Adam Low’s three-part documentary on Britain’s sui generis playwright/actor/songwriter/entertainer/self-mythologizer seems to have everything going for it. Coward’s achievements and influence readily fill the extended running time, and he’s lined up all the archival footage, location shots and interviews you could ask for. Critics, biographers & colleagues include John Lahr, Sheridan Morley, John Mills, Richard Attenborough, Elaine Strich, et al. So, why can’t he be bothered to mention so many of Coward’s major works? Anyone watching this without prior knowledge might think Sir Noël was something of an underachiever. Near masterpieces such as HAY FEVER, PRESENT LAUGHTER, THIS HAPPY BREED and BLITHE SPIRIT are not even mentioned. Neither is BITTER SWEET, his remarkably sturdy operetta. His travel books & journals are all but written off or downplayed, like his work as a spy in WWII. (Recent disclosures show him as more active than previously supposed. And what a beating he took for his troubles.) Not even mentioned is the resurrection of his reputation in the mid-‘60s with a now endless series of revivals. Even of plays once written off, like WAITING IN THE WINGS. This is worth seeing for what is in here, but what a missed opportunity.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: THE LETTERS OF NOËL COWARD, recently published by Vintage, are a great read.