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.