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Long Day’s Journey into Night

David Wellington

By all accounts, Canada’s Stratford Festival production of Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece Long Day’s Journey Into Night was one of the very best adaptations ever staged. Film-maker David Wellington was so impressed that he decided to film the piece, using the same cast as the festival, and the result is a spare and evocative film that maintains the original’s intimacy, detail and emotional impact. Filmed with a mobile yet unobtrusive wide-screen camera, and focusing very tightly on actors whose performances have been honed to a razor’s edge, Wellington has made an engrossing film that allows the O’Neill classic to soar as high as it ever did on stage. Often evoking the films of Ingmar Bergman, both in its style and in the honesty of its performances, this is a great piece of cinema and by far the best of the three film versions of the play.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night is an unflinching portrayal of Eugene O’Neill’s own family. Set in a small Connecticut summer home in August 1912, this Pulitzer Prize-winning classic unfolds over the course of a single day as the Irish-American Tyrone family confronts their oldest, most haunting secrets. James Tyrone (William Hutt), the master of this household, is shown to be an unconscionable miser, reluctant even to pay for his consumptive son Edmund’s medical treatment. Edmund (Tom McCamus), the O’Neill doppelganger, coughs and drinks his way through much of the day. Jamie (Peter Donaldson), the alcoholic older son, confesses his desire to drag Edmund with him. Mary (Martha Henry), the morphine addicted mother, hovers through the proceedings like a ghost, finally drifting into a drug-induced, nostalgic haze.

This is a tragedy of the first order. At the centre of the maelstrom of blame, condemnation, anger and self-deceit we see moments of incredible compassion, pit and love. Amidst all the anguish and bitterness lies the love that these people have for one another and the profound, shared tragedy that binds them.

As Variety’s reviewer noted, ‘This is a paean to great theatre and the classics. It translates to the screen with luminous warmth and inspired skill, resulting in a film that ranks high among screen adaptations of major stage works.’

Canada, 1996.
174 mins.

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