30/05/2010

ON A FIRTHIAN EDUCATION - RELATIVE VALUES & A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY


This is not my first post recording my attempts to catch up with Colin Firth's career (HERE is my first post). It is impressive how much I've lost! This weekend I managed to watch two very different period movies, both very good in their very different genres: Relative Values (2000) and A Month in the Country (1987)

1. Relative Values (2000)

 Director Eric Styles adapts Noel Coward's play set in  '50s British country and, more broadly, gives us another depiction of the complications of romance and marriage. The eligible Earl of Marshwood (Edward Atterton) is expected to marry within his class. His plan, therefore, to wed Hollywood starlet Miranda Frayle (JeanneTripplehorn) is met with consternation. His doting mother, the Countess (Julie Andrews), is advised by friends not to allow her corner of England to be sullied; her personal maid reveals that she's Miranda's long-lost sister and terrified lest their disparate circumstances be made plain; and the staff of Marshwood Hall are dizzy at the prospect of meeting a Hollywood actress. Near-hysteria builds when Don Lucas (William Baldwin), a bigshot actor and Miranda's former lover, turns up wanting her back.

The enchanting location of this movie was an ancient convent in the Isle of Man. It is meant to be a brilliant satire of the changes taking place in post-war society and the resulting conflicts in the 50s aristocratic England. The movie , thanks to its stellar cast and its witty dialogues,  is  really enjoyable.  Colin Firth is Peter Ingleton , the sophisticated and witty nephew of the landlady, the Countess of Marshwood, a role interpreted by Cowan himself on stage in the London premiere of the play he also directed in 1951. This is what Colin himself said about his role in an interview:  "Peter basically spends his time hanging around the place. He's a harmless mischief-maker who enjoys the crisis that's unfolding and he treats it all as a bit of a game. I haven't modelled my character upon Noel Coward because it is very important to appropriate a role and make it your own. After all, the delivery of a line now is certainly not going to be the same as it was forty years ago."

Stephen Fry is a fantastic butler and Julie Andrews is stuff of legend. Sophie Thompson (on the right with Colin Firth),  who stars as Moxie - Hollywood star Miranda's    forgotten poor sister and personal maid of the Countess - is incredibly funny in the scenes in which she has to  pretend to be a rich friend of the family. Hilarious. Sophie is Emma Thomson's sister and you surely remember her as Miss Bates in Emma 1996 (the film with Paltrow /Northam as Emma /Knightley) and maybe listened to her as Bella Harlowe, Lady Betty and Sally  in Clarissa , BBC radio drama  2010.

2. A Month in the Country (1987)
I was writing about WW1 veterans, shell - shocked ones, just few weeks ago in a post about Pat  Barker's Regeneration . This beautiful moving film lyrically deals with the same theme: men broken down by war, WWI. It is based on a very good short novel by J. L. Carr , A Month in the Country (1980, Booker Prize).
The plot concerns Tom Birkin ( Colin Firth ), a World War I veteran employed to uncover a mural in a village church that was thought to exist under coats of whitewash. At the same time another veteran, James Moon ( Kenneth Branagh ),   is employed to look for a grave beyond the churchyard walls. Though Birkin is an atheist there is prevalent religious symbolism throughout the book, mainly dealing with judgment. The novel explores themes of England's loss of spirituality after the war, and of happiness, melancholy, and nostalgia as Birkin recalls the summer uncovering the mural, when he healed from his wartime experiences and a broken marriage.

Among the several reviews I've found for this film I particularly agree with this one: "Permeated with a sense of isolation and regret that ultimately gives way to the comforting embrace of forgiveness, this is an unusual and unyielding film, one with the hushed fervor of a silent prayer".
It is a highly poetic,  symbolical story: Birkin restoring the painting in that isolated country church is actually restoring his own self.
In the cast Natasha Richardson as Mrs Keach, who adds a touch of romance to Birkin's stay in the village, and Patrick Malahide, as Reverend  Keach, representing  strong divine love, faith and religion, something Birkin really can't believe in any longer after the atrocities he had to witness.

7 comments:

M. Gray said...

Goodness, Colin Firth is a gorgeous man. He's such a baby in that last one! I enjoyed him in Easy Virtue, too.

Judy said...

I love 'A Month in the Country' and enjoyed your review of it, Maria - I haven't seen 'Relative Values', something I need to put right. Just saw Firth's Oscar-nominated performance in 'A Single Man' and he was great in that too. He has been one of my favourites since I first saw him in 'Another Country' - I had loved that on stage starring Rupert Everett and Kenneth Branagh, so was slightly surprised when Branagh was replaced by Firth for the film, but they starred together in 'A Month in the Country'.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@M.Gray
I too was a baby in 1987! Sigh! I loved him in Easy Virtue, Colin is great and gets the girl in the end!
@Judy
What a great emotion it must be to see great actors like those on stage! I saw Another Country ( the film with Firth and Everett ) and liked it.

tyme_4_t said...

Oh I am going try and track down "Relative Values" as that sounds likes it's right up my alley! Loved him in "Easy Virtue" as well!
I am looking forward to him & Matthew Macfadyen in "The Promise Land"

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@tyme4t
You're right C., that's a movie I won't miss either! The two Mr Darcy(s) together!

Meredith said...

What a great post! I would love to watch some more movies with Colin Firth in them and these are great suggestions. I think I might look up Realitve Values first. Besides P&P and the two Bridget Jones movies, I've seen Colin Firth in Love Actually and The Importance of Being Earnest, both of these are some of my favorites!

lunarossa said...

Love both films. Kenneth Branagh is also one of my favourite British actors and he's wonderful on stage too. I saw him in Richard III a few years ago and he was marvellous. Rupert Everett (another favourite of mine) will be back on stage here in the UK, in Chichester in June, playing Pygmalion by GB Shaw. I wish Colin would go back to the stage as well...Ciao. A.