My Uncle Toby

By R. Earle Harris
All rights reserved (c) 2015 (rearleharris@tuxfamily.org)


FADE IN:

EXT. THE HALLS-DAY

Late eighteenth-century England.

These are three country homes rather close together. On one side of the road is Shandy Hall, Walter Shandy's home. On the other side of the road, side by side, are Toby Shandy's home and the home of the widow Wadman. The rood and a half of ground upon which Toby builds his models of besieged cities lies between his house and the widow's. A white sentry box, overlooking this handiwork, is next to the widow's hedge-gate. Toby's house is empty, the sentry box badly weathered, and the weatherworn but still detailed remains of fortified Dunkirk are on the ground.

Tristram Shandy is showing someone the remains of the model. Tristram is dressed eccentrically in yellow Persian slippers, purple, ballooning trousers, and a white shirt. Upon his head is a red fez with rich gold embroidery. We do not see his face. And we will not see his face until the end of the movie. In this scene, this is accomplished simply-either we see the face of his lady friend, or the object they are talking about, or the back of Tristram's head as he turns to point something out. As the film progresses, the audience will earnestly desire to see his face. And its artful concealment should contribute to the comedy by becoming more and more Byzantine.

I should also add that this play was conceived as a vehicle for one actor to play the parts of Tristram, Trim, and Diego, the long-nosed stranger. And so we begin-

EXT. TOBY'S ROOD OF GROUND - DAY

Here is where Uncle Toby once built his models of the sieges. At first the model of Dunkirk fills the screen, appearing as a ruined city. TRISTRAM SHANDY is showing the model to his friend JENNY.

JENNY (O.S.)
This is incredible, Tristram.

The camera pulls back, putting the model in its proper scale.

TRISTRAM SHANDY
My uncle Toby was very proud of this one. It was the last of many.

JENNY
What city?

TRISTRAM SHANDY
Dunkirk, Madam.

JENNY
The last destroyed in King William's war?

TRISTRAM SHANDY
Yes. It was here the war was fought in miniature. Everything happened here, or hereabouts. It was here the widow Wadman ambushed my uncle. She still lives just over there. It was here Susannah fled after the incident with the sash window.

JENNY
(Laughing.)         
And the accident with the forceps?

TRISTRAM SHANDY
And that.

JENNY
Then you were born here, weren't you?

TRISTRAM SHANDY
Not right on Dunkirk, no. Although Trim's firstborn was conceived upon that shattered bridge. I was born over there behind that third window on the second floor...

He indicates Shandy Hall.

TRISTRAM SHANDY
... while my father and Uncle Toby and Dr. Slop were talking downstairs about my mother's modesty.

JENNY
How can you know that?

TRISTRAM SHANDY
Everything, Madam, that had to do with my birth was so extraordinarily ill-starred that every bit of it has come down to my ears, even to how I was conceived.

JENNY
That is easily known. But how can you know what those men were talking about?

TRISTRAM SHANDY
Madam, you underestimate the catastrophe of my birth. I will even tell you exactly what they were saying.

BLACKNESS:

Title Over:
               ACT I.

INT. PARLOR-NIGHT

The failing light of early evening in the downstairs parlor of Shandy Hall. The Shandys are plump, comfortable people. Walter and Toby are looking up at the ceiling, pipes in hand. Mrs. Shandy is upstairs with Susannah, one of the servants, making loud labor pain noises. These noises must be sufficient yet never be such as to upset the audience.

I wish clearly to establish that Uncle Toby-Toby Shandy-is truly a shy, modest, honorable, warm-hearted, good man. I make this explicit before we meet him, as any other interpretation of his character would undermine the play. Toby still suffers a bit from a wound near the groin (more-much more-of which later) and always has a crutch.

WALTER SHANDY
(As the noise subsides.)         
What can they be doing up there, brother?

Toby takes his pipe from his mouth and knocks the ashes out.

TOBY SHANDY
I think it would not be amiss, brother, if we rung the bell. Walter pulls a nearby bell-rope and his servant Obadiah enters.

WALTER SHANDY
Pray, what is all that racket over our heads, Obadiah? My brother and I can scarcely hear ourselves speak.

Obadiah bows.

OBADIAH
Sir, my mistress is taken very badly.

Walter gestures out the window where Susannah can be seen running.

WALTER SHANDY
And where's Susannah running down the garden there, as if they were going to ravish her?

OBADIAH
Sir, she is running the shortest cut into town to fetch the old midwife.

WALTER SHANDY
Then saddle a horse and do you go directly for Dr. Slop, with all our services, and let him know your mistress is fallen into labour-and that I desire he will return with you with all speed.

Exit Obadiah.

WALTER SHANDY
It is very strange, as there is so expert an operator as Dr. Slop so near, that my wife should persist to the very last in this obstinate humour of hers, in trusting the life of my child, who has had one misfortune already, to the ignorance of an old woman. And not only the life of my child, brother, but her own life, and with it the lives of all the children I might, peradventure, have begot out of her hereafter.

TOBY SHANDY
What misfortune can your unborn child upstairs have already had?

WALTER SHANDY
The circumstance of his conception!

TOBY SHANDY
(Embarrassed.)         
Ah, yes.

TOBY SHANDY
(Pause.)         
Mayhap, brother, your wife does it to save expense.

WALTER SHANDY
A pudding's end! The doctor must be paid the same for inaction as action, if not better, to keep him in temper.

TOBY SHANDY
Then it can be out of nothing in the whole world but Modesty. Your wife, I dare say, does not care to let a man come so near her-

Walter simultaneously snaps his pipe-stem and finishes Toby's sentence.

