi-comedy • Creates emotional confusion • There is lament beneath the narrator’s story • What makes this text both tragic and comic? • Do you think a ‘little’, ordinary person like Irene Ruddock can
really be considered to live through tragic circumstances, or is tragic too strong a word to use when discussing the events affecting a woman of her stature?