Right of reply / Tom and Viv: the story of TS Eliot and his first wife. Rubbish] says his second. Unfair] says Brian Gilbert

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Tom and Viv sets out to film the relationship of TS Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood, their marriage and her confinement to a mental institution. The film prompted a rare interview with Valerie Eliot, in the Independent on Sunday, in which the poet's second wife dismissed the film as being woefully inaccurate. Brian Gilbert, the director, thinks otherwise:

'I believe that all works of this kind must be intellectually honest. We've bent over backwards to be close to the facts, and a lot of biographers have now incorporated the research of Michael Hastings, on whose original play the screenplay is based. Hastings is the only man to have interviewed Maurice Haigh- Wood (her brother), in 1979, and that is the real germ of Tom and Viv, that he regretted what they did and said that Eliot felt guilty too.

'The film has restored a woman to her place in his life. The effort to be intellectually honest to Eliot, though, will always be fallible as the interpretations are not yet finished, it's an on- going dialogue. And it must be remembered that, effectively, all the information has been controlled: Valerie Eliot controls access to his papers and permission to quote from him, so there is a great pressure on everybody who writes about him to agree a certain amount of sycophancy because you have to placate her.

'However, I don't feel that the interview actually conflicts with the facts in the film, it actually supports them. For instance, Valerie Eliot produced letters that show Maurice seeking permission from Eliot to deal with his sister. The film makes no other claim, it never shows Eliot as being solely responsible for putting her away. And nowhere in the film is it said that Vivienne wrote The Waste Land or even contributed to it substantially. There is a scene where she suggests an emendation of a line, but that is all.

'And I don't think the film diminishes Eliot, I think it humanises him. It examines the great irony of the fact that the man who proclaimed that his poetry is impersonal, and created a highly influential theory of literature based on this idea, should have had such a life. Eliot has been shrouded with intimidating academic remoteness because the pain behind the poetry has never been allowed out - partly by his own contrivance. So I think the film does him a service.'

Interview by Owen Slot

(Photograph omitted)

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