Uptight and personal: Sienna Miller and Harry Hadden-Paton
On the whole I take the view that Sienna Miller is a luxury I can afford to live without. A pointlessly perky Primrose Hill personage, she is sometimes famous for going out with Jude Law, and sometimes famous for not doing so. Otherwise she has barely troubled the dramatic Richter scale with her performances.
So imagine my reluctance to join the hordes of admirers to see Sienna in full Forties rig as Patricia, a doughty wartime actress torn between her brave pilot husband and dissolute Hollywood film star who wants her to revive their days of ardour. Not even the addition of Legally Blonde's Sheridan Smith could sweeten the prospect.
In this centenary year of Terence Rattigan's birth, Flare Path is a savvy choice for revival by Sir Trevor Nunn. Its hit quality was evident at the time, with a mixture of mordant wit about the business of flying deathly missions, and heartfelt emotion. It was, Churchill noted "a masterpiece of understatement," adding, "But we are rather good at understatement, aren't we?"
Since then, the play has languished in the upper second tier of esteem, presumably on the grounds that we have grown too clever and worldly to be moved by a simple wartime drama about the tensions between love and duty.
We spend much of the three hours at a drab Lincolnshire airbase, where Patricia (Miller) and Doris (Smith), wait for their men to return — or not — from the fierce early bombing raids on Germany. "We're here for a do," as Doris puts it squarely.
And what a do. The survival rate of the young men in Bomber Command in 1942 was less than half — a statistic that lurks in the background of the play's taut action and accounts for the heightened mood of joy and fear, pulsing through Rattigan's characters underneath the roar of the bombers taking off for Germany.
This being Britain, booze and a stiff upper lip are the weapons on the ground against fear, despair and erotic doubt. Patricia is an actress married to a salt of the earth pilot, but screwing up her courage to leave him.
Doris is a cheery barmaid (imagine a better-looking Bet Lynch) recently wed to a bereaved Polish aristocrat-turned-pilot, a stranger in the host culture, bumping awkwardly into the English language.