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Happy 50th Birthday to Jeremy Northam!

1 Dec

The first of December, 1961 was not a Big Day in History. No great battles were fought, no peace treaties were signed, no world-changing discoveries were made. Among the events that Wikipedia does list as taking place that day are these: Syria held its first parliamentary elections since separating from the United Arab Republic, Britannia Airways was set up in the UK under the name Euravia, Algeria’s News Agency was founded, and a coat of arms was officially granted to somewhere called Hordaland.

But Wikipedia lists one further entry for the date, and it’s the one that makes 1st December 1961 a Very Big Day in History indeed—around here at least: Born: Jeremy Northam, English actor, in Cambridge.

That’s right. Jeremy Northam, “English actor,” celebrates his 50th birthday today! For close to 25 of those 50 years he has been one of the best actors, of any nationality, in the business.

To mark this milestone in Jeremy’s life, I thought a list of reasons why we admire the man would be in order. Fifty of them, one for every year he’s been in the world. I asked for assistance in compiling my list from the group of ardent admirers who frequent Jeremy Northam Chat and Jeremy Northam Info as well as this blog. The response was wonderful! My sincere thanks to everyone who was able to contribute ideas. I have tried to edit and arrange everyone’s thoughts to their best advantage; I hope the end result pleases. (Several contributors wanted to remain anonymous, so not every item is credited to someone.)

Special thanks are due to Joan, who provided many of the photos that accompany this post; to SkippyQSB, whose beautiful screencaps also provided photos (via JNI); and to Gill, who supplied the audio clips and always makes my JN Blog posts look so spiffy.

LauraP

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And now, without further ado, I give you…

50 Reasons to be a Jeremy Northam Fan:

1. Jeremy’s need for variety in his roles and dislike of typecasting. It makes for a “magical mystery tour” for fans of his work; we never know what is coming next, but we can be certain we’ll enjoy it because our man never lets us down. No matter what he tackles, be it a serious drama, a frothy comedy or an audiobook, he approaches it with utter professionalism, fierce intelligence and a goodly measure of perfectionism. I have completely failed to ever predict his next career move, and that, as well as the quality of his performances, keep me on my toes as a blogger, and excited as a fan. After seeing him as Mr. Knightley, who would ever have guessed he’d play a bug scientist fighting mutated giant cockroaches in the New York subway system? Who could have predicted that he’d play a Victorian poet, a futuristic spy who’s had his memory blanked, and Dean Martin in succession? Not me! (Contributed by Gill)

As RH Ash in 'Possession'

As Peter Mann in 'Mimic'

As Dean Martin in 'Martin and Lewis'

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2. His versatility as an actor; he always surprises and amazes me by how good he is at everything he attempts. From doing comedy in Happy, Texas, to his astonishing transformation during Cypher, to his subtle and restrained brilliance as Sir Robert Morton, Jeremy has incredible range as an actor. (From Ansie)

As Harry Sawyer in 'Happy Texas'

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3. How he could have become a “celebrity” actor, but instead chooses to actually explore a variety of roles, some that (try) to hide his handsomeness—like the character of Col. Lane Woolwrap in Guy X. (Contributed by Gammie)

As Col. Lane Woolwrap, 'Guy X'

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4. His ability to immerse himself in a role. You see the character on the screen, not the man. Jeremy’s performance as Morgan Sullivan/Sebastian Rooks in Cypher is a great example of this; with subtle changes throughout the movie, he completely transforms from meek, put-upon Morgan to sexy, Bond-like Sebastian.

