Despite the continuing popularity of his plays on the stage, Rattigan is still ignored in most discussions of modern English drama, or dismissed disparagingly as an anachronism.
[Rattigan] was part of a theatrical establishment that came under attack by critic Kenneth Tynan and the 'Angry Young Men'. During the 1960s he worked mainly in film. Knighted in 1971, his last play, Cause Célèbre, opened on 4 July 1977, five months before his death in Bermuda from cancer.
[Rattigan] wrote screenplays, and some of his finest plays were made into stunningly good films in the golden age of our cinema. In fact, Rattigan wrote five or six of the finest films ever made in this country, and in this important year for him and his reputation we should remember that too. Three of his screenplays of his own stage works stick in my mind: The Winslow Boy, The Browning Version and The Deep Blue Sea. [...] They all have something in common: they all – including The Winslow Boy, which is set at the close of the Edwardian era – are perfect representations of the values, attitudes and conflicts of their age.
Terence Rattigan was one of the most successful screenwriters in the world, writing more than 20 films, adaptations and original screenplays. Throughout his career, Rattigan’s film work alternated between projects which he found creatively exciting and those he regarded as well-paid chores and a means of sustaining his extravagant lifestyle.
In an introduction to the first volume of his collected plays, [Rattigan] invoked a symbolic “Aunt Edna” to represent his typical audience, a “nice respectable, middle-class middle-aged maiden lady” whose imagined opinion he deeply trusted. Aunt Edna served him very well indeed, but many critics saw her creation as an admission that he was merely a slave to popular opinion rather than a dedicated artist unwilling to risk financial success for the sake of his art.
There is a reason why Rattigan was so interested in not just the unspoken, but the unspeakable passion. He was himself homosexual, and lived his life in well-understood denial. His nature, which was illegal for most of his life, inflected his work in unpredictable and sometimes heavily revised ways. The crime committed by the major in his play Separate Tables was originally committed against boys rather than girls, as in the performed version. And we have Rattigan's recorded word for it that the illicit passion which drives The Deep Blue Sea, currently regarded as his masterpiece, was based on an unhappy love affair between men.
The triumphs and disasters of his personal experience were all written out of his system and into the plots of his plays, although he often disguised them. By using middle-class settings and deliberately restrained dialogue, [Rattigan] managed to retain his broad-stream, family-orientated appeal while still confronting the very issues - such as sexual frustration, failed relationships, adultery and, as we have seen, suicide - that had such an impact on his extraordinary and often unhappy life.
The Winslow Boy, a playabout a father's struggle to defend his son on a charge of theft, appeared in 1946. [...] The Browning Version (1948) is about Crocker Harris, a repressed and unpopular schoolmaster whose wife was unloyal to him. The Deep Blue Sea appeared in 1952, the heroine of which is Judge's wife suffering from passion for a test pilot. Separate Tables published in 1955, the two one-act plays, set in a hotel, contains studies of emotional failure and inadequacy.
Terence Rattigan stepped into the literary world with his maiden play, French Without Tears in 1936 and it ran over a thousand performances in London. Since then, Rattigan never looked back; he was simply marvelous and unstoppable. His famous plays include Flare Path (1942), While the Sun Shines (1943), Love in Idleness (1944), The Browning Version (1948), Adventure Story (1949), The Deep Blue Sea (1952), Man and Boy (1970) and In Praise of Love (1973).
An advocate of the well-made play (with a clear beginning, middle, and end), emphasis on character more than plot, and attention to the sensibilities of his audience, Rattigan was a supreme craftsman in both comedy and serious drama. The most dramatic moments in his plays are often a triumph of the carefully placed understatement, leading the audience either to laughter or tears.