“It Could Only Happen in England”: Law and the State of the Nation in the Plays of Terence Rattigan

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Though much has been made of the relationship between Terence Rattigan's private life and his plays, very few critics have addressed Rattigan's concern with the public sphere. Locating itself within the context of recent critical and popular revivals of Rattigan's work, this article is concerned with a hitherto neglected aspect of his oeuvre: Rattigan's interest in the law. Considering two works, The Winslow Boy (1946) and Cause Célèbre (1977), at either ends of Rattigan's writing life, “It Could Only Happen in England” investigates the changing relationship between Rattigan and the British public through the lens of his two, major legal-historical plays, and argues for his abiding concern with justice, in a variety of forms. Conceived during the final years of the war, when Rattigan's fortunes were at their height, and inspired by the Archer-Shee affair of 1910, The Winslow Boy is a patriotic piece that celebrates the traditions of the British justice system and presents the British public in a positive light. Inspired by the murder of Francis Rattenbury in 1935, Cause Célèbre, by contrast, was conceived during the final years of Rattigan's life, after the catastrophic decline of his popularity, and presents the public and the legal profession as morally responsible for a terrible injustice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-302
Number of pages22
JournalLaw and Literature
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014


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