That Dinner in '67 is about the making of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, a movie considered by many a landmark film in modern race relations. Under its light comedy surface lies the first portrayal of a marriage between a black man and a white woman in American Film. It was also Spencer Tracy's final movie before his passing, and the movie earned Oscar nominations in all the major categories, winning Best Screenplay for writer William Rose and Best Actress for Katharine Hepburn. It was also Tracy and Hepburn's last movie together as a legendary couple onscreen and off.
BBC Radio 4 has a semiregular strand of dramatizing the behind-the-scenes stories of the making of classic movies that have cultural and social significance, like the strained relationship between Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler during the making of Double Indemnity, Dirk Bogarde's coming out and Victim's pioneering portrayal of the plight of British gay men back when homosexuality in Britain, of the life of the chimpanzee that played Cheetah from the Tarzan movies. And these radio plays usually feature A-list actors. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is particularly relevant in the year of Black Lives Matter with its gentle, head-on look at interracial relations in America when interracial marriage was still illegal in many states. And look at the cast! Kenneth Branagh as Spencer Tracy! Tracy-Ann Oberman, who also co-wrote the script, as Katharine Hepburn! Adrian Lester as Sidney Poitier! David Morrissey as producer-director Stanley Kramer! Daisy Ripley as Katharine Houghton! None of these actors are phoning it in. They're here for the joy of telling the story. It's not a satire about precious and spoilt Hollywood actors arguing with each other on a set, but a sincere drama about people trying to make art that they know deep down is important, no matter how much hassle they create or put up with. In the end, it's about decent people creating art as an act of decency and kindness.
As the BBC's official website says:
"In 1967, as race riots swept the streets of America and the Supreme Court considered a landmark case about interracial marriage, Hollywood director Sidney Kramer started filming Guess Who's Coming to Dinner about a pair of young lovers – one black, one white – seeking the blessing of their concerned parents before getting married.
He had assembled a stellar cast of Oscar winners Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy and Kate Hepburn, with Hepburn's niece Katharine Houghton making her film debut.
This was a light-hearted, witty film but about a deadly serious subject. It was also the final act of one of Hollywood's greatest true love stories as, after a love affair that had lasted 26 years and nine movies establishing them as one of the all-time great Hollywood double acts, it was also to be Tracy and Hepburn's final film together.
Spencer was dying but determined that his final film with his beloved Kate would be both important and a masterpiece.
Tracy-Ann Oberman's moving and timely play tells a story about love, a classic movie and the impact it had on a divided America.
Written by Tracy-Ann Oberman, with David Spicer
Cast: Spencer Tracy – Kenneth Branagh, Sidney Poitier – Adrian Lester, Stanley Kramer – David Morrissey, Katharine Houghton – Daisy Ridley, Kate Hepburn – Tracy-Ann Oberman, Ray – Matt Addis
Producer: Liz Anstee
A CPL production for BBC Radio 4
That Dinner in '67 is streaming on the BBC website.