As Morgan Sullivan, 'Cypher'

As Sebastian Rooks, 'Cypher'

The equivalent in his audio work is his incredible ability to create diverse characters with just his voice. Puddleglum from The Silver Chair and Miss Bates in Emma stand out. It’s amazing to me that he was able to express so perfectly the voices of both a 19th-century English spinster and a fantastical creature called a “marshwiggle.” (Contributed by Robyn)

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5. How he’s so good at disappearing into a character that it can take a while to think of him as “Jeremy Northam.” Many of us who are now his biggest fans have had to confess that in the beginning we failed to recognize him when he appeared in a new project. Sometimes it even took two viewings of something before he really caught our attention and we were able to make the connection between a splendid performance and the actor who delivered it. I adored the character of Fitz in Piece of Cake, but the next time I saw Jeremy, in Emma, I didn’t connect the inexperienced young flier with the gentlemanly Mr. Knightley. I also admired his work in An Ideal Husband and Gosford Park before I added it all up and got the right answer to the question “Is that the same guy who played ___?” But I’ve always been really bad at math! (From Laura) Another example: The first thing I saw him in was Emma, and then I forgot about him—the shame!—until The Tudors. That reminded me what a great actor Jeremy is, and I sought out some of his intervening work. (From Marie)

As Mr. Knightley, 'Emma'

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6. How Jeremy’s talent comes first, then his looks “sneak up” on you. For example, after seeing Emma and admiring his acting, I then found myself thinking, “Hey, he’s very handsome!” (Chosen by Gammie)

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7. His intelligence and insight. Not only is this evident in Jeremy’s acting, it shines through in his audiobook performances. His ability to interpret the written word is apparent in the perceptive way he describes the literary characters he has played, such as Prince Amerigo or Mr. Knightley. But even more impressive to me is how his insight is transmitted via his skills, whether he’s acting or reading. I just finished listening to the Our Man in Havana audiobook again and was in awe of how his intelligence and wit come through those words written on the page. It’s in how he interprets a sentence: the phrasing, the pauses, the inflections of his voice, the accents he takes on… it’s so subtle but also powerful. He’s a master at interpreting literature. (Submitted by Ansie)

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8. The sense of humor and humility he displays in interviews, like this one from the Guardian in 2002, called “Northam passes on the singing.” (Contributed by Gammie) Click on the link to read this short interview in its entirety.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2002/jan/31/news1/print

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9. How modest he seems in interviews. I love the Leicester Square TV clip from the red carpet at the Dean Spanley premiere. When he’s asked what he’d like to be reincarnated as, Jeremy says “I think a Parson’s Jack Russell would do me.” Cute! (Picked by Marie) He’s interviewed from 0:53 to 1:56 in this “Leicester Square Premieres” clip:

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10. This interview about An Ideal Husband, especially the bit at the end (at 1:10) where he says, “She [Gertrude]—this sounds a terrible generalization and maybe it’s a terribly sexist thing to say—but like so many women, [she] seems to have that extra capacity for feeling and intellect which so many men seem to lack.” Jeremy Northam on Sir Robert Chiltern: (Note that the volume on this clip is very low and Jeremy is very soft-spoken.)

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11. The interview from the Glorious 39 region 1 DVD extras.

A rare recent interview, in which Jeremy looks and sounds at his best. (Chosen by Joan)

Jeremy being interviewed about his role as Balcombe in 'Glorious 39'

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12. This quote, from a 2002 interview with Emily Blunt for her Blunt Review:

Surely the job of fiction is to actually tell the truth. It’s a paradox that’s at the heart of any kind of storytelling. All the great novels, all the great films, all the great dramas are fictions that actually tell us the truth about us or about human nature or about human situations without being tied into the minutia of documentary events. Otherwise we might as well just make documentaries.

I’ve thought this for years, but I have never been able to adequately explain myself to people who think reading or watching works of fiction is a waste of time. Leave it to the articulate, intelligent Jeremy to put my thoughts into a succinct, perfectly worded statement! (Contributed by Laura)

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13. His taste in music, and how he introduced me to a new favorite. Jeremy mentioned that a copy of The Koln Concert by Keith Jarrett is something he has taken with him when he travels. I like it very much, too. (From Mary)

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14. The first time I saw Jeremy and heard Mr. Knightley say “As an old friend of the family, I had to ask as soon as I got back: Who cried the most at the wedding?” (Submitted by Joan)

Mr. Knightley's entrance, 'Emma'

