Film Now that Peter Capaldi's been confirmed for the ninth series of Doctor Who, I decided I couldn't wait another year or so to see his replacement Romola Garai in action so I'm now in full "career watch" mode and although I've already had a few glimpses of her future with The Last Days on Mars and The Other Man, I've rewound right back near the start (timey-wimey) and begun working my way through her works in order where possible, Lovefilm permitting. They have The Last of the Blonde Bombshells in which she plays the young version of one of the characters, but Attachments isn't available on anything other than overpriced second-hand VHS (probably for the best) and neither is the next thing, an ITV drama called Perfect starring Michelle Collins.
Andrew Davies's adaptation of George Eliot's Daniel Deronda is arguably her first big television moment, in which she gives us a very coquettish Gwendolen Harleth and luminously memorable introduction as she throws a fortune away on the turn of a roulette wheel under the enchanted eye of Hugh Dancy's Deronda. From then on she pretty much commands the screen with all the confidence of an actor with years more experience entirely aware of how the camera regards her especially in the archery scene where she simply glows. The BBC Genome tells me I originally saw this on BBC Four at roughly this time of year in 2003 and although it wasn't until 2009 and the double whammy of Glorious 39 and Emma that I really decided she'd have the perfect future as a Time Lord, her screen presence is almost fully formed here.
If you do have Netflix or the dvds and three and half hours this is well worth the effort. Some of the writing and performances is in broad strokes. Hugh Bonneville's Grandcourt is a bit of a two-dimensional panto villain but in some respects needs to be to underscore the misdirection of Gwendolen's choices. But balancing that is Edward Fox's multilayered turn as Deronda's father, whose aristocratic surface has as many cracks as his face. Other than Bonneville the main Doctor Who connection here is its producer Louis Marks who wrote four classic stories, Planet of Giants, Day of the Daleks, Planet of Evil and The Masque of Mandragora. It's also directed by Tom Hooper who after a bunch more television ended up on The King's Speech and Les Mis.
The Emperor's New Groove
I Capture The Castle
Dirty Dancing 2
Inside I'm Dancing
The IMDb has Nicholas Nickleby as Garai's first film role which I originally saw in a free preview before Deronda back in 2003 and reviewed over a couple of paragraphs here then again in 2012 (#hathawaywatch). Here she's Nickleby's sister Kate who is treated badly by Edward Fox's Sir Mulberry Hawk who seems to be channelling Bonneville's performance from Deronda. It's a film which has improved with age, not least because of the now unaffordable and eclectic cast which I notice includes Daisy Haggard as "Juliet in play". It's all the more surprising because two years before the director Douglas McGrath, a big friend of Woody Allen, directed the utterly unwatchable Company Men which I wrote about here after having watched it, and later I Don't Know How She Does It. But also Emma and Infamous. Creativity's an inconsistent and strange business.
I Capture The Castle, the Dodie Smith adaptation. was Romola's first starring role and demonstrates she can carry a film. She's playing younger here, the seventeen turning eighteen daughter of Bill Nighy's washed up novelist and is delightful as this naive but intelligent ingenue. It's about the fear, I especially experience, that once we have some great achievement (which in my case would be my MA), we essentially then spend the rest of our lives in a futile process of trying to replicate as we await the inevitable. The script is by Heidi Thomas, who after a slight blip on Lilies, bounced onwards through Ballet Shoes (with which this feels stylistically connected), Cranford, the Upstairs Downstairs sequel and now currently Call The Midwife. Tim Fywell's next directing job was Ice Princess of all things.
At which point she runs, or rather latin ballrooms, into the notorious Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (to give it the US title) or at least notorious to those of us who've heard the This American Life interview with its screenwriter whose original script was a relatively serious biopic about a young girl growing up in Cuba during the revolution. They suggest its "one of the worst movie sequels ever made" and although it might be with my Garai goggles watching, it's really not that bad. The dance sequences are spectacular, the Cuban music soundtrack which has the original Shakira-less version of Wyclef's Dance Like This is stonking (Spotify playlist) and there's an unexpected ending given what the film's about (unless you've heard the TAL piece). Swayze himself turns up for a cameo in one of the obligatory dance montages. The additional content on dvd shows Garai and her partner Diego Luna really learned the routines.
I wish I knew the actual order in which these were filmed. Seeing I Capture The Castle which is a highly literate script right next to Havana Nights which really isn't, is a startling experience. Garai treats both jobs with the same professionalism, just as she would, but in the latter she's not best served by a directing and editing style in which the shot length is fast even when there isn't the dancing. Plus she's hampered by an American accent which is fine but sometimes the cliches she asked to voice simply sound wrong out of that mouth. Glancing forward, it's interesting to note that she only plays one or more accented parts and no more Americans. Director Guy Ferland would later lense three episodes of Torchwood's Miracle Day, though we won't hold that against him. Much.
On Thursday I triple billed those two and Vanity Fair, Mira Nair's free version of Thackeray's novel and after seeing Garai in those starring roles, it was entirely curious to see her back in the supporting position as Amelia Sedley, friend to Reese Witherspoon's robotic turn as Becky Sharp. Actually that's not fair, she's fine, but there's not a lot going on beyond her accent and although the editing favours her, she's acted right off screen by Garai whose own story, at the centre of a love triangle, comes across as far more compelling but undernourished because Julian Fellowes's screenplay can't quite decide just how to turn the original doorstop into a two and a quarter hour film. The structure is all over the place and it's clear that as a piece of art it would have benefited from having Garai's part excised altogether.
Or having Garai play Becky Sharp which the other films show she'd be quite capable of but from here on in, right through to 2009, she's in supporting daughters and girlfriend roles. Inside I'm Dancing makes her the object of affection for the two wheelchair bound protagonists, played by James McAvoy and Steven Robertson who hire her to be their inexperienced home help as they fight for independence. Adding mouthy Irishwoman to her repertory, she manages, with the aid of the script to retain the audience's sympathy despite reflecting our uneasiness with disability. The film is problematic. In purposefully foregrounding that disability it does fall into the trap of presenting pity/heroism attitudes but that always sadly tends to be the case with groups who are underrepresented by mainstream cinema. Still cried though.