Loving Miss Hatto review: Victoria Wood’s script about a very British fraud boasts great performances and an intriguing second act

by Matt D

loving miss hatto

Two years ago Victoria Wood gained praise for her story about the early days of Morceambe and Wise which later went on to be Eric and Ernie a one-off programme in which she also starred. Wood is back, purely as a writer this time, with Loving Miss Hatto which is based on another true story but this time one that a lot of us wouldn’t be that familiar with. The script for the drama has taken over three years to produce and features the extraordinary story of a very middle-class scandal in which one man duped the whole of the classical music world. Wood was fascinated by what was essentially a love story of one man trying to make sure that his wife had the legacy that he thought she deserved.

Loving Miss Hatto starts in 1953 where Rory Kinnear’s William Barrington-Coupe first sets eyes on Phoebe Nicholls’ pianist Joyce Hatto. Joyce is a talented yet nervous pianist who William, or Barrie as he is known, takes an instant shine to and talks up his credentials as a renowned record producer. Though Barrie isn’t as influential as he first claims his encouragement and praise makes Joyce more confidant and the two are eventually married however their relationship and her career suffer a setback when she suffers a miscarriage. After this tragedy Joyce, who still produces a few records, starts a teaching career inspiring young women at a local private school while Barrie starts a line in importing and selling radios. As Joyce’s career looks to be back on track, with a slot at a concert at Festival Hall in London, Barrie is arrested for not paying tax on the radios and is sentenced to a year in jail. Though their marriage suffers as a result of it they stay together and Joyce once again prepares to take the stage at Festival Hall however her nerves return and she botches her performance.

loving miss hatto

The drama then shifts to 2002 where the couple are living a sleepy existence in suburban Hertfordshire with both now resigned to old age. Joyce is also suffering from cancer and realises that her playing days are long behind her however then her career reignites thanks to the internet and both herself and Barrie are astounded by the number of people eager to purchase Hatto records. As Barrie sees how happy his wife is after this new success he decides to increase her joy by copying a classical recording but pasting it the way she would play it and then attributing this new recording to her name. As Barrie releases these new CDs through his revived record label Joyce finds fame and is interviewed by Radio 3 before later being profiled by Gramophone magazine. The couple’s deception though looks to have been discovered after American musicologist Brian Ventura played Joyce’s new recordings against the originals and found hers to be copies. Thankfully Barrie was able to keep the deception a secret until Joyce’s death in 2006 an event that was marked by glowing obituaries in several newspapers. Wood’s drama ends with Barrie’s decision to come clean about the fraud and sell his story to one of the major papers however to this day he claims that Joyce had no knowledge of what he was doing.

loving miss hatto

It is clear through watching Loving Miss Hatto that Wood is passionate about telling this story in the right way and therefore has made sure that we the audience know every detail of Barrie and Joyce’s relationship including the early days of their marriage. The problem I found with that is that there was no real story in their early relationship and nice though the scenes of their courtship are I never felt they added anything particular to the story. Therefore I initially found it hard to really get into Loving Miss Hatto and it was only after the miscarriage and Barrie’s subsequent arrest that I really found myself engrossed in the story. Thankfully the intrigue in the second half of the story more than makes up for the slow storytelling in the first half as this stranger-than-fiction tale of musical fraud begins to play out. Wood makes it clear that Barrie, and possibly Joyce, never set out to make massive profits from their deception but instead this was all about a husband trying to make his wife happy. The final scenes in which Barrie hears an old recording of his wife talking about her music are really beautifully done and by the end of the drama I did have a little tear in my eye.