Ah, yes. Mr. Knightley! Many of us first encountered Jeremy at that moment when he appeared in the doorway in Emma. The role of Jane Austen’s ideal Regency gentleman fit him like a glove; he was the perfect Mr. Knightley: courteous, sweet, funny, and oh, so very handsome. He left quite an impression on us! And this is still one of Jeremy’s best known and most loved roles. More favorite Knightley moments: the archery scene, with his frustrated exclamation “Men of sense, whatever you may say, do not want silly wives!”; the way he squirms when he’s teased by Emma and Mrs. Weston (Gwyneth Paltrow and Greta Scacchi) about his feelings for Jane Fairfax; the “Brother and sister? No, no… indeed, we are not!” line and how he reveals so much by the tone of his voice (Chosen by Marie);

'Indeed we are not ...'

the passion and disappointment in the “Badly done, Emma!” scene; and of course, that wonderful, swoon-worthy proposal where he tells Emma that he rode through the rain to reach her and that “I’d ride through worse than that if I could just hear your voice telling me that I might, at least, have some chance to win you.” “Marry Me”:

What woman could refuse Jeremy’s Mr. Knightley saying, “Marry me, my wonderful, darling friend”? Certainly not me! (The parts not contributed by Joan or Marie are from Laura)

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15. Jeremy’s role as Sir Robert Morton in The Winslow Boy. Seeing him as Sir Robert in David Mamet’s film adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play was my Eureka! moment as far as Jeremy is concerned. I was aware of his work before seeing him in this film, but up until that point he was another handsome actor who I would enjoy watching. He hadn’t really engaged with me in any special way. Although the performance as a whole is excellent, there is a specific moment where Sir Robert visits the Winslow house and speaks to Catherine after the successful conclusion of the trial. He asks for a whiskey and sits down, temporarily drained and overwhelmed. In that instant, Sir Robert’s humanity is revealed and in that instant, Jeremy as Sir Robert connected with me. As I recall, I felt it physically, almost as a shock. And of course, being so fond of Jeremy’s role in The Winslow Boy was what introduced me to my other favorite actor, Robert Donat. (Submitted by Gill)

As Sir Robert Morton, 'The Winslow Boy'

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16. His first appearance in The Winslow Boy, that’s a great moment, too! (Suggested by Robyn)

Sir Robert Morton is another of Jeremy’s most treasured characters. It is one of his best performances in a film as well. From the moment he appears, taken by surprise by Catherine Winslow (Rebecca Pidgeon) in his office, Jeremy’s Sir Robert is mesmerizing. The interrogation scene that ends with the classic line “The boy is plainly innocent. I accept the brief”; the exchange of lingering looks in Parliament between Catherine, up behind the grille of the Ladies’ Gallery, and Sir Robert down on the floor; the scene where Sir Robert speaks in the House of Commons, with Jeremy’s commanding voice ringing out through the room; and that delicious ending where he gets the last word, “Do you really think so, Miss Winslow? How little you know about men,” delivered with a grin; are all played with understated mastery.

'How little you know about men'

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17. Jeremy’s intense and wonderful performance in Dean Spanley; it touches the innermost part of me!

As Henslowe Fisk, 'Dean Spanley'

The movie is a masterpiece by all involved, but especially Jeremy’s acting enables me a little retreat to an oasis of calm, so to say. I cannot put my finger on it exactly. Is it the emotional facial expression Jeremy lends all the time to Henslowe, or is it his elaboration of a lovely character? I suppose both together. All that worrying about his father’s welfare, the musing about the whys and wherefores, his tenderness for the old housekeeper. And then his modesty, intelligence and humor, all the gentle nuances in his behavior. As an example, I want to describe the scene between Henslowe and his father Horatio when they’re on their way home after the lecture on the transmigration of souls. Fisk Sr. (the wonderful Peter O’Toole) is endlessly going on with his usual nagging and Fisk Jr.is pushing the “chair” and is feeling on edge—you can see it in his beautiful impressive face! And then there is this witty verbal exchange:

Henslowe: Canine flattery is a survival mechanism, according to Darwin.

Horatio: The chap never had a dog is all I can say!

