Stranded between Hollywood and Europe it has never really developed a character of its own. As soon as native talent emerges it gets whisked off to California- Hitchcock, McKendrick, Frears and a list of actors yards long- everyone from Boris Karloff to Jude Law. We’ve tried to be ourselves but mainly we’ve tried to please you lot across the Atlantic.
Yesterday I saw a thing called Stage Beauty. It’s the kind of quasi-historical farrago we’ve made our own (and which you guys seem to like.) It has period costumes so it must be art and it has silly anachronistic jokes so things don’t get too heavy. This time we’ve got Rupert Everett as Charles II drawling like the current Prince Charles (how ever did they come up with that?) And people in funny wigs saying things like “we need more tit” and “they touched my cock”.
Shakespeare in Love did it better. Mainly because it had a script by Tom Stoppard. I’ve nothing against farragos as such.
But Stage Beauty has ambition. It thinks it has important things to say about gender. Its hero Ned Kinaston is an actor who plays women. He also gets shagged by the Duke of Buckingham. But then the King passes a law that allows women to appear on stage and Ned’s career collapses overnight. He takes to drink and doing a drag-cum-striptease act in a seedy pub. But his former dresser (now a star actress) rescues him, gets him to dry out- and all it takes is the love of a good woman to turn him right round and he’s back on stage playing Othello in a Methody way like he was Marlon Brando. Oh, please....
See, it wants to be Ingmar Bergman but it also has its eye on the American box office and the Oscars.
Ned is played by Billy Crudup who never looks the least bit like a woman. He has a jawline, he has craggy brows and cheekbones. When he flashes his cock it’s like the Full Monty- tease, tease, tease and then something gets in the way.
There’s a scene where a fat aristocrat is being carried through the streets in a sedan chair. One of his footmen treads in a steaming pile of horse manure. We see it squelch in close-up.
The realism, the authenticity, the heritage!