As you would imagine the acting is top notch however once again I found I was more moved by the performances in the second half of the drama than I was in the first. While Rory Kinnear and Phoebe Nicholls share great chemistry I found their opening scenes a little lacking in any tension and its only when their relationship takes a turn for the worse do they actually get to do any proper acting. I found I was able to relax more when Alfred Molina and Francesca Annis took over as the central couple with the former really excelling playing this bumbling yet romantic fool who got himself into yet another ‘muddle’. Annis as well was utterly compelling as this woman who thought she’d missed out on her chance of fame but finally found it in the most unlikely of circumstances even if it was through deceptive means. I also found the production design a delight throughout with each time period being perfectly captured from the glamorous days of the 1950s to the more mundane settings of the 2000s.

Overall I don’t feel that Loving Miss Hatto will be as critically acclaimed as Eric and Ernie was however that’s not to say it’s an inferior programme. Personally I found it hard to engage with the story in the early going however once these characters began to really live their lives I found myself more engrossed. The latter part of the story, and the performances from Molina and Annis, are utterly compelling and that’s where I feel the drama really comes alive. I feel that Wood really has found yet another string to her bow with adapting true tales that focus on likeable characters with incredible stories to tell.

What did you think of Loving Miss Hatto? Did you think it was a programme of two halves? Leave Your Comments Below.



  1. Willow on December 24, 2012 at 12:33 am

    Um, I think you’ll find young Joyce is played by Maimie McCoy, not Phoebe Nicholls. Quite a mistake to make!

  2. Julian on December 24, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Willow is quite right. Phoebe Nicholls plays Joyce Hatto’s battleaxe mother. Did you even see the programme?

  3. Wendy on December 24, 2012 at 11:45 am

    I did not enjoy the programme very much Try as I might I couldn’t find much sympathy with any of the characters and the jump to 2002 was too big to make the plot flow. Switched off about 20 mins before the end.
    Ms Nicholls will be thrilled to think she could still play the young lead… who remembers her in Brideshead?

  4. Phillipa on December 28, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    As well as entertaining, Loving Miss Hatto was an important parable for our time. Sure, the IT era enabled the scam to take place and also to be exposed. Equally there would never have been a following for Hatto in the pre-digital age, but for the proliferation of internet chat-rooms that now influences far far far too much public opinion. Hatto obsessives merely ended up winding each other up about Hatto’s brilliance – possibly prodded by sock-puppeted posts by the Barrington-Coupes themselves – in that smug sort of folk adopt when they feel they are “in the know” about something professionals or experts have missed. This blinds them to asking quite basic questions. I followed “Hattogate” at the time. A good year before the scam was unravelled by Gramophone, at least two people – Peter Lemken, a German enthusiast, and someone possibly American who wrote under the name Mephistofan – started up forum strands querying Hatto’s provenance (which can still be found online), insisting outright it must was a con – how could someone ill and old physically cope with this huge recording schedule? Does anyone actually suffer from cancer for a stretch as long as 30 years? Why had no-one ever heard of the orchestra and its conductor, and in any event how would a full-complement orchestra needed required for such epics as Rach 3 squeeze into a church hall or a sitting room in Royston? Instead their posts were swiftly “dissed” as blinkered Hatto fans cheerfully then continued the very same strands with diversions about tempi and trills. Let’s hope some of them watched Wood’s drama and have realised they really do need to get out more often!

  5. Elitest on December 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    I found this play to be very depressing on every level without any redeeming characters or story – a tale of weak minded people,failures failing at everything …even life ! very unsuitable viewing for Christmas. I wish VW could have found a more uplifting tale to dramatise.Phoebe Nicholls as JHs mother was however brilliant – currently enjoying her in Downton Abbey and remember her fondly in Brideshead Revisited many moons ago.

  6. Virginia Sandbach on January 3, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    As a former pupil of Miss Hatto’s, I can only say that, very obviously, I was completely engrossed and terribly moved by the production. She was a life-enhancing person who got us all performing from an early age, indeed gave us a show in the Purcell Room for all her pupils regardless of their abilities. I opened the concert aged about 12-13 and none of us will ever forget what an experience it was.
    I thought it was a brilliant depiction both in the early years and beyond and congratulate Victoria Wood in bringing this story to the public.

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