Henslowe: I thought he had a beagle. (Referring to Darwin’s sea journey with the HMS Beagle)

Henslowe’s face at the moment he makes this little joke, utterly unnoticed by his father, is priceless! He’s a man of great humanity and benevolence, that Fisk Jr., isn’t he? A fictional man to fall in love with… And to be quite true, it strikes me that Mr. Jeremy Northam himself possesses quite a bit of good character attributes, too! (Contributed by Martina)

With Peter O'Toole in 'Dean Spanley'

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18. More wonderful moments from Henslowe Fisk, or Fisk Jr., or Young Fisk, as this adored character is variously known in Dean Spanley: the bit when Fisk Jr. tells his Dad to “shush” in the scene at the lecture; it’s just so funny, his expression and tone of desperation! This is my favorite of Jeremy’s films. (Contributed by Marie)

'Shush!'

Then there’s the funny little moment right after the scene in which Henslowe invites the Dean to dinner, offering him a fictional bottle of Tokay as enticement; he tells the cat stuck up in a nearby tree “I wouldn’t call it a lie, Puss. More like a truth deferred, nothing worse.” And don’t forget the sweet scene where Henslowe seeks motherly comfort from Mrs. Brimley; or his frustrated attempt to describe to Wrather the effect the Tokay had on Dean Spanley, “It was if his mind had slipped a cog”—Fisk Jr. is a bit “tiddly” himself during this scene; how moved he is by the end of the Dean’s story and by his father’s emotional response to it; and, finally, the poignant expression we can see in Fisk Jr.’s eyes over his father’s shoulder as the two men embrace.

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19. The enigmatic, quirky Dr. Matt Proctor in Miami Medical. Jeremy’s most recent character is also one of his best loved. Handsome, sexy, funny, compassionate, and great at his job—what’s not to love about Proctor? It was great seeing Jeremy in a contemporary setting and getting a chance to do some comedy as well. Because of the way the series ended—cancelled before it even had time to gain momentum—we were left with a lot of unanswered questions about the good doctor. But, then again, maybe that’s just the way MT-1’s resident Mystery Man would want it to be!

As Dr Matt Proctor, 'Miami Medical'

Some of our favorite DocProc moments: The duck-feather medicine hat scene with Tuck, riding his bike in a circle to help him solve a medical problem, and sitting on the roof wearing his scrubs and sunglasses. (Submitted by Gammie) I love the scene in Calle Cubana where he’s eating Pollo Versailles for breakfast and the one where he is introduced to Dr. Zambrano’s father—the original Dr. Zambrano—in Like a Hurricane. “So you’re the Englishman who took my little girl’s job?” “Well, that’s one way of describing my rather awkward ascent.” (Chosen by Joan) In the Golden Hour episode, a young mother dies and Dr. Proctor sees the father with his small child in his arms; Jeremy plays this scene with infinite sadness because Proctor’s medical skill was all in vain. That was great acting! (From Mary)

Need more DocProc? Here he is, in a fabulous video by SkippyQSB, “Give Me the News, Doc”:

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20. His ability to embody the quality of stealthiness, which he displays in several of his characters. This dictionary entry for the term perfectly describes Wigram in Enigma: Marked by or acting with quiet, caution, and secrecy intended to avoid notice. Jeremy also conveys this characteristic of quiet, deliberate secretiveness in his portrayal of Balcombe in Glorious 39. (Suggested by Joan) “Suspicions” from Enigma:

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21. All those dark scenes in The Net where Jack Devlin is stalking Angela—in the car, around the amusement pier, and at the street parade outside the convention center. Another stealthy character from Jeremy!

As Jack Devlin, 'The Net' (with Sandra Bullock)

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22. The library scene from Piece of Cake.