WALTER SHANDY
her what?

EXT. SHANDY HALL-NIGHT

Again with Tristram and Jenny in the dark, empty old Shandy home.

JENNY (O.S.)
(Stumbling over something.)         
What did your uncle mean?

EXT. SHANDY HALL-NIGHT

Back with Obadiah. The action in this scene follows Tristram's description below up to the instant of Obadiah's making the turn at the angle of the garden wall.

TRISTRAM SHANDY (V.O.)
My uncle's modesty, Madam, will require explanation. But first let me interest you a moment in what was taking place outside. Imagine to yourself a little squat, uncourtly figure of a Doctor Slop, of about four feet and a half perpendicular height, with a breadth of back, and a sesquipedality of belly, which might have done honour to a serjeant in the horseguards.
Such were the outlines of Dr. Slop's figure, which-if you have read Hogarth's analysis of beauty-and if you have not, I wish you would. Imagine such a one, coming slowly along, foot by foot, waddling through the mud upon a horse so puny and pathetic as to scarce bear such a fardel upon its back.

TRISTRAM SHANDY (V.O.)(CONT'D)
Imagine to yourself Obadiah mounted upon a strong monster of a coach-horse, pricked into a full gallop, making all practicable speed in the opposite direction. Had Dr. Slop beheld Obadiah a mile off, posting in a narrow lane directly toward him, at that monstrous rate-splashing and plunging like a devil through thick and thin, would not such a phenomenon, with such a vortex of mud and water, have been a subject of just apprehension to Dr. Slop?

What then do you think must the terror and hydrophobia of Dr. Slop have been when as he came to within sixty yards of Shandy Hall, and within only five yards of a sudden turn made by an acute angle of the garden wall, and in the muddiest part of a muddy lane, when Obadiah and his coach-horse turned the corner-pop!-full upon him!

We leave Obadiah and the Doctor just before their collision.

INT. TOWN HOUSE-DAY

Walter Shandy's earlier house in London. He is leading Deacon Yorick up stairs and down halls to Toby's upper room.

TRISTRAM SHANDY (V.O.)
But you asked what my uncle meant. My uncle Toby Shandy, Madam, was a gentleman. And whether his modesty was natural or acquired, 'twas nevertheless modesty in the truest sense. And it arose to such a height in him as almost to equal the modesty of a woman. That female nicety, Madam, and inward cleanliness of mind and fancy, in your sex, which makes you so much the awe of ours.

JENNY (V.O.)
Indeed. And I suppose he acquired this female modesty from having spent so much time with the ladies. In Flanders, perhaps, amid the wars?

TRISTRAM SHANDY (V.O.)
I wish I could say so. But except for his sister-in-law, my mother, my uncle Toby scarce exchanged three words with the gentler sex in as many years. No, he got it, Madam, by a blow. A blow! It was owing to a blow from a stone, broke off by a ball from a parapet of a horn-work at the siege of Namur, which struck full upon my uncle Toby's groin!

INT. TOWN HOUSE-DAY

Toby's room. Toby is bedridden due to his wound. His servant TRIM, an ex-soldier, stands (militarily) at ease in the background. Trim limps from a knee wound that never healed. Dr. Slop, the family physician, is in attendance.

Walter and Yorick enter.

YORICK
Dr. Slop! How surprising to see you here.

DR. SLOP
Yes. Captain Shandy has fired his fancy town doctor and now relies upon someone sensible.

YORICK
And Toby-you are looking well. How is he, Doctor?

Toby is modest, cheerful, and obviously in some pain.

DR. SLOP
(Cheerfully.)         
He has an exfoliation of the os pubis, and the outward edge of that part of the coxendix we call the os illium, both of which bones are dismally crushed, as much by the irregularity of the stone that struck him as by its size.

All smile in puzzlement.

DR. SLOP
(Beaming happily now.)         
Indeed, the great injury it did to the Captain's groin was more owing to the gravity of the stone itself, than to the projectile force of it.

All, including Toby, are contagiously beaming happily at this news.

INT. TOWN HOUSE-DAY

Slop has gone. Walter and Yorick have pulled chairs up to the bed.

YORICK
And so you are better, Toby?

Toby smiles as best he can.

WALTER SHANDY
Brother-I believe you have not told our friend the story of how you received your wound?

YORICK
(Humoring Toby.)         
Yes, do tell me. I am sure the history of it will beguile its pain.

Toby sits up and is obviously eager to tell the story.

TOBY SHANDY
Are you sure?

YORICK
Certainly.

By the end of the next paragraph, Yorick's eyes glaze over.

TOBY SHANDY
It was at Namur. One of the most memorable attacks in that siege was that made by us and the Dutch upon the point of the advanced counterscarp, between the sluice or water-stop, where we were terribly exposed to the shot of the counter-guard and demibastion of St. Roch, the issue of which hot dispute, in three words, was this: That the Dutch lodged themselves upon the counter-guard and we made ourselves the masters of the covered way before St. Nicholas gate, notwithstanding the gallantry of the French officers, who exposed themselves upon the glacis, sword in hand.

INT. TOWN HOUSE-DAY

Walter and Yorick almost doze as Toby finishes.

TOBY SHANDY
(Happily.)         
And that is how I came by my wound!

Yorick and Walter start as if awakened.

INT. TOWN HOUSE-DAY

Walter and Yorick can be heard descending the stairs.

TOBY SHANDY
Trim?

TRIM
Yes, your honour?

TOBY SHANDY
I don't believe the deacon could follow my explanation.

Screenplay truncated at 500 lines.