Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Dresser, 1983

Finally, THE DRESSER from 1983, a successful play and film, which somehow I never saw until now - this is a feast of acting and another great British film of its era.

In a touring Shakespearean theater group, a backstage hand - the dresser, is devoted to the brilliant but tyrannical head of the company. He struggles to support the deteriorating star as the company struggles to carry on during the London blitz. The pathos of his backstage efforts rival the pathos in the story of Lear and the Fool that is being presented on-stage, as the situation comes to a crisis

The 1940s wartime era is perfectly evoked, and a great cast headed by two star turns from Albert Finney as Sir, and Tom Courtenay as Norman, the gay dresser, with Eileen Atkins as Madge, the long-suffering stage manager, and with Edward Fox, Zena Walker, Michael Gough, the great Betty Marsden and Sheila Reid rounding out the cast. Sir is surely based on Sir Donald Wolfit who not only was a tour de force, but was forced to tour endlessly with his gallant troupe, especially during those war years boosting morale. The author Ronald Harwood was in fact a dresser to Wolfit ... so all this feels even more authentic and one feels the love for the theatrical life.
Finney (an actor, like David Hemmings, with no vanity whatsoever) commands the screen as usual -not least when he stops that train!, matched every step of the way by Courtenay as the camp dresser, endlessly fussing and looking after Sir, helping him to keep going, but Sir's tyrannical rule over the company is beginning to crack under the strain of age and illnesss as he prepares to tackle KING LEAR. The fastidious and fiercely dedicated dresser, copes with Sir's unreasonable demands, tends to his health and reminds him of what role he is currently playing. Its a mutual double act. It is a story rich in detail, comedy, compassion and love for the theatre. 
Courtenay also essayed another gay theatrical gentleman in a Noel Coward play ME AND THE GIRLS, in 1985 which is part of that BBC NOEL COWARD COLLECTION, and of course Albert went gay as that Dublin bus conductor in A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE in 1994 (gay interest label). Albert and Tom also co-starred in another fascinating television production A RATHER ENGLISH MARRIAGE in 1998. 
Peter Yates (BULLITT) directs with a sure hand and THE DRESSER was nominated for 5 Oscars. Harwood's script (as with his THE PIANIST) is rich in detail, and great acting does not come much better than this. Glad I finally saw it.  The BBC are showing a new version later this year, where Sir and Norman are - who else? - Anthony Hopkins and Sir Ian McKellen. 

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