Monday, May 15, 2006

Breechy goodness

Yesterday one of those happy convergences occured, where everything in your life seems to go together. Lisa and I decided to make a day of going to the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden. I had been before, but never with another person, and it was interesting to see what she thought was cool as opposed to what I thought was cool. I also paid a little more attention to the exhibits about great British actors, namely Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh because I had recently rented a movie entitled "That Hamilton Woman" which starred both of them.

We watched it later that night, and those howls of indignation were me being upset about the utter lack of historical correctness in this film. This is the story of Nelson and Emma Hamilton. (what! I hear you cry. Nelson again? yeah. sorry 'bout that) but it was made in 1940, which was, if memory serves me correctly, right at the beginning of another war. So you have Nelson spouting off all these great speeches, "He will not be content with Europe! He will not stop, if you sign a treaty with him now, he will only use it to gather more resources and attack again! You cannot appease Hitler--er, I mean Napoleon!" It was Churchill's favourite movie, but it got the director hauled in front of the House of Un-American Activities. That's gratitude for ya. Olivier's performance is completely believeable, if only because he manages to get the stilted Britishness just right, and make stupid dialogue sound convincing, while still passionately desiring Emma. Interesting historical note, Olivier was experimenting with method acting at this point, and he actually had his arm amputated for some of the scenes--it was put on ice and reattached after the shooting was done.

Now I like Vivien Leigh, but I think that she might have worked a little harder on her motivation. In her defence, she was coming off of "Gone With the Wind" and might have gotten confused, since apparently the costume designer thought that "1805" meant "farthingales and crinolines." (I'm starting to doubt that Vivien Leigh has legs, actually.) At least they got Nelson's uniform right...even if he was wearing the FULL DRESS one the ENTIRE MOVIE.
I think it was more interesting to watch this movie and think about the context it was made in, not the one it was portraying. If you were going to have a piece of propaganda to encourage your allies to join you in the fight, you could not choose a better time period. But what was really interesting was how the love story between Emma and Nelson played out. At this point Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh were a couple well on their way to being married (aw) but in the movie the two characters are completely angst ridden over their forbidden love. The only way the film could be made is if they both had these speeches "Ah, it is so wrong, but I can't help loving you!" inserted at the insistence of the film board. They kiss--twice--and Emma's pregnancy is completely offscreen. Yet somehow you can sense this incredible heat and chemistry between the actors. A modern movie might treat the passion with more passion, but because of the censorship this film was operating under the stolen moments between the characters really ARE stolen and therefore much more believeable. It's hard to dial back the ol' brain after being exposed to so much media these days, back to when it was possible to get pregnant just by fainting into someone's arms. I suspect that Dad would like this movie. It has a lot of flaws, but it is a treasure trove of great acting and a brilliant (for 1940) Battle of Trafalgar.

Favourite bit of dialogue:
Emma: "And in the corner, the English admiral, with all his expressions easy to read. Nelson, bored. Nelson, happy. Nelson, ecstatic." [she adopts the same scowling face each time]
Nelson: "And what is this expression?" [he rests his head in his hand and looks neutrally at Emma]
Emma: "Nelson tired?"
Nelson: "Nelson in love."

1 comment:

Laura said...

It's too bad Churchill didn't pull any weight against the House of Un-American Actities. House? that sounds weird.
I knew this movie would involve good acting when you said "passionately desiring Emma" and then I did a spit take (or real) when you said Olivier and Leigh were engaged? Really?
Glad that Sean Bean and such a willing role model who was willing to go all the way for a role and actually get his arm removed. That's probably what inspired Bean to be shot in real life with 3 spear-sized arrows in Fellowship of the Ring.