London: Keira Knightley is set to play a teacher in a girls` boarding school falsely accused of a lesbian affair, in the play ‘The Children`s Hour’.
The drama, which opens this week at the Comedy Theatre in London`s West End, is reportedly based on a real-life, 19th-century scandal in Scotland, reports the Scotsman.
Lillian Hellman, the American who wrote the play in the 1930s, heard about the Scottish case from her lover, Dashiell Hammett, author of ‘The Maltese Falcon’.
Hellman switched the case from Edinburgh`s New Town to New England but retained the basic elements of a career ruined by lies and gossip.
The play is about two women, Karen Wright (Knightley) and Martha Dobie (Elisabeth Moss from hit TV series ‘Mad Men’), who run a small boarding school and have their careers and reputations ruined after a pupil accuses them of having a lesbian affair. After which Dobie kills herself.
The reality is equally shocking. In 1809, Marianne Woods, 27, and Jane Pirie, 26, ran a small but successful boarding school in Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh, catering for the daughters of the city`s high society.
Among their pupils was Jane Cumming, the illegitimate child of Lady Cumming Gordon``s late son and a Bengali servant girl.
On 4 November, 1810, Cumming visited her grandmother at 22 Charlotte Square and accused her two teachers of "inordinate affection" for each other.
An appalled Lady Cumming Gordon wrote to all the pupils`` parents warning of immoral behaviour. As a result, every child was withdrawn from the school and the business was ruined.
The emotional Woods and deeply religious Pirie were devastated and sued Lady Cumming Gordon for slander, asking for 10,000 pounds compensation. The case, called on 15 March, 1811, rocked Edinburgh society.