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Shadowlands is a play by William Nicholson. It was first shown as a television film in 1985, directed by Norman Stone and produced by David M. Thompson for BBC Wales. It was later adapted for the stage, premiering on Broadway in 1990 and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play.[1] A third version was released in 1993 as a feature film directed by Richard Attenborough.

Written byWilliam Nicholson
Date premiered1989
Place premieredQueen's Theatre, London
Original languageEnglish

The play is about the relationship between Oxford don and author C. S. Lewis and the American writer Joy Gresham. It began life as a script entitled I Call it Joy written for Thames Television by Brian Sibley and Norman Stone. Sibley was credited on the BBC film as "consultant" and went on to write the book Shadowlands: The True Story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman.



The story follows Lewis as he meets an American fan, Joy Gresham, whom he befriends and eventually marries. The story also deals with his struggle with personal pain and grief: Lewis preaches that one should endure suffering with patience, but finds that the simple answers he had preached no longer apply when Joy becomes afflicted with cancer and eventually dies.

Historical castingEdit

Character 1985 Television cast 1989 West End cast 1990 Broadway cast 1993 Film cast 2007 West End revival cast 2019 Chichester cast
Joy Davidman Claire Bloom Jane Lapotaire Jane Alexander Debra Winger Janie Dee Liz White
C.S. Lewis Joss Ackland Nigel Hawthorne Anthony Hopkins Charles Dance Hugh Bonneville

Production historyEdit

  • Television

The original television film starred Joss Ackland as Lewis, with Claire Bloom as his wife Joy Gresham. It won BAFTA Awards in 1986 for Best Play and Best Actress (Bloom).

  • Stage

It was subsequently adapted for the stage, opening at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth on 5 October 1989 before transferring to the Queen's Theatre in London on 23 October 1989, running until 8 September 1990. The stage version and subsequent movie gave Joy Davidman only one son instead of two. The production was directed by Elijah Moshinsky and starred Nigel Hawthorne as Lewis with Jane Lapotaire as Joy. It won Best Play in the Evening Standard Awards for 1990. Lapotaire was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress for her stage performance.

Hawthorne successfully took the role of Lewis to Broadway, playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre from November 1990 to April 1991 and again directed by Moshinsky. Hawthorne co-starred in New York, with Jane Alexander as Joy, who was now given her maiden name of Joy Davidman. Hawthorne won a 1991 Tony award for Best Actor, while Nicholson picked up a nomination for Best Play.

The first major revival of the play, starring Charles Dance as Lewis and Janie Dee as Joy, premiered at Cambridge Arts Theatre on 5 September 2007 before touring the UK. The production, directed by Michael Barker-Carven, transferred to the Wyndham's Theatre on 3 October 2007 for an eleven-week season before transferring to the Novello Theatre where it ran from 21 December 2007 to 23 February 2008.

A new production of "Shadowlands" at Chichester Festival Theatre opened on 26 April 2019. The production, which was directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, starred Hugh Bonneville as Lewis and Liz White as Joy Gresham.

  • Film

In 1993, the play was adapted into a film of the same name directed by Richard Attenborough with a screenplay by Nicholson, co-starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, winning Oscar nominations for both Nicholson and Winger.

Quotes C. S. Lewis as the film concludes:

"Why love if losing hurts so much? I have no answers any more. Only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I've been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal."

Joy in the stage version:

"See yourself in the mirror, you're separate from yourself. See the world in the mirror, you're separate from the world. I don't want that separation anymore."

See alsoEdit

  • A Grief Observed — Lewis's own chronicle of his reactions following Joy Gresham's death
  • Shadowlands — Lewis's biography by Brian Sibley
  • Shadowlands: The True Story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman by Brian Sibley, Hodder & Stoughton (new edition 2005) ISBN 978-0-340-90865-5
  • Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis by Douglas Gresham, Macmillan (USA 1988) ISBN 0-02-545570-2.
  • Shadowlands by William Nicholson Study Guide by Randal L. Kottwitz @ Hastings Community Theatre


External linksEdit