May 5th, 2012

Taking Issue With Helen Mirren

I dreamed- as British people so often do- about Her Majesty the Queen. I was her guest at a pic-nic and she was being frightfully merry- like my mother on a particularly good day. Afterwards (still in the dream) I was explaining to someone who could be bothered to listen that the individual Royals might be frightfully nice but the Institution they belonged to wasn't. I remember the difficulty of getting my sleeping brain to formulate anything approaching a reasoned argument.

I know what this is all about. I read an interview with Helen Mirren yesterday in which she was saying she'd been converted from grumpy Republican to fervent Royalist by meeting the Royals. She's particularly keen on Prince Charles and thinks he'll make a wonderful king.

Yes, Helen, but if you think Monarchy is an outdated, anti-democratic institution (blah, blah, blah) as I do and you once did, it doesn't make a hap'orth's worth of difference whether Prince Charles is a nice bloke or not. A good King is still a bad King because Kings are bad in principle. Yes? There's a case to be made for Monarchy and I'm happy to hear it and consider its merits, but it's got nothing to do with personalities. 

The Moon And Sixpence (1942)

Charles Strickland, a London stockbroker, remarkable only for being outstandingly boring, leaves his wife and kids and goes off to Paris to learn to paint. There he turns into a heartless Nietzschean superman. A soft-hearted Dutch painter saves his life and he repays him by walking off with his wife, then dumping her. He is not exactly a seducer. He follows his destiny and if moths flutter into his hard gem-like flame so much the worse for them. He moves to Tahiti- which is full of Conradian soaks and hula-hula girls- marries a dusky maiden, makes a speech about women having no souls to mask the fact that he's falling in love, contracts leprosy, paints a final masterpiece (Gauguin meets Art Deco) and dies having left instructions that it should be burned. Cue raging inferno.

An end title flops up, telling us that Strickland may have been a great artist, but nothing can excuse the "ugliness" of his life. Phew, thank you Hays Code, you just saved me from jumping on the first tramp steamer to Polynesia.

Albert Lewin made a number of odd, infuriating, cack-handed but impassioned movies. The best of the ones I've seen is The Picture of Dorian Gray. This was the first. It aspires to be Citizen Kane but obviously isn't.  At times its reliance on voice-over narration reduces it to an illustrated lecture. George Sanders is magnetic as Strickland.