But despite the highly theatrically-based film, it is a wonder to watch simply because of Alan Bates’ remarkable performance as he paces the room, snarling, dismissing, pouncing on his various prey—his lover, several of his students, fellow faculty members, and Joey’s friend, a publisher, Reg Nuttall (Michael Byrne), with whom Joey has just spent a long weekend and, as Butley gradually discovers, is about to leave Ben for a new relationship.
He simply intimidates his students by refusing to see them for tutorials, that is all but two, a feisty new student, Miss Heasman (Georgina Hale)—who insists on meeting with him despite his several attempts to send her away—and a young man, Mr. Gardner (Simon Rouse), in whom he has taken a special interest, encouraging him to drop his course with his colleague Edna Shaft (the wonderful Jessica Tandy), who shows up at regular intervals to complain about Butley’s behavior.
Most of the brow-beating is saved for Joey, a man he knows well enough that he can play against deep weaknesses and what he describes as a “vile toadying” behavior. At moments Joey bravely fights back; having already heard of Anne’s divorce intentions, he attempts to save his news about Reg for another day. But it appears that the only one whom Butley cannot intimidate is Reg, the “other” man in Joey’s life who Butley calls Ted who is led to believe is the son of a Leeds butcher—in fact, it turns out, Reg’s father was a math professor.