« | Home | »

Vindictive Tendencies

Tags: |

Claire Bloom – Ophelia to Scofield and Burton; Lady Anne to Olivier’s Richard III; the girl handpicked by Chaplin to play his protegée in Limelight, the last of his films to have any shadow of greatness; Lady Marchmain in the original television Brideshead Revisited – is going to appear in an episode of The Bill next week. Whatever you think of Bloom’s acting (she’s always struck me as limited by her self-conscious seriousness; try to imagine her telling a joke), and despite her stints in daytime drama in the US and last year’s cameo as the Doctor’s mother on Dr Who, she will be an incongruous presence on ITV’s long-running, soon-to-be-axed cop opera, with its notoriously plodding scripts and cut-price production values. (A series like The Wire still only shows the way poverty blights imagination; The Bill embodies it.)

Incongruous, too, because of her glamorous life off stage: the affairs with Olivier and Burton, the marriages to Rod Steiger and Philip Roth. The union with Roth has provided the inspiration for at least three books: Bloom’s score-settling memoir Leaving a Doll’s House, and Roth’s novels Deception (the presence of a serially adulterous husband called Philip was supposedly one of the triggers for the marriage’s dissolution) and I Married a Communist (the depiction in which of a neurotic, egotistical actress was widely taken as a swipe at Bloom). Journalists have tended to tut at the ex-couple’s vindictive tendencies, in particular to see Roth as having got distracted from his serious business.

I’d like to see it all taken further: I want Philip Roth’s revenge scripts for Dr Who and The Bill. Think how much more exciting Bloom’s appearance in Dr Who would have been if the Doctor’s mother had been written as a soul-sucking Oedipal nightmare. Given the way Roth’s books abound in parallel universes, doppelgängers and quasi-fantastic devices such as the near-death narration of Indignation, the jump into science-fiction oughtn’t to be too hard. Roth does memory; the Doctor does time travel – is the difference always so clear cut? As a hyper-intelligent, almost but not quite assimilated outsider, the Doctor has a lot in common with Nathan Zuckerman. And Alexander Portnoy would have a fine time with all those gorgeous shiksa assistants.

A Roth-scripted episode of The Bill is less obviously seductive – and perhaps Bloom’s part, as an elderly widow who reports a burglary but turns out to have been raped, would satisfy what’s left of Roth’s vindictive impulses – but there are still possibilities. Maybe she could die, and her ex-lover could be arrested while humping her grave, like Mickey Sabbath; or, like Philip Roth the narrator of Operation Shylock, she could find that somebody has been using her name to spread a poisonous ideology. She could become a crazy Jain with stinking dead breath, like Merry Levov in American Pastoral, and then turn out to be on the run after bombing a post-office decades earlier. But the episode is in the can now, so it’s too late. And superfluous: Claire Bloom is in The Bill. What revenge could Roth devise sweeter than that?

Comments on “Vindictive Tendencies”

  1. Phil says:

    Ugh. What a thoroughly mean-spirited post.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • pgillott on Wishful Thinking about Climate Change: Phrases like “monumental triumph” and (particularly) “renaissance for humankind” are overdoing it, but to suggest that there is no chance of ...
    • UncleShoutingSmut on Goodbye, Circumflex: Unfortunately this post is likely to leave readers with a very partial idea of what is going on. Firstly, there is no "edict": all that has happened i...
    • martyn94 on The Price of Everything: If it's a joke at anyone's expense, it's surely at the expense of any super-rich who take it seriously. I used to skim it occasionally as a diversion ...
    • mideastzebra on Swedish-Israeli Tensions: Avigdor Liberman was not foreign minister November 2015.
    • lars hakanson on Exit Cameron: Europe will for good reason rejoice when the UK elects to leave. The country has over the years provided nothing but obstacles to European integration...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement