'Screwtape Letters' stage production still going strong, returns to Salt Lake City on Saturday
‘Screwtape’ on the silver screen?
Due to the success of the three “Chronicles of Narnia” movies released between 2005 and 2010 — combined, the films grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide — during recent years C.S. Lewis properties have attracted renewed interest in Hollywood circles. Walden Media, which produced the “Narnia” pictures, actively explored the possibility of bringing “Screwtape Letters” to the silver screen.
In thinking of ways to adapt “Screwtape” into a movie, Walden Media president Micheal Flaherty ran into many of the same issues McLean wrestled with in creating the stage adaptation.
“We’re not working on that one anymore because we couldn’t crack the story,” said Flaherty, a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board. “We couldn’t figure out a great way to present that theatrically.”
Flaherty, who speaks glowingly of McLean’s “Screwtape” play (“I’ve actually been blessed to see Max perform it just in front of small groups at different retreats. I love it.”), offered his opinion that “if someone is going to figure it out film-wise, Max would be my leading candidate in terms of someone who could figure it out.”
For his part, McLean isn’t optimistic that Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters” will be adapted into a motion picture anytime soon.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I mean, it could be (made) — but the play is set in hell, and so very few filmmakers want to set their whole play in hell. And so what would happen is very likely they would want to tell the back-story — what’s going on, on Earth. Which of course the book only alludes to; it doesn’t explain, it doesn’t show, it only alludes to it.”
Flaherty doesn’t rule out the possibility of Walden Media someday revisiting the idea of a “Screwtape Letters” movie.
“It’s not that it can’t be done,” he said. “There’s always a chance that we could return to it.”
The nature of Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters” is such that there is no shortage of deep, thoughtful insights about what one must guard against in order to lead a truly Christian life.
“The big wakeup call for me,” McLean said, “was Screwtape’s insight that the safest road to hell is the gradual one — those imperceptible things that you do that slowly but surely corrupt your soul.”
The author Wilcox sees himself in the Patient against, whom Screwtape plots.
“If we are honest with ourselves as we read ‘Screwtape,’” Wilcox said, “we will recognize ourselves in the victim in ‘Screwtape’ — this newly converted Christian that the devil is trying to destroy. None of us are impervious to the various temptations he comes up with.”
Flaherty finds deep meaning in the part of the book where Screwtape allays Wormwood’s anxiety regarding the Patient’s church attendance.
“I love what it says about having to be honest with yourself,” Flaherty said. “There’s that scene where the junior devil’s nervous because the guy’s going to church, and Screwtape tells him, ‘Look, don’t worry about that. We have him just where we want him there.’ What I like about it is (it shows) how those external behaviors that we have are completely irrelevant, and what matters is where we’re at with our heart in that moment in terms of our relationship with our creator.”
“Screwtape Letters” returns to Salt Lake City on March 23 for two performances — 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. — at Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus. For more information, visit screwtapeonstage.com.
Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-236-6051.
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