Poor Fitz has an embarrassing problem and he decides to ask Intelligence Officer “Skull” Skelton (the excellent Richard Hope) for advice. This quiet moment from the 1988 miniseries shows Jeremy at the beginning of his career, when his acting experience was mostly in stage work. You can see he’s still learning how to act in front of a camera; the subtle changes of expression we now expect from him aren’t quite there yet. But watch the slight shake of his head and the confused expression that flashes over Fitz’s face at 1:50 of this clip. Jeremy shows us in the space of a millisecond that Fitz has never heard of Foyle’s, the book shop Skull is recommending. There’s a hint of the brilliance to come. And he’s thoroughly adorable to boot! (Chosen by Laura)

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23. Jeremy’s last scene in Enigma. I’ve always been a film buff and I’ve watched a good many movies. In times past I used even to visit the Berlin Film Festival. But very rarely was I touched by a movie in such a way as I was by Enigma. The second to last scene, at the pond, with Jeremy as Wigram and Dougray Scott as Tom Jericho, when Wigram says, “Oh I will, …I will” and then he disappears very slowly from view…that was when I got goose bumps! It was so well played, very great art! (Contributed by Mary)

As Wigram, 'Enigma'

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24. Jeremy, as Peter Warlock, playing the piano with Lily Buxton in Voices from a Locked Room. Until that point in the story, Lily (Tushka Bergen) is pretty freaked-out by Peter, but hearing the piece of music he’s written for her, and playing it with him, changes things. It’s a very intimate moment, with their hands together on the keyboard as they sit side by side. And when the music ends he looks adoringly at her from underneath his unruly mop of hair and says, “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever known.” Jeremy is great in this movie as both Peter and Philip, but this scene is amazing!

As Peter Warlock, 'Voices' (with Tushka Bergen)

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25. His reading of The Silver Chair. Can you imagine my great delight when I discovered that my favorite actor is also a fantastic performer of audiobooks? That was a most welcome opportunity to do what my poor English teacher (I’m a German) was always recommending: “Learning by Listening”. So I started with The Silver Chair, by C. S. Lewis. Although since then Charles Ryder, Joe McGrath, George Orwell, James Wormold, Jack Miller, etc. have been my alternating tutors, it was Puddleglum in that first book who immediately won my heart! Jeremy did a marvelous job, lending his voice to a multitude of characters. He put life into every single creature and gave each one a fully realized range of emotions. Listening to Jeremy always means great fun and joy, means to dream and witness the story; he’s truly performing. This is a real talent Mr. Northam is sharing with us listeners! (Contributed by Martina) An excerpt from Chapter 7: Puddleglum gets drunk at the castle of the Giants of Harthang:

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26. The way he became Dean Martin in Martin and Lewis. This feat is especially impressive to me because of how extremely recognizable Dean Martin’s face and voice are to most Americans. Without any prosthetics or makeup to help him physically resemble Martin, Jeremy was able to embody the cool, sexy essence of the man. He captured Dino’s mannerisms, voice, facial expressions, and above all, attitude, so well that Jerry Lewis himself gave the performance his stamp of approval. (From Laura)

As Dean Martin, 'Martin and Lewis'

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27. The speech by Sir Robert Chiltern to Parliament in An Ideal Husband(from the American Rhetoric site). Follow the link for the transcript and an audio clip of the speech. http://www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechanidealhusband.html (Chosen by Joan)

As Sir Robert Chiltern, 'An Ideal Husband'

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28. Two memorable scenes from Cypher. There’s a moment early on in the movie when Morgan Sullivan’s doing dishes in the kitchen with an apron on. His wife is in a power suit. He shyly and so proudly states he’ll be working as an “independent contractor.” It’s so touching. You have the sense that he’s trying to assert himself and is excited thinking about being a corporate spy, working at something new and maybe even dangerous. I just love that scene! It’s so small it’s easy to miss, but Jeremy turns it into a gem. The scene makes me think of the lengthy interview that was included in the Region 2 DVD. I remember Jeremy saying at one point in it, “Something has happened to [Morgan] in his life, we’re not quite sure what, that has made him such a meek soul….” He said it with such compassion. He felt that the character had been shaped and influenced by events in his life—which seems obvious, I know, but I think a lot of actors would just say, “I play a nerd.” (From Ansie)

Later on there’s another gem of a scene in which Morgan wakens in his hotel room to find Rita Foster (Lucy Liu) there to give him instructions. He asks if he can see her again. When she flatly tells him this isn’t possible, Morgan says “I’m never getting out of this, am I?” The hopelessness in his voice and on his face is very affecting, and it seems to touch Rita too, because it leads to their kiss.

