What an absolute joy to see this again. I first watched it many, many years ago and its stark and simple humanity has stayed with me ever since.
The late and truly great Thora Hird was Doris, a widow who obsessively cleans and finds nobody else can do the same. Thora won a Bafta for her performance in this finale to the first series of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, and justifiably so.
Her pathos and on-screen presence was at once understated and awe inspiring, and as the injured – but too proud to accept help from a passing policeman – Doris, Thora told her often sad, often funny story with aplomb.
Doris’s home help had left a cracker under the settee, evidence that her cleaning skills left much to be desired, and from Doris’s bird’s eye view from the floor – where she languished following a fall – she said, “I’m going to save that cream cracker and I’m going to show it to her next time she starts on at me about Stafford House [a local care home]
“I’ll say, ‘Don’t Stafford House me, lady. This cream cracker was under the settee, and I’ve only got to send this cream cracker to the director of social services and you will be on the carpet, same as this cream cracker.’”
Of course, that cream cracker never does get kept as evidence because Doris is forced to eat it when she’s been stranded on the floor for so long she’s starving.
Alan Bennett’s script and Thora’s ability to parlay it into a richly given tale made this monologue/play infinitely valuable in TV history. Take for example the fact that Doris couldn’t say a kind word about her late husband Wilfred. Not remarkable in and of itself but the venom with which Thora filled her pieces about him was palpable. And the dark comedic irony of the fact that it was because she was cleaning a picture of herself and Wilfred that she fell and, one is led to assume ultimately died, is not lost in the flotsam of an unhappy old lady’s ramblings.
Doris reminded me very much of my own late gran who shared many of Doris’s traits. She wasn’t an especially nice woman to be honest, but she was a bitter one, and that made her a sad character often. And like Doris, she too had more pride than sense.
The saddest part of the film for me though was when Doris was discussing her baby son who’d died and her bitter unresolved anger at the nurse who’d wrapped her precious baby in newspapers “like he was dirty”. It was truly moving and each time I see it, I always end up crying for Doris and her lost little boy.
Unfortunately, this episode of Talking Heads isn’t on iPlayer but if you love it as much as I do, I suggest you ask Father Christmas for the DVD; I’m going to!