Anniversary, The (1967, Bette Davis, Jack Hedley)

The Anniversary

In The Anniversary Domineering one-eyed widow Taggart (Bette Davis) makes sure her three sons, Terry (Jack Hedley), Henry (James Cossins) and Tom (Christian Roberts), stay within her orbit – but things start to fall apart on the anniversary of her wedding to their long-dead father which she still celebrates each year. Tom, the youngest, brings home already pregnant Shirley (Elaine Taylor) whom he intends to marry.

Terry, already married with five children, is trying to nerve himself to tell his mother that his wife Karen (Sheila Hancock) has persuaded him to emigrate to Canada. His terror of his mother is further compounded by guilt since, years before, he had caused the loss of her eye in a childish tantrum. Only Henry is relatively happy indulging in his transvestite leanings. But, attempting to steal lingerie from a clothes line, Henry leaves Terry’s car behind while fleeing from the police. And the widow blackmails her sons into submission by threatening either to have Henry certified or to tell the police Terry is the underwear thief.

Things come to a head when Shirley, defiantly making love with Tom on his mother’s bed, finds her glass eye under the pillow and almost miscarries. The matriarch’s unconcealed glee is too much. Tom rushes out of the house with Shirley, followed by Karen and Terry and Henry retires to his bedroom. Unmoved, their mother toasts the portrait of her late husband and looks forward to the next year…

The filming of The Anniversary began traumatically: Davis found no rapport with director Alvin Rakoff and he was replaced by Roy Ward Baker whom Davis approved since in Hollywood he had directed her husband (from 1950-1960) Gary Merrill in 1952’s Night Without Sleep. Davis and Baker, whom she had met at the premiere of All About Eve, got on well and Davis gave a memorable performance that dominated the proceedings. Baker’s sustained direction rightly kept the dramatic focus on Davis but, as The Guardian noted, “the film sports an unusually good cast” and Hancock, Hedley and Cossins, reprising the roles they had created in the stage production, were particularly fine.

UK / 1967

Director: Roy Ward Baker
Writer: Jimmy Sangster, from the play by Bill McIlwraith

Cast: Bette Davis, Sheila Hancock, Jack Hedley, James Cossins, Elaine Taylor, Christian Roberts, Timothy Bateson, Arnold Diamond