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Mary Rose

Mary Rose is a play by J.M. Barrie which was staged at the Haymarket Theatre in London on Monday 19th April 1920.[1]

It is believed that Alfred Hitchcock saw Mary Rose during it's initial run and, at several points in his career, he attempted to make the play into a film.

Following the completion of Lifeboat for Twentieth Century-Fox, Hitchcock attempted to persuade studio-head Darryl F. Zanuck that Mary Rose would make an ideal second film for the studio, but Zanuck rejected the idea.

After working together on Marnie, Hitchcock asked Jay Presson Allen to adapt the play into a screenplay. Towards the end of 1963, newspapers reported that The Island That Wants to be Visited would be his next film, with Tippi Hedren playing the lead role...

After Marny [sic], a story about a compulsive thief in his own style and tradition, which he is now directing, he will make J. M. Barrie's Mary Rose, but under the title The Island That Wants to be Visited. He fears, however; that his sponsors may want concrete evidence of where the island was and what are its tourist attractions.[2]

In an article published in June 1964, Hitchcock was still planning to make the film...

Mr. Hitchcock is relatively reticent about his latest film Marnie, due soon in the West End ("Well, that's another direction.") but talks happily about his projects, The Three Hostages, and, of all things, a version of Mary Rose, The Island that likes to be Visited ("I see it essentially as a horror story"). To hear him describing effects he has in mind for the latter, like having the semi-phantom Mary Rose lit from inside, so that she casts a ghostly glow instead of a shadow on the walls, and in the death scene letting her husband feel her brow when she goes into a trance and find his hand covered in blue powder ("I don't know exactly what it signifies, but I like the idea"), one is left in no doubt that he starts his films very much from the visual end of things.[3]

Hitchcock would later tell interviewers that his contract with Universal allowed him to make any film, so long as it cost under $3 million, and so long as it wasn't Mary Rose. Whether or not this was actually true or not, Lew Wasserman was not keen on the project, though Hitchcock never gave up hope of one day filming it. When Albert Whitlock, who had created a number of pre-production sketches for the project, ask Hitchcock why Universal executives had refused to green light the film, the director replied, "They believe it isn't what the audiences expect of me. Not the kind of picture they expect of me."[4]

In late August 1971, Alfred took Alma on a short break from filming Frenzy in London and they travelled north to Scotland, rekindling their desire to film Mary Rose there.[5]

In his second edition of Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie, author Tony Lee Moral describes how Jay Presson Allen considered buying the story rights from Hitchcock, following Mia Farrow's success in the role of Mary Rose on the London stage in 1972. Together with her husband, Allen intended to polish the existing screenplay and to interest another studio in making the film. After a decade of exploring the options, including a television movie, the Allens failed to generate enough interest to justify the cost of buying the rights, which eventually expired in 1987.

In a final twist, the rights to Mary Rose were subsequently acquired in 2000 by Tippi Hedren's daughter, Melanie Griffith and her husband Antonio Banderas. Australian screenwriter Susan MacGillicuddy was hired to develop a new screenplay, less faithful to the original stage play, that would have allowed Griffith — then in her mid forties — to take the lead role. Ultimately, the project was shelved.

BBC Adaptations

The play has been adapted six times for BBC Radio and four times for television. Actress Nova Pilbeam played the title role in three of the radio adaptations.


Vertigo (1958)

Prior to Bernard Herrmann composing the score to the film, Hitchcock had Hermmann study the original sheet music composed by Norman O'Neill for the play.[6] Arguably, Vertigo contains visual moments that are reminiscent of Mary Rose, particularly when Kim Novak emerges from a green haze — an old stage technique used to reveal an actor playing the role of a ghost — and when Scottie pulls Madeleine from the water, she says "Where is my child? Have you seen my child?", a line reminiscent of Mary Rose's plea "Where is my baby?"

Family Plot (1976)

Cathleen Nesbitt, who plays Julia Rainbird in the film, was an theatre actress Hitchcock first saw performing in J.M. Barrie plays in London. Writing to Joseph McBride, Hitchcock claimed to have included a reference to Mary Rose in the film's screenplay — "Julia tells her sister's ghost ... 'If he's still alive, I'll find your son, and I'll take him in my arms and love him as if I were you.'"

See Also...


Notes & References

  1. The play initially ran at the Haymarket until Saturday 26th February 1921.
  2. The Times (26/Nov/1963) - Where Film Men Cast No Shadows
  3. The Times (24/Jun/1964) - Mr Alfred Hitchcock's Zest for the Cinema
  4. Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie (2013) by Tony Lee Moral, pages 209-10
  5. Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy: The Last Masterpiece (2012) by Raymond Foery, page 62
  6. Wikipedia: Norman O'Neill