Heckle and Hype

For reasons perhaps related to the ideas dished out in a previous post, Stephen Frears decided to set his version of the Jekyll and Hyde story, MARY REILLY (based on a pretty good book by Valerie Martin) in a version of Edinburgh… I say a version, because in this Edinburgh everyone has an English accent (Glaswegians might argue this is quite accurate) and the city is populated by distinguished English character actors such as George Cole and Michael Gambon.

Nevertheless, the fogbound metropolis is surmounted by a recreation of the Greek Parthenon (tricked up in the studio) and Frears and his unit decamped to the actual Edinburgh for a week of location shooting. Basically none of this material made it into the movie, which is mostly studio-bound and none the worse for it.

But due to the Edinburgh connection, and the fact that Scot producer Iain Smith oversaw the production, I gleaned a little on-set gossip.

Brown was called to Julia Roberts dressing room one day. It seemed her then-husband Lyle Lovett (remember THAT beautiful affair?) was going to be in New York that weekend. “Isn’t that great?” beamed la Roberts. “So he’s going to be in New York, and I could fly out and meet him, and we could spend the weekend together! In New York!”

Brown replied that this was indeed great, although he couldn’t quite see what it had to do with him. He left. By the time he got back to his office, his phone was already ringing. It was a sweary agent. “You are ****ing going to ****ing buy Julia Roberts a first-class ****ing plane ticket to New York, you ****ing ****!” he swore. “Fuck!” Sorry, he sneaked that one in past the asterisks while I was talking to you.

Brown refused, the agent swore at some more producers, and eventually the studio caved and met her demands, which she never had to actually even personally voice…

Anyhow, the shoot goes on. John Malkovich is playing Jekyll and Hyde (with resulting confusion as to which is which) and he’s not getting on too well with the Roberts. Malkovich has been known to be difficult himself, in fact — hold everything — here’s a story about him –

This one’s from DANGEROUS LIAISONS and it’s literally too good to be true – ie it’s probably made up. But not by me. Malkovich is doing DANGEROUS LIAISONS for Frears, and Frears visits his dressing room.

“John, I want to talk to you about your character.”

“Well, sure. Valmont is a very complicated guy –”

“No, John, you don’t understand. I want to talk to you about YOUR character.”

Flashforward back to whatever I was talking about. Oh yeah. MARY REILLY wraps, and Malkovich approaches Julia R. “I just wanted to say…” and here he tells her, essentially, that she’s an arrogant, stuck-up bitch, no professional, and he’s by no means enjoyed working with her and looks forward to never having to meet her again.

Three months later they’re back, re-shooting the climactic scene where she weeps over him as he dies in her arms…

The film itself? Some good work, the feeling of unease at the start is effective, suggesting that Frears could make a genuinely scary horror movie if it didn’t cost $50 million, but the novel’s conceit — the story told from the point of view of a chambermaid — is somewhat resistant to visualisation, since her POV is so limited: she misses the most dramatic events of the book. It could probably be done, but it would need greater talents. Christopher Hampton did a fine job adapting DANGEROUS LIAISONS but his subsequent films tend to the disastrous.  He seems to embody the more deleterious effects of the literary-theatrical tradition on British film. The fact that three endings were shot gives a sense of how lost the filmmakers became.

Worse, Frears usual intelligence seems to have operated only fitfully. There are bizarre mismatches of word and image. When Roberts describes her brute of a father as having an odd walk, “not quite a limp,” it’s a surprise to then see Michael Gambon hobble wildly up like Long John Silver on a pub crawl, walking on one ankle.

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23 Responses to “Heckle and Hype”

  1. And it’s very nice to read someone finally laying into Christopher Hampton. Thanks.

  2. Malkovich had an affair with Michelle Pfeiffer during the shooting of D.L. leading to the end if his marriage to Glenn Headley and her long-time alliance with Fisher Stevens.

    But I’m not one to gossip so you didn’t hear that from me.

  3. There is another vaguely Edinburgh set Hyde, starring John Hannah and made for ITV. The principles are Scots, though I think it is an eastern European country doubling for the streets of the auld country. It’s an odd one, in that it’s all going on in Jekyll’s mind, which leads Hannah to imagine himself a slightly more dapper man about town with a small beard (inverting The Two Faces of Jekyll, which has the Doctor as the bearded article) and a fancy waistcoat.

    Still, it does feature a seduction scene between Jekyll and Hyde, which must be a first!

