Despite the star names, Beckett is deemed too serious for cinema

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The Independent Online

Cinemas across Britain have turned down the chance to screen the late Sir John Gielgud's last performance in a Channel 4 adaptation of a Samuel Beckett play, because they believe audiences would not be interested.

The film was to be part of a season of Beckett adaptations devised specially for cinematic release. But the cinema operators have told Channel 4 in no uncertain terms that film-goers have no appetite for such heavy material.

Even in Ireland, the birthplace of Beckett, cinemas have declined to screen the films. They include versions of all 19 of Beckett's plays and feature a number of star names. A version of Beckett's Catastrophe includes Sir John Gielgud, in his last performance, starring alongside Harold Pinter and directed by David Mamet.

Julianne Moore stars in Not I, and the Turner Prize winner Damien Hirst directs Keith Allen in Breath. Other acting and directing talent includes Kristin Scott Thomas, Juliet Stevenson, Alan Rickman, Sir Richard Eyre, John Hurt, Penelope Wilton and Jeremy Irons.

The Beckett estate had awarded the independent production company Blue Angel Films and Channel 4 the rights to film the whole Beckett canon, the first time such access has been granted.

The project, called Beckett on Film, has already had a setback when it screened some of the movies in Ireland, Beckett's birthplace. Waiting for Godot attracted an audience of just 87,000 when it was screened on the Irish national station, RTE. Happy Days and Endgame also performed badly, attracting 87,000 and 92,000 viewers respectively. The most successful, Krapp's Last Tape, won only 136,000 viewers.

Channel 4 will now run the films on television at the end of this month. And it said yesterday it had now secured a week-long showing at the Barbican cinema. But a spokeswoman confirmed that approaches to multiplexes and cinemas outside London had been rebuffed.

She said: "This is specialist viewing. It's high profile but it's specialist."

A Channel 4 source added that the Irish viewing figures had shown that the Beckett season was not popular television, but Channel 4 would certainly show the films. At the moment, only six of the 19 plays have been scheduled, and all but one ­ Waiting For Godot ­ are short plays of no more than 20 minutes. The first screening, on 28 June, will be the 19 minute-long Catastrophe. No dates have yet been set for screening the remaining 13 plays.