Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Derek Jacobi’

Effie Gray (2014) ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th April, 2020

Effie GrayThe art critic John Ruskin was a complex character, intense, driven yet capable of inspiring great admiration and loyalty from young devotees, including Oscar Wilde while that brilliant Irishman was a student at Oxford. But in Richard Laxton’s film Effie Gray — available on BBC iPlayer for the next four weeks, with a screenplay by Emma Thompson — Ruskin is a callous, self-centred ingrate, almost smothered by an over-protective mother. As played by Greg Wise (Thompson’s real-life husband) he is  Heathcliff-like, handsome and broodingly aloof. Euphemia (Effie) Gray, in this biopic based largely on true happenings, was the young woman who married Ruskin at the age of 19, having been befriended by him when she was not yet in her teens. John Ruskin did indeed have a liking for young girls, in common with his contemporary Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), though that does not mean he was a paedophile in the overtly sexual sense. Indeed, there is a strong possibility that he was asexual; certainly, he was horrified by the sight of young Effie’s naked body when she stripped off for him on their wedding night, as faithfully depicted in the film. The marriage was never consummated, which some years later gave her the chance to have it annulled, enabling her then to marry the dashing young Pre-Raphaelite painter Everett Millais, with whom she went on to have eight children.

Effie Gray 1In the film, Effie (a rather timid and much side-lined creature in Dakota Fanning’s representation) is encouraged to appreciate her own worth by the wife of the President of the Royal Academy, played with great panache by Emma Thompson. It is largely Thompson’s feminist reading of the story that gives the air of tragedy to most of the film — much helped by the rain sodden Scottish landscape in its second half — but the real Euphemia was no shrinking violet. In fact, she was a notable flirt and seems to have had a wild time with attentive Austrian soldiers in Venice when Ruskin was in the city to write his celebrated volume about it, leaving her largely to her own devices. There is only a hint of her future happiness at the very end of the film. But it is a visually beautiful movie, running at a pace redolent of a pre-electric age (which some viewers might find too languid for their taste). There is a star-studded cast in supporting roles, but neither David Suchet nor Derek Jacobi really has enough meat to get their teeth into. However, even if the film has its weaknesses, it is well worth watching, and the story it tells intrigues enough for one to want to know more about the real Mr and Mrs John Ruskin.

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McKellen: Playing the Part ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd June, 2018

Ian McKellenPossibly the greatest living male Shakespearean actor, Sir Ian McKellen has reinvented himself in his latter years, coming out (on the BBC) as homosexual at the age of 49, campaigning on LGBT rights issues and going into schools (sometimes adopting his Gandalf voice) to encourage children to be themselves yet enter into the world of make-believe. Sir Ian was a latecomer to film; as we learn from Joe Stephenson’s biopic, McKellen: Playing the Part (showing this weekend at my lovely local cinema, Genesis in Stepney Green), he was a bit sniffy about the seventh art until he actually took part in it. He was and is a stage actor par excellence. Theatre is in his blood. The film is essentially an extensive interview, illustrated with marvelous clips of McKellen’s performances (goodness, how chilling he was as Richard III!), a little reconstruction of his childhood and various shots of him behind-the-scenes. Despite living in Tower Hamlets for decades, he has never lost his northern affections — born in Wigan, but especially fond of the Grand Theatre in Leeds. It was the twin evils of the fatal AIDS epidemic and Mrs Thatcher’s Clause 28 that propelled him into political activism, raising funds to establish the London Lighthouse and to launch Stonewall. Latterly he has sometimes camped it up as “Serena”, notably pairing up with his old pal and fellow thespian, Derek Jacobi, in that ghastly TV series Vicious (tactfully not mentioned in Stephenson’s documentary). But we do see him facing up to a Tory homophobe in a memorable TV interview as he slaps down the idea that youngsters are not aware of their own innate feelings. This is done with such calm dignity that his opponent is left speechless. But, one might in fairness ask, as the octogenarian McKellen looks back on his life and playfully plans his own funeral, did he sacrifice personal happiness for the sake of his craft? Despite an earlier partnership with the younger theatre director, Sean Mathias, McKellen was and is essentially a lone figure, though revered by millions of fans around the world.

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Happy Birthday, Oscar Wilde

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 16th October, 2017

Oscar Wilde 2Today is the 163rd birthday of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde and as usual on this anniversary occasion the writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth brought together an extraordinary band of people to celebrate, this time in the Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair, which was frequented by Oscar and his wife Constance at least as late as 1893. Gyles is London’s networker sans pareil; the late socialite, writer and editor Fleur Cowles must be spinning in her grave with envy. Half of the British theatrical royalty were there, including Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Simon Callow and Ronnie Hardwood, as well as a whole cricket team of members of the House of Lords, the odd duchess, marchioness and — as Gyles put it cheekily in his witty homily — a bit of rough trade, of which Oscar would have approved. Oscar’s sole grandson, Merlin Holland, loyally put in an appearance. But this evening’s event was special for another reason, this being the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of sexual relations between consenting adult men — the “crime” that had sent Oscar to prison. How fitting, therefore, that one of the speeches of the night should have been from the head of the capital’s police, the Commissioner of the Metropolis, Cressida Dick, who was there with her wife. How things have changed.

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