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The English Programme - 'Five Stories of an Hour' (1988)

'Five Stories of an Hour', written by Kathleen Potter, David Stafford and Michelene Wandor, and based on the short story 'The Story of an Hour' by Kate Chopin, is an episode in the educational series The English Programme.  It was produced by Thames Television and first broadcast on Monday 17 October 1988 (Channel 4, 10:33-11am).

Overview

Produced for educational series The English Programme, 'Five Stories of an Hour' is aimed at GCSE English Literature students who are studying 'The Story of an Hour'. ZoŽ appears in several readings and interpretations of this disturbing short story, which was written by American author Kate Chopin in 1894.  The programme encourages its audience to consider various ways in which the story can be interpreted and adapted.

'Five Stories of an Hour' begins with ZoŽ reading 'The Story of an Hour', an insightful exploration of marriage and the differences between the sexes, in full to camera.  The story focuses on the highly unusual reaction of a young woman, Louise Mallard, to the news that her husband, Brently, has been killed in a railway accident on his way home from work.

At first, Louise is devastated by the loss; but, during the following hour, she realises that she may actually enjoy living independently far more than her time spent as a married woman.  The widow's feelings at this point are morally ambiguous; she may be experiencing what Chopin's story describes as 'monstrous joy'.  Before Louise can fully embrace her newfound freedom, however, a second shocking revelation brings a bitter twist to the afternoon's events.

ZoŽ appears as Louise in the second sequence, a relatively faithful dramatisation of 'The Story of an Hour', in which the setting is updated from late nineteenth-century America to present-day suburbia.  This interpretation makes a significant addition to the plot in the form of a conversation between Louise and her sister, Josephine, during which the former reveals her thoughts about being widowed.  'I can go where I want, be who I want,' declares Louise.


The third sequence (the only one in which Zoe does not appear) is a monologue by Louise's husband that casts light on the Mallards' troubled marriage.  Brently is portrayed as a petty, narrow-minded individual, who both resents and tries to stifle his wife's spirited nature. 

For the fourth sequence, Chopin's plot is freely adapted and given an alternative ending.  ZoŽ again plays Louise, who is now characterised as a wealthy solicitor's wife with a lavish house.  The news of Brently's demise prompts Louise to recall her wedding day; looking out of the bedroom window, she sees a vision of herself and her husband, newly married.  The imaginary Louise abandons Brently, and soon afterwards the real Louise resolves to change her life.


After the programme has provided some biographical details about Chopin, the fifth and final sequence sees ZoŽ, in the role of the author, begin to read 'The Story of an Hour' as if for the first time after writing it.  By reserving this sequence for the end of 'Five Stories of an Hour', perhaps the programme makers are suggesting that, no matter how many different readings and interpretations we consider, the story can always be interpreted afresh.

Cast

Narrator/Louise Mallard/Kate Chopin ... ZoŽ Wanamaker
Josephine ... Jilly Bond
Brently Mallard ... Julian Gartside
Richards ... Christopher Luscombe

Crew

Directors: Paul Kafno, Greg Lanning, and David Hodgson
Production Designers: Anne Diamond and Alison Wratten
Costume Designers: Pam Doolan and Fran Bolwell
Make-up Artist: Angela Seyfang
Film Editor: Steve Colwell
Researcher: Maggie Millman

Notes

The short story on which 'Five Stories of an Hour' is based can be read online.

The year before appearing in 'Five Stories of an Hour' as Louise, ZoŽ played a similarly unhappy wife in Tales of the Unexpected - 'Skeleton in the Cupboard'.  Both programmes explore some of the difficulties of married life and deliver a shocking twist in the tale.

In addition to 'Five Stories of an Hour', Zoe has contributed to other educational TV programming; for example, she has been interviewed about Othello for AS Guru (2000) and given an inspired reading of 'Jabberwocky', Lewis Carroll's famous nonsense poem, to viewers of the BBC Learning Zone.

Merchandise

Unfortunately, 'Five Stories of an Hour' is not available to the general public on DVD or in any other format.  Educational organisations in the US and Canada can purchase the programme on DVD and to watch online from Films Media Group (which has made a preview clip available on its website), while some libraries hold DVDs and videos of it.

Related links

Background details about The English Programme - BroadcastforSchools.co.uk


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