Based on a play by Peter Nicholas and scripted by the author (based on the real-life experiences he and his wife had in coping with a child with cerebral palsy), A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg is about a marriage strained to breaking point by a child born a living vegetable and now 12-years-old.
The defence of the parents is jokes. They pretend to each other – and to the appalled outrage of outsiders – that this drugged, mindless object has a personality. The husband (Alan Bates) has fantasies of killing it. The wife (Janet Suzman) uses it to test her love and feed her guilt.
In the end, the man, a provincial schoolmaster, can take no more and leaves for London.
The film tries hard, and has excellent performances, especially from Suzman as the wife at the end of her tether. There’s a kind of aggressive practicality, a determination to cope, which rings absolutely true.
But it is very stagy which is particularly obtrusive in a series of music hall-like ‘acts’ which the couple launch into from time to time, a popular theatrical device and a useful way of transmitting information to an audience tied to a single set.
In a film, though, we could have seen the various people who reacted to the mentally deficient child and offered its parents various unacceptable suggestions. There is no point in seeing them caricatured by the couple.
The theatrical conventions come between the actors and the viewer, and several of the cast tend to over-project as a result.