With two Academy Awards under his belt and a glittering career spanning nearly six decades, you’d imagine that Christopher Hampton – since 2020, Sir Christopher Hampton – would have enjoyed many important conversations in his life. The most important however, the British writer and director reveals, took place in 1963 between a 17-year-old student and his French teacher, the influential poet and novelist Harry Guest.

A pupil at Lancing College, a private school in West Sussex, Hampton was planning on going to university to study English. “David Hare was at my school, and he was going to Cambridge,” Hampton recalls. “I thought, that seems the logical thing to do if you want to be a writer. And Harry said, ‘please don’t do that. Do French and German and you’ll have two literatures open to you. You can read them in the original language and that makes such a difference.’ I took the advice, and if you look at my career it’s been entirely defined by that decision.”

Sir Christopher Hampton. Photo © Jill Furmanovsky

It is a pair of plays adapted...