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29. The way he was able to do so much with just a few scenes in Creation. Jeremy’s Reverend Innes has relatively little screen time, yet he’s not a two-dimensional character. You get a real sense of his inner struggle between his beliefs and his friendship with Charles Darwin. The scene in the garden with the two men sitting together on a bench is especially well done.

As Rev. Innes, 'Creation' (with Paul Bettany)

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30. The passage in Our Man in Havana where Jim Wormold goes into the American bank—Jeremy’s reading of this scene from the audiobook is priceless! Excerpt from Our Man in Havana:

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31. His entrance as Walter Hagen in Bobby Jones Stroke of Genius. I absolutely love this performance by Jeremy. When Hagen appears, stretched out in the back of his red convertible, still wearing last night’s tux and with a lipstick kiss on his cheek, I can’t help but smile.

As Walter Hagen, 'Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius'

He then proceeds to make everyone wait while he grooms himself (“Genius deserves patience, my friend”), and touches up his chauffeur/caddy for money (“I’m afraid I’m a trifle soft in the treasury”). Next he introduces himself to Bobby, who tells him, “I know who you are. How do you do?” His priceless response is “Better than most, son. Better than most!” Jeremy gets all the best lines in the movie, and he delivers them flawlessly. Hagen could have come off as an arrogant jerk, but in Jeremy’s capable hands he’s an incorrigible scamp you can’t help but like. I cannot resist wicked “Sir” Walter’s mischievous charm! (Chosen by Laura)

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32. Jeremy’s wonderful, intimate, witty reading of “The Aspern Papers,” by one of his own favorites, Henry James. I am completely in love with it. My absolute favorite part, in danger of being worn out from repeat listenings, is the scene where our unscrupulous narrator thinks he’ll take a little look in Miss Bordereau’s “secretary” to see if he can discover (and steal) the elusive Aspern Papers, only to find that the spectral old lady is not asleep, but standing watching him, fully aware of what he is after. For the first time, he sees the old lady’s famed, extraordinary eyes … “she hissed out passionately, furiously, ‘Ah, you publishing scoundrel!’” Jeremy’s voice, barely above a whisper, makes my pulse race and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It’s unforgettable. (From Gill)

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33 Three scenes from his brilliant performance as Sir Thomas More in The Tudors. Jeremy was magnificent in this role, doing justice to a complex historical figure’s legacy. However, these three scenes from the second season are worth particular notice. As in most of Jeremy’s scenes in The Tudors, some of the lines he speaks in each one are the actual words of Thomas More.

First, the visit to More by Bishop Tunstall (Gordon Sterne), who is on a fact-finding mission for King Henry. Jeremy’s every gesture, every expression has a purpose here; nothing is extraneous. “They shall Never Deflower Me”:

A conversation in the Tower between More and Thomas Cromwell. James Frain matches Jeremy note for note; the scene only gets better with repeated viewings. “Cromwell vs. More”:

And the trial scene. Jeremy’s sparse use of anger makes it much more effective when it eventually comes. Watch his face especially at 5:40-6:10 in this clip, as More is condemned to death. “The Trial of Thomas More”:

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34. The luncheon scene from The Statement, in which Jeremy does a wonderful turn at slicing the fish, and his Col. Roux comments that the woman behind him is staring because “it’s the first time she’s seen me in uniform”;

As Col. Roux, 'The Statement'

as well as the sexual tension that simmers just below the surface between Roux and Judge Livi (Tilda Swinton), especially in the overnight problem-solving session (“So, Colonel, we finally get to sleep together.” “I never thought you’d ask.”) and that positively erotic deleted scene where they pass a cigarette back and forth. (Contributed by Joan)

