Christopher Fry dead at 97: The Lady’s Not Burning playwright & Ben-Hur screenplay contributor
British playwright and screenwriter Christopher Fry died on June 30 at a hospital in Chichester, in the south of England. Fry, born on Dec. 18, 1907, in Bristol, was 97.
Among Christopher Fry’s most famous plays are The Lady’s Not for Burning (1948), directed by John Gielgud and Esme Percy, and starring Gielgud, Richard Burton, and Claire Bloom, and Venus Observed (1949), starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. Both plays were permeated by the Christian humanist author’s ever-hopeful view of humanity and divine providence, despite the ravages of World War II and the horror of the Holocaust.
Christopher Fry movies
For the movies, Christopher Fry wrote the narration (spoken by Laurence Olivier) for the 1953 Academy Award-nominated documentary A Queen Is Crowned, about the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
That same year, the film version of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera was released in Britain. Fry co-wrote the script with Denis Cannan, but the film, directed by Peter Brook and with Olivier in the leading role, was generally considered an artistic disappointment.
In the late ’50s, Fry was one of the many writers who worked on the screenplay of MGM’s convoluted production of the Christian-themed, semi-historical Ben-Hur. When finally released in 1959, the William Wyler-directed mammoth epic starring Charlton Heston became a sensational critical and box office success, eventually winning 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture. However, like fellow screenwriters Gore Vidal and Maxwell Anderson, Fry was not credited for his participation in the project. (Karl Tunberg received solo screenwriting credit and an Oscar nomination.)
In the ’60s, Fry received shared credit for two more Christian-tinted epics, neither of which was well received by critics or audiences: Barabbas (1962), directed by Richard Fleischer, and starring Anthony Quinn as the Biblical thief; and the much-derided The Bible (1966), directed by John Huston, and with an all-star cast that included Ava Gardner, George C. Scott, Peter O’Toole, and Richard Harris.
The Lady’s Not for Burning on television
Also worth mentioning, Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not for Burning had two notable TV showings: the first in 1974, as a televised play with Richard Chamberlain and Eileen Atkins, and the second in 1987, a made-for-TV production with Kenneth Branagh and Cherie Lunghi.