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Archive for the ‘Helena Bonham Carter’ Category

Great Expectations [2013 version]

11 Nov

Great Expectations – directed by Mike Newell. A young man is snatched out of the lower classes and thrust into the role of a gentleman. 128 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

Dickens is an author of immense imagination, and while it is perfectly easy and obviously attractive to track his characters and situations down to his biography – ingénues with names beginning with E, for instance – the greatness of him lies in a world which his words create and that has nothing to do with current events or his own life at all.

Pip is one of those characters who is a white paper outline, a figure meant for us to fill with our own selves as we pass through his crises. And actors can be quite bland in such roles. It is rare to find Alec Guinness in such a part, but there he once was. And now it is nice to find both the romantic leads of Estella and Pip played by actors with some character to them and some real responsiveness, not settling to just stand there and let us do the work.

A lot of Dickens depends upon his treatment of characters in what they say, and this is garnered to this film, thank goodness, for they do not do the melodrama-speak the plots and the times adored, no; they speak quirkily, unexpectedly, endearingly.

A lot of Dickens depends upon the supporting players; Great Expectations is rich with them.

The trouble now is that all subsequent versions must compete with the David Lean version of 1946. In making his nasty-eyes, Ralph Fiennes does not bring anything special to Magwich, and is certainly less horrifying than Finlay Currie was in the sudden terror of his first appearance. Fiennes is probably miscast. As Jaggers, Francis L. Sullivan is almost equaled by the work of the current and wonderful actor, Robbie Coltrane, a man of similar mien and girth. Sally Hawkins is all wrong as Pip’s mean sister. She is played as though a crazy woman, whereas Pip’s sister is really just an ordinary example of British child-rearing. Olly Alexander is better than John Mills as the jolly, generous, eager Pocket. But Helena Bonham Carter is over-costumed perhaps to compensate for her inappropriateness in a role forever haunted by the calamitous Martita Hunt as Miss Haversham. What Bonham Carter is doing in this part is baffling. She lacks power and therefore credibility.

But the story is so wonderful to visit and revisit. It is one of the great novels of literature because of the great vibration of its inherent ambitions, which we all have: to get back at those who have wronged us; to become sudden princes; to be allowed the love we love. These and their frustrations and barriers and disappointment are rich in Dickens. So we watch the TV version, in which we receive such satisfaction to actually see Bentley Drummle kicked to death by the horse he is beating. And we see, in the modern version with Ann Bancroft disgracefully out of place as Miss Haversham, but the enchanting Gwyneth Paltrow as an Estella we can actually believe in.

There is always something wonderful, and there is always the wonderful story.

 

Les Misérables

25 Jan

Les Misérables – directed by Tom Hooper. Musical-melodrama. A prisoner upon his release breaks parole and is hounded by a magistrate all his life, despite his reformed nature. 158 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★
Many people relate to this material, for it has had a world-wide success which in no way will this film abate. But I am baffled as to why.

All I can suppose is that in an age of crass and faithless self-deception such as ours, the noble strain in humans is invisible, and that folks want to go along with and believe in someone who is faithful, not crass, and undeceiving at heart. Few modern screen actors possess a noble strain, and Hugh Jackman certainly is one of them, and is so obvious for the part one is shocked to hear others had been considered. Jackman has done various musicals before, and has the voice to boot. It is a treat to watch his beautiful face.

The terrible difficulty is that the music is paltry.

The terrible difficulty with the music is that every time someone belches they go into an aria. Every time someone walks through a door, they start singing. It’s a through-written musical, but it never knows when to be through.

The difficulty is that the part of Éponine scrambles to the fore at a late stage, where it is needed not at all, and performs nothing but a drain on our loyalties.

The difficulty is that Russell Crowe cannot perform the role of Javert, the magistrate, either musically or dramatically. He stands there pumping his energy out in little spurts. But what you need to do to play that part is either be Charles Laughton or watch what Charles Laughton did. Javert is a great role, and Laughton’s is one of the great characterizations ever put on film. Crowe’s performance is a nullity.

The supporting performances are fine, more or less, right from the stage though they are. And someone should win an Oscar for the wigs. Anne Hathaway sings her number well. Helen Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen make hay with the Master Of The House material, which is more stage-worthy than cinematic, but never mind. And Eddie Redmayne, once again miscast as a romantic lead, nevertheless once again rises to the occasion and sings all his little songs well.

All his little songs. There are no other sorts of songs, save the big patter numbers, which are the usual Broadway stuff (and welcome). Every time someone sings one of these little songs, they become self-tragic. And each time they do, the story diminishes in size, just as the songs do, just as the character who sings the song does. Everything gets littler. Perhaps that’s what miserableness means.

There is an opening image of a great huge foundering frigate being dragged into drydock. It seems a suitable symbol for Les Misérables, a vast dismembered hulk hauled before us.

 

The King’s Speech

06 Jan

The King’s Speech – directed by Tom Hooper – drama about a man who needs to speak properly and his conflict with the man who is hired to help him. Color 2010.

* * * * *

I wept. Helena Bonham Carter, playing the Duchess Elizabeth of Kent, a lady of high good spirits, deep wifely devotion, and a taste for sweets, Geoffrey Rush playing the Australian speech therapist, who without leaving his chair, wrestles her husband to the ground, and Colin Firth playing the to-be and then King George VI of England, who can’t address his people without a stammer, make this a splendid pudding of a picture. The long road to partial mastery of his life-long impediment brought tears to my eyes, and when he finally gives his speech I wept again. The picture is like a horse-picture in which the unlikely mare wins through. And it’s true to life, just as horses are true to life. It takes great heart to overcome a genetic defect or to win a race; both are temporary triumphs and all the more poignant for that. But like horse-pictures, this film bids to be inspiring to us all. I don’t like Colin Firth; I find him technically immature as an actor; I don’t like to look at him; and I don’t think he has much to offer to his roles. Maybe he has always been miscast as leading man, but I sat through this film and watched him here, and he was bearable. Geoffrey Rush is exquisitely funny as the pirate therapist, and Helena Bonham Carter won my heart as the witty dear lady helping her husband to freedom. The great Guy Pearce is probably miscast in the role of King Edward, for he plays it with an intensity incongruent with the louche, diffident, spoiled, pretty, sensual, and stupid David. People like the Prince of Wales who have been given everything do not need to be intense about anything. They are waited upon hand and foot, and all other protuberances besides. He has the right suits, though, and they are a pleasure to see, for The Duke Of Windsor was always spiffy, and Pearce has the part in his hair exactly perfect. But this is a small matter in a small role. You will love it. It’s a picture for hopeless and debauched teenagers. And for folks like me. For anyone who wants a lift in the limousine of  the hopes of couple of odd role models. See it and weep too.

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