Patrick Hamilton in Focus

A season celebrating the acclaimed playwright and novelist

The playwright and novelist Patrick Hamilton was born in Hassocks in 1904 into a complex household driven by class aspiration and marred by alcoholism. He grew up in Hove and Chiswick. He was extracted from Westminster School at the age of 15 before a brief career as an actor and then embarked on a writing career which was curtailed by alcohol abuse, leading to his death at the age of 58.

Hamilton was greatly admired by Graham Greene, Somerset Maughan and George Orwell. His novels explored social and political themes but also engaged with crime, violence and the underbelly of Brighton and London. His distinctive writing style, which was often richly comic, descended towards the end of his career into cynical and misanthropic stories featuring embittered and predatory characters.

Hamilton’s two most famous stage plays have been much filmed. Rope was based loosely on the Leopold and Loeb murder case in 1924, when two wealthy American students murdered a 14 year old boy in Chicago, ostensibly for the fun of it and to display their intellectual superiority. Hamilton rebased the play in Mayfair London but the famous Alfred Hitchcock version, which was shot in one take, shifted the events to New York City. Hamilton hated the movie, but Hitchcock perfectly captured the essence of his play and deliberately filmed it in a highly theatrical fashion.

Hamilton’s most famous play was Gaslight, introducing a term which is now in common parlance to describe malicious deception. It was made into two good movies. The little known British director Thorold Dickinson made a faithful adaptation in 1940 with Anton Walbrook, with location filming around London. The 1944 Hollywood remake is better known and rightly remembered for strong performances by Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. But the George Cukor directed American version was filmed entirely in Hollywood and fails to capture the essence of Hamilton’s writing.

To date only one of Hamilton’s novels has been successfully filmed. Hangover Square was made into a strong movie in 1945. Set in Edwardian London it changed various elements of the novel but retains a level of authenticity, partly due to a powerful performance by Laird Cregar.

In this new season Robert Senior will present a talk on Patrick Hamilton, we will be screening Hangover Square and the 1940 version of Gaslight, and the actor Mark Farrelly will present his acclaimed one-man show Silence of Snow about the life of Patrick Hamilton.

Events in this season