  4. Here the IMBD listing on it. . The reviews are not at all good. A shame as I like John Hannah a lot.

  5. I like John Hannah too, he’s a very SLY performer. That said, I think he works best as part of a strong ensemble, and the weight of a lead role tends to push the fun out of his acting. At the very least, I have to respect him for the evisceration of his own Four Weddings and a Funeral poetry reading that he merrily went along with in Steve Coogan’s Pauline Calf film Three Fights, Two Weddings and a Funeral.

  6. It was his own production company made that, in Prague, I think (Nick Ray wanted to use Prague to double for Edinburgh too, in The Doctor and the Devils — two less similar old cities are hard to imagine). Nobody else would have cast Hannah! Fine actor but fundamentally not scary. His TV show Rebus proved there was nothing TOUGH about him. He’s all Jekyll and no Hyde.

  7. And who did Nick Ray cast in his planned version of The Doctor and the Devils ?

    Barbara Steele.

    SHE’S INESCAPABLE!!!!

    I didn’t see that about John Hannah putting down his performance in Four Weddings. His reading of “Funeral Blues” Introduced Auden to zillions of people and is there fore to be commended. He also looked like he’d be Simon Callow’s boyfriend. Not an easy role to fill.

  8. There really isn’t an obvious Steele role in Dylan Thomas’ screenplay. Knox’s wife is too anodyne, and Burke and Hare’s wives (names are changed in the actual script, to protect the guilty) are unattractive slatterns. But Ray’s ideas kept changing, until James Mason (Knox) felt he’d lost the thread altogether.

    I don’t know if Hannah was “putting down” 4 Weddings, but he did gleefully spoof it. That Auden speech was a good scene, but I had a considerable problem with the movie — it wasn’t funny. I mean, EVERYBODY I KNOW is funnier than those characters. It’s very weird about class too — nobody has jobs, and the movie wants to pretend that class doesn’t exist, hence the single “common” character, the late, great Charlotte Coleman, and yet it’s a luxurious, leisured world all the characters inhabit. It creeped me out.

  9. That’s a unique reaction, this side of the pond. Here it was seen as a film about a pack of friends we’d all love to hang out with centered on Hugh Grant at his most boyishly babe-a-licious. It also gave Kristin Scott Thomas a chance to demostrate “class under fire” as only she can in her third act admittance that life hasn’t turned out for her quite the way she wanted, and that she’s harbored a crush on Ol Hugh.

    You see this is the secret of popular movies. In real life people have agonizing problems. In popular films troubles are bubbles.

  10. Charlotte Coleman seemed a lovely lady. I’ve got a recording of an obscure ITV music show from 1998 on some tape or other in which she chooses mostly Prodidy songs and says things like “Firestarter was another track I used to really annoy Hugh Grant with by playing it at full volume all the time during Four Weddings”!

    I’m not a big fan of Four Weddings either (a bit too glib and luvvy-ish for my tastes and its telling it had to be successful overseas before it came to be seen as a ‘classic’ here) but its a masterpiece compared to Nothing Hill and Love’s Actually Bland.

  11. Sorry, meant Prodigy!

  12. Pro-diddy sounds quite fun. A cross between P-Diddy and PJ Proby.

    I liked Richard Curtis before he started writing films. And I wanted to like those too. I managed to smile through The Tall Guy. It was rubbish, but I felt it had legitimate aspirations to entertain. I guess that’s true of the other also, but they’re creeping into true hideousness now.

  13. I don’t want to be too negative about Four Weddings though – I thought there were some lovely character moments (such as the Kristin Scott-Thomas scene mentioned above), some witty one liners and running gags and some wish fulfilment scenes where characters from diverse backgrounds understand and care for one another and our British lead gets to fall in love with a beautiful American.

    I just can’t help feeling that the Richard Curtis series of films with their whitewashed neighbourhoods and simple middle class moral problems are going to be the best indicators of a complacent New Labour Britain fiddling while Rome burns to future generations (with Four Weddings being prescient of a gestating culture in that regard and it was kind of inevitable that Grant was going to end up playing a Blairish PM). A kind of Disneyland Britain that while its nice to visit would become oppresive after a while, necessitating an escape back to the real world.

    Back on the Jekyll and Hyde tack, I’m afraid I missed it but was the [url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/drama/jekyll/abouttheshow.shtml]BBC series[/url] from last year with James Nesbitt any good?

  14. Perhaps the most truly hideous Richard Curtis moment there’s been would have to be that scene in the Vicar of Dibley where they stop the comedy to show a five minute infomercial on starving children in Africa. It is excruciatingly patronising, both of the audience watching (as if they’re at fault and need to be duped into learning this stuff), the talented actors forced to feign pig-ignorance turning into sudden understanding, and finally of the medium of drama itself in that they couldn’t have expressed these issues in a more engaging way than just having their sitcom characters play a DVD and stand around watching it!

