Review of Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck” (1971, BBC, DVD)

The Wild Duck: Summary & Analysis | StudySmarter

You haven’t seen everything, especially those of you familiar with Ibsen’s plays like A Doll’s HouseHedda Gabler, or An Enemy of the PeopleThe Wild Duck (written in 1884) starts very unremarkably with Hjalmar Ekdal, a lower-class, daydreaming man, going to a dinner party and ‘catching up’ with his host’s rebellious, idealistic son Gregers Werle, who later will bring grief and tragedy to Ekdal and his family.

The Ekdal family includes Ekdal (played befuddledly by perennial favorite Denholm Elliott), his devoted, hard-working wife Gina (Rosemary Leech), their charming, losing-her-eyesight daughter Hedvig (played by young Jenny Agutter before she was cast in Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout movie), and Old Ekdal, her demented grandfather (played memorably by John Robinson) who, with the daughter, keeps a menagerie of pets in the attic including the symbolic wild duck of the title. The duck later becomes significant in the layered, ironic, tragic ending.

Also going blind is Ekdal’s rich friend Werle, senior, who has strangely supported Ekdal, his father, and their family enabling them to survive their non-stop hardships. As it turns out, Gina once worked for Werle as as servant while he was bent on seducing her. There is some mystery as to how Ekdal and Gina got together and even some doubt as to Hedvig’s parents. Mysteries have been compounded over time and eventually Gregers (played convincingly by Derek Godfrey),  who has an obsessive passion for truth tries to set Ekdal straight on the past. His idealism, insistence on honesty, and well-meaning advice are the toxic motivation for Ekdal’s disillusionment with his wife and daughter and, ultimately, leads to the play’s absurd, brutal, dramatically-ironic, tragic ending.

There are many themes in the play, notably reality/truth vs. illusion, the sins of parents being visited on their children, repeated cyclical behaviors, youthful innocence vs. the limitations of adult authority, the dangers of excessive idealism and honesty, and the conflict between the individual and society. Plot-wise, character-wise, and thematically, all conflicts are finally unified by the bird of the play’s title.

Other patterns such as the fact Ekdal and Old Ekdal once contemplated suicide and that Werle, senior (also going blind) seduced his latest maid after Gina left add to the depth and circularity of the fated outcome. The sensible, prescient character of the doctor-boarder is also an effective counterpoint to Gregers’ nonsense and meddling.

The production itself kicks into high gear after the laid-back opening, aided by constant overlapping dialogue, showing how these people don’t communicate or listen to one another. The sets are the familiar BBC tv claustrophobic Victorian rooms, emphasizing dinginess and an atmosphere of entrapment without escape. Max Faber did a nice edited job on the script; normally this play is ponderously longer in running time. Director Alan Bridges has created an efficiently compelling, horrific ending of Ibsen’s most shocking of his play conclusions.

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