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Only Two Can Play

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Only Two Can Play
US cinema poster
Directed bySidney Gilliat
Screenplay byBryan Forbes
Based onThat Uncertain Feeling
by Kingsley Amis
Produced byLeslie Gilliat
StarringPeter Sellers
Mai Zetterling
Virginia Maskell
Richard Attenborough
CinematographyJohn Wilcox
Edited byThelma Connell
Music byRichard Rodney Bennett
Distributed byBritish Lion Films
Release date
11 January 1962
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Only Two Can Play is a 1962 British comedy film directed by Sidney Gilliat starring Peter Sellers, Mai Zetterling and Virginia Maskell.[1] The screenplay was by Bryan Forbes, based on the 1955 novel That Uncertain Feeling by Kingsley Amis.[2]

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John Lewis is a poorly paid and professionally frustrated librarian and occasional drama critic, whose affections fluctuate between glamorous Liz and his long-suffering wife Jean.

When a better paid job becomes vacant, Lewis is reluctant to apply, but is persuaded to do so by Jean. Then, he meets the obviously attractive Elizabeth Gruffydd-Williams (Liz), a designer with the local amdram company and wife of a local councillor.

Liz offers to intercede with her husband to help in getting Lewis the job, and makes it clear that she is attracted to him. Lewis is easily seduced into an affair, although it remains unconsummated.

Having been persuaded by Liz to leave the theatre's new production early one evening for an assignation, Lewis submits a bogus review to the local newspaper, but learns the next morning that the theatre burned down shortly after the play commenced. Jean thus learns of the affair and retaliates by encouraging her old flame Gareth Probert, a self-important literary character and dramatist (who wrote the ill-fated play). Lewis also loses the friendship of his colleague and best friend, Ieuan Jenkins, who had a role in the play.

When Lewis is offered the better paid job, he realises that Liz will now use and control him if he lets her. Finally realising the price he has paid, he breaks off the affair and takes a job as a mobile librarian, in the hope that this will keep him away from predatory women. Jean is not so sure that he can resist them, and tags along to keep an eye on him.



John Boulting had made a film from Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis and Gilliat thought Amis' That Uncertain Feeling might also make a film. He had his reservations but was persuaded by the enthusiasm of Bryan Forbes, who wrote the script, and they persuaded Peter Sellers to star.[3]

Only Two Can Play was filmed largely in and around Swansea, Amis's model for its setting, Aberdarcy;[4] crowds of both supporters and demonstrators watched filming, and MI5 agents shadowed Zetterling, who was suspected of Communist sympathies.[5] It was released with an X certificate, the first given to a comedy by the British Board of Film Censors, although it includes only a brief glimpse of nudity.[5]

Gilliat says Peter Sellers was difficult during filming. The star disliked Maskell's performance and wanted her replaced by a genuine Welsh actor. Gilliat had to involve John Boulting to get the situation to quieten down.[6]


Box office

The Times reported the film was the third most successful film at the British box office in 1962.[7]

Films and Filming said it was the fourth most popular for Britain for the year ended 31 October 1962 after The Guns of Navarone (1961), Dr. No (1962) and The Young Ones (1961).[8][9]

Critical reception

New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote: "ANYBODY who could do to organized labor what Peter Sellers did with his thumping performance of a union leader in the British comedy, "I'm All Right, Jack [1959]," is clearly the fellow to do the same thing to sex. And we are pleased to be able to proclaim he does it in his latest side-splitter, Only Two Can Play. With a script by Bryan Forbes that pops perpetually with some of the brightest British quips of modern times, with Sidney Gilliat directing and with a spanking new Mai Zetterling deftly applying the itching-powders as a grandly seductive Eve, Mr. Sellers performs an old Adam that puts all recent seventh-year scratchers in the shade."[10]

The Radio Times Guide to Films gave the film 4/5 stars, writing: "This small-town drama is played out as farce and makes its satirical points with comic deftness. The title is misleading because the players in this story of a would-be adulterous Welsh librarian (Peter Sellers) and his wannabe mistress (Mai Zetterling) also include Virginia Maskell as his dispirited wife and Richard Attenborough as the poet she flirts with. That the film succeeds is partly down to Sellers's unusually restrained performance, which makes his character more believable."[11]

Leslie Halliwell said: "Well characterised and generally diverting 'realistic' comedy which slows up a bit towards the end but contains many memorable sequences and provides its star's last good character performance."[12]


It was nominated for Best Film in the 1963 BAFTA awards.[13]


  1. ^ "Only Two Can Play". British Film Institute Collections Search. Retrieved 10 November 2023.
  2. ^ "Only Two Can Play (1962)". Archived from the original on 22 March 2017.
  3. ^ Fowler, Roy; Haines, Taffy (15 May 1990). "Interview with Sidney Gilliat" (PDF). British Entertainment History Project. p. 196-197.
  4. ^ "Only Two Can Play (1962) - Notes". Turner Classic Movies.
  5. ^ a b "Cinema: Swansea-set 1960s film attracted the attention of MI5". BBC News. 11 December 2022.
  6. ^ Fowler, Roy; Haines, Taffy (15 May 1990). "Interview with Sidney Gilliat" (PDF). British Entertainment History Project. p. 199.
  7. ^ "Money-Making Films Of 1962." The Times [London, England] 4 January 1963: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.
  8. ^ British films are tops at box office Author: Douglas Marlborough Date: Monday, Dec. 10, 1962 Publication: Daily Mail p 3
  9. ^ "The Box Office Winners of 1962". Kinematograph Weekly. 12 December 1962. p. 6.
  10. ^ "Movie Review -- Screen: 'Two Can Play':Peter Sellers and Mai Zetterling Star -".
  11. ^ Radio Times Guide to Films (18th ed.). London: Immediate Media Company. 2017. p. 688. ISBN 9780992936440.
  12. ^ Halliwell, Leslie (1989). Halliwell's Film Guide (7th ed.). London: Paladin. p. 762. ISBN 0586088946.
  13. ^ "1963 Film Film And British Film - BAFTA Awards".

External links

This page was last edited on 19 November 2023, at 13:17
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