    I don’t want to be too negative about Four Weddings though – I thought there were some lovely character moments (such as the Kristin Scott-Thomas scene mentioned above), some witty one liners and running gags and some wish fulfilment scenes where characters from diverse backgrounds understand and care for one another and our British lead gets to fall in love with a beautiful American.

    I just can’t help feeling that the Richard Curtis series of films with their whitewashed neighbourhoods and simple middle class moral problems are going to be the best indicators of a complacent New Labour Britain fiddling while Rome burns to future generations (with Four Weddings being prescient of a gestating culture in that regard and it was kind of inevitable that Grant was going to end up playing a Blairish PM). A kind of Disneyland Britain that while its nice to visit would become oppresive after a while, necessitating an escape back to the real world.

    Back on the Jekyll and Hyde tack, I’m afraid I missed it but was the BBC series from last year with James Nesbitt any good? Feel free to not answer if you are going to cover it later on!

    How do you hyperlink in the comments? Is it done in the usual way of [url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/drama/jekyll/abouttheshow.shtml]Jekyll[/url]

  15. Perhaps the most truly hideous Richard Curtis moment there’s been would have to be that scene in the Vicar of Dibley where they stop the comedy to show a five minute infomercial on starving children in Africa. It is excruciatingly patronising, both of the audience watching (as if they’re at fault and need to be duped into learning this stuff), the talented actors forced to feign pig-ignorance turning into sudden understanding, and finally of the medium of drama itself in that they couldn’t have expressed these issues in a more engaging way than just having their sitcom characters play a DVD and stand around watching it!

    I don’t want to be too negative about Four Weddings though – I thought there were some lovely character moments (such as the Kristin Scott-Thomas scene mentioned above), some witty one liners and running gags and some wish fulfilment scenes where characters from diverse backgrounds understand and care for one another and our British lead gets to fall in love with a beautiful American.

    I just can’t help feeling that the Richard Curtis series of films with their whitewashed neighbourhoods and simple middle class moral problems are going to be the best indicators of a complacent New Labour Britain fiddling while Rome burns to future generations (with Four Weddings being prescient of a gestating culture in that regard and it was kind of inevitable that Grant was going to end up playing a Blairish PM). A kind of Disneyland Britain that while its nice to visit would become oppresive after a while, necessitating an escape back to the real world.

    Back on the Jekyll and Hyde tack, I’m afraid I missed it but was the BBC series from last year with James Nesbitt any good? Feel free to not answer if you are going to cover it later on!

  16. Yikes, sorry for the multiple posts

  17. Sorry, wordpress decided you were spam and I just had to rescue these two comments. Apparently the hyperlink thing didn’t work. If you just paste in the address that seems to be OK.

    There was some discussion about the Nesbitt Jekyll earlier in the week. I didn’t like it as much as most of Steven Merchant’s stuff. (Or maybe the discussion was around his appearance at the TV festival?).

  18. “He’s a twit and she’s a trollop” – my mother’s verdict on the central couple in FWAAF.

    Charlotte Coleman made an indelible impression on me at a very young age as the Bad Girl in Educating Marmalade, particularly for scenes like this:

  19. People in the UK are often a bit down on Hugh Grant (although billions of them go to see him in stuff like Lurve, Echtually) but he is a good actor and especially good light comic. He was responsible for the only bits in 4 Weddings that amused me at all.

    Coleman was the one I was most intersted in, since how did she even know these people? She’s a great loss (and a warning to me to keep an asthma inhaler handy).

  20. He’s good at drama too. I can’t imagine Maurice working with anyone else. Clive is an almost impossible role and he makes it make sense. I also like him in Ken Russell’s marvelously silly Lair of the White Worm where he (quite naturally) gets upstaged by Amanda Donahoe’s snakewoman (gleefully seducing Boy Scouts) and Catherine Oxenberg hanging over the pit of hell in her underwear.

  21. Ah yes but he does get his chopper out in Lair of the White Worm (i.e. his sword!)

    He wasn’t bad in Rowing With The Wind either, which might make an interesting companion film with Gothic!

    In a strange coincidence today is apparently Grant’s birthday.

  22. Spooky! Happy Birthday, you tinned food hurling actor, you!

    I do like him in Bitter Moon too, in which his pairing with Kristin Scott-Thomas seems like a put-down against 4 Weddings before it’s even happened, especially as she plays a Fiona in both films.

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