running a bill

A Bill of Divorcement

A Bill of Divorcement is a British play written by Clemence Dane that debuted in 1921 in London. Dane wrote it as a reaction to a law passed in Britain in the early 1920s that allowed insanity as grounds for a woman divorcing her husband.

It was made into a British silent film in 1922, and into American movies in 1932 and 1940. The most well-known treatment was the 1932 movie, which was acting legend Katharine Hepburn's film debut.


In the 1932 film, John Barrymore played a man who had long been institutionalized in an insane asylum. His wife had been set to divorce him to marry another, but he escaped from the asylum and returned home, child-like and docile. Hepburn, who played their daughter, takes care of him.


The film today is dated for its attitude toward gender relationships and mental illness, but even modern film critics praise the warm rapport between Hepburn and Barrymore.


The film was produced by David O. Selznick and George Cukor, who had disagreed about casting Hepburn. Cukor had seen Hepburn’s screen test and was impressed by the 24-year-old, but Selznick did not like the way she looked and was afraid she would not be well-received by audiences. Cukor cast her anyway (beginning what would be a lifelong professional and personal relationship between the two), and Hepburn was declared "a new star on the cinema horizon" by The Hollywood Reporter.


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