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35. Jeremy’s reading of “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats. Listening to him read this poem, one of my favorites, I can almost hear the nightingale singing his heart out “in full-throated ease.” Jeremy is a gifted poetry reader; his interpretations have given me new insight into poems both well-known and unfamiliar. (Picked by Laura)

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36. These favorite moments from The Misadventures of Margaret, in which Jeremy plays Edward Nathan, the English Lit. professor of your dreams: The way Edward looks at Margaret (Parker Posey) with love and pride when she’s accepting her award and the “lonely” scene where he’s walking around the empty apartment before he decides to join Margaret in France. So sweet! (Chosen by Gammie)

As Edward Nathan, 'Misadventures of Margaret'

And two scenes that show the influence of the 1937 screwball comedy, The Awful Truth, on Misadventures’ screenwriter/director Brian Skeet: at the beginning of the film, the snappy dialogue in the limo and the physical comedy of Edward putting Margaret over his shoulder and carrying her to the elevator come straight from the 1930s. “You’re aging,” Margaret tells her husband of seven years. “You’re helping,” he replies without missing a beat. One of Jeremy’s lines, “Ah, to have used up the best years in a young woman’s life…,” is almost word-for-word the same as one Cary Grant says in The Awful Truth. (From Gammie and Joan) The reconciliation at the end echoes the one in the earlier movie as well, although the Misadventures scene is sweeter. Edward, in dressing gown and bare feet, comes into Margaret’s room and tells her “All I know is that seven years ago, I took a teaching job at City [College] solely to be with you, and somewhere along the line I seem to have forgotten that. I don’t care what’s happened. I’m still in love with you.” (Suggested by Joan; Laura contributed the connection to The Awful Truth) The Reconciliation:

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37. That bittersweet last scene in Possession. Taken directly from A.S. Byatt’s novel, this scene lets the audience in on a secret that none of the characters know: Randolph Henry Ash knew he had a daughter. Jeremy plays the meeting between the two with his usual subtle brilliance. The expression on his face as Ash waves goodbye to the little girl is breathtaking—and heartbreaking!


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38. The way he mixes humor and gravity in his reading of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. Sue Arnold, the audiobooks reviewer for the Guardian said of Jeremy’s reading, “It takes a wise, albeit worthy reader to appreciate that this sort of writing—stark, shocking and often hilarious (washing-up in Paris and being a tramp in London have their funny moments), needs no embellishment.” (Guardian, 12 Feb 2010) Listen to this excerpt for a very funny moment indeed!

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39. Jeremy’s scenes with Ally Walker and William H. Macy in Happy, Texas. We know he has great chemistry with his leading ladies, so it’s no surprise Jeremy and Ally Walker are great together. “Like Some Straight Guy Is Ever Gonna Say That”:

But who knew he’d be so funny and sweet with a guy? The scene where they dance together is a classic, of course, but I also like the comedic interplay between the two men in the scene that sets up their date, where Harry and Chappy go rabbit hunting. Watching these two wonderful actors together is a joy. Harry could have done a lot worse than end up with Chappy! (Chosen by Laura) “If You Were Gay”:

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40. How good he is at love scenes. This must be a nightmare for many actors. There you are, stripped bare (sometimes literally) and you have to kiss someone you may or may not like in a passionate, intimate and convincing way whilst a film crew intrudes to film your every writhing. There’s absolutely no fooling the camera, it reveals all with merciless candor, and yet I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched films and TV dramas and groaned (or laughed!) as the actors fob us off by kissing each other’s chins and generate such lame chemistry that you feel they really must loathe each other, the artifice is revealed and the mood ruined. Not Jeremy. In keeping with his perfectionist attitude to the rest of his work, he is a fabulous film kisser. I could wax lyrical at greater length but perhaps a film clip will allow you to be the best judge! All I’ll add is my grateful thanks to him! (Contributed by Gill) Jeremy and Jennifer Ehle setting the screen on fire in Possession:

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41. He is absolutely the best at on-screen kissing! I remember, at one of the sites dedicated to Jeremy, a discussion of how he should give lessons to another (unnamed here) actor. There was no shortage of volunteers to help with the demonstration! (Chosen by Robyn) He got to kiss two leading ladies in The Golden Bowl, Kate Beckinsale and Uma Thurman, but it’s the ones with Uma’s Charlotte that are the real scorchers.

As Prince Amerigo, 'the Golden Bowl' (with Uma Thurman)

With Uma Thurman

And then there’s this kiss from Carrington, with Emma Thompson.

As Beacus Penrose, 'Carrington' (with Emma Thompson)

Even this sweet one between Mr. Knightley and his Emma has some passion to it.

As Mr. Knightley, 'Emma' (with Gwyneth Paltrow)

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42. Those smoldering kisses between Lily and Philip in Voices from a Locked Room, like the one at the piano, when Lily first visits Philip’s apartment, and the one on the train going to his mother’s house, when he proposes to her. (Suggested by Gammie)

As Philip Hesteltine, 'Voices from a Locked Room' (with Tushka Bergen)

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43. The way Jeremy uses his hands. The best example I can think of is when Randolph Henry Ash unlaces Christabel’s corset in Possession. Is there a more seductive moment on screen? (Chosen by Robyn)

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44. That wonderfully expressive face that conveys so much of a character’s inner life to the audience. Happy, Texas director Mark Illsley said he thought Jeremy “was the kind of actor who could do really small things really beautifully.” Jeremy Northam is not a scenery chewer. Oh, he can command the “big” moments with the best of them, but where he really excels is in the kind of scene I’ve taken to calling his How Does He Do That? moments. These are scenes where Jeremy uses the subtlest changes of facial expression to communicate volumes about his character’s mental and emotional state. There are many of these remarkable moments I could use as examples. Think of Mr. Knightley’s jealousy of Frank Churchill in the recital scene in Emma. Or, from The Tudors, Sir Thomas More’s despair when his daughter Margaret visits him in the Tower and begs him to take the Oath of Supremacy.

As Thomas More, 'The Tudors'

Or Matt Proctor’s anger and disgust as he listens to his patient Carla’s boyfriend explain why he can’t handle her paralysis in Miami Medical. None of these characters needs to state how he feels because the look on the man’s face has already said all we need to know. I’m in awe of Jeremy’s ability to portray so much so quietly. (Contributed by Laura)

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45. The irresistible Northam Smile! Look at it—it pierces you to the heart!

And he smiles a lot, that man. There is a saying: “A Smile is worth 1000 Words”; only too true in his case is all I can say. And Jeremy has mastered all the nuances of smiling: dangerous, secretive, heartfelt, dreamy, waggish, dashing, tender, knowing, naughty, shy…that list of adjectives could be continued as you like.

There is the little, hinted smirk—a barely visible, more one-sided twist of the corner of the mouth, accompanied by the proverbial twinkle of the eyes, along the lines of “If you could read my mind just now”.

Or that big grin, however the lips are tightly closed, as if somebody is perhaps afraid to show too much zeal? The easy laugh is only allowed to the eyes… “No, not a single syllable will leave my mouth!”

And then the gentle, calm smile, which shows the luscious but manly lips to their best advantage (ahem), with a stare into the distance, or you can call it a cutaway view, as if he wants to say:

I exist as I am, that is enough,

If no other in the world be aware I sit content,

And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware, and by the far the largest to me, and that is myself,

And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years,

I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness, I can wait.

―Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”

(Recited by Jeremy himself in The Misadventures of Margaret) (Contributed by Martina)

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46. All these great smiles:

As Anthony Jordan, 'A Village Affair'

As Edward Nathan, 'Misadventures of Margaret'

As Mr. Knightley, 'Emma'

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47. And all the Northam Smiles in this wonderful video by Princessamerigo. “When Jeremy Smiles”:

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48. His beautiful, silky voice. Even when reading various characters in his audiobook performances, his gorgeous resonant voice shines through! As adaptable as his voice is, it always sounds great. (suggested by Gammie) Here’s an excerpt from “For Special Services” by John Gardner.

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49. His wonderful and rich singing voice. As Ivor Novello in Gosford Park, Jeremy so delighted us when