Friday, November 30, 2012

Britannia Rules the Gab!

Werth: Cheerio, Wise. 

Wise: Pip, pip, Werth.

Werth: It's good to see you already in your tweeds and mackintosh, ready to celebrate the birthday of one of Great Britain's greatest sons: Sir Winston Churchill.

Wise: Oh, actually I was inspired to get my Saville kit on because of my new Dame Judy Dench eau de cologne.  It's smells of violets and withering sarcasm.  

Werth: Whatever your reason, a celebration of British film is always in order.  The Revolutionary War may have separated our two nations politically, but nothing could sever us cinematically. 

Wise: Except possibly a second Brüno movie.

Werth: Nothing is more British than "Boy Wonder" director, Alfred Hitchcock and his film, The Lady Vanishes (1938). His second-to-last film shot in England before he came to our jolly shores is not as spine-tingling as some of his later knife-wielding fare, but what Lady lacks in scares, it makes up for in pure, English charm. Young playgirl Iris (Margaret Lockwood) is headed back to England to wed her dull as dishwater fiancé, when she befriends sweet little old lady Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) on the train.

Wise: Because air travel just isn't suitable for afgans, kittens and knitting.  

Werth: After a cup of tea in the dining car with her chatty new travel companion, Iris passes out—and when she awakens she discovers Miss Froy is missing. And when I say "missing" I mean nobody on the train remembers her ever being there.
The only person who semi-believes that Iris' Miss Froy ever existed is folkdance enthusiast and romantic lead, Gilbert (Vanessa and Lynn's papa, Michael Redgrave.)

Wise: I guess he boned up his investigative skills while dancing the mazurka. 

Werth: As Iris and Gilbert endeavor to find out what became of Miss Froy they find themselves entangled in a web of lies and intrigue that only the great Hitchcock himself could untangle. Film theorists have suggested the film is actually Hitchcock's wake-up call to England to stop appeasing Hitler and get ready for war.
But Hitch was never asked that question, so we are left to wonder if the camaraderie of all the English train passengers against the Italian and vaguely Teutonic villains (including a magician, a surgeon, a nun in heels and a highly-coiffed wife of the Minister of Propaganda) was political rhetoric or just good clean fun. But however you watch The Lady Vanishes, you are sure to walk away pleased by its generous helpings of Anglo appeal and who-dunnit-ry.

Wise: Sometimes a film that seems veddy, veddy British on the surface, is actually an American film in disguise.  Emma (1996), despite the Jane Austen source material and the cast jam-packed with Shakeaspearian thespians, stars Los Angeles-born Gwyneth Paltrow as the titular misguided matchmaker and was written and directed by Douglas McGrath who cuts his teeth behind the scenes at Saturday Night Live.

Werth: What? Roseanne Roseannadanna wasn't the cinematographer?

Wise: Originally conceived as a contemporary version of the Austen classic, McGrath decided to make a period film after learning that Amy Heckerling's Clueless was already in production. Still, the finished film feels very modern.  Paltrow's Emma, displaying a creditable English accent, spars both verbally and physically (they are both, somewhat surprisingly, ardent archers) with Mr. Knightly (Jeremy Northam). 
She also has a giddy flirtation with Ewan McGregor's Frank Churchill and is pursued by a very persistent Alan Cumming as Mr. Elton.  


Werth: I can tell you right now who would I would rather take to the Cock & Bull.

Wise: Although there are moments that feel more like a Laura Ashley catalog than like a faithful adaptation of Jane Austen, the film is generally a pleasure, particularly Paltrow's chemistry with Northam who displays a sly wit along with Knightly's requisite bluster. 
Toni Collette, who's great is just about everything she does, has a lot of fun as Harriet Smith, Emma's moony and readily manipulated friend.  

Werth: Nothing's better than being moony and readily manipulated.

Wise: Much of credit for the film's freshness goes to McGrath's energetic direction.  Obviously not bogged down by reverence for lugubrious period detail, McGrath manages the action with alacrity and wit, emphasizing the humor of the characters rather than replicating 19th Century manners. 

Werth: I think we should watch our proper manners, and thank all our Film Gab readers terribly, terribly much for reading and whatnot.

Wise: And bid them to return next week for crumpets and gab.

Werth: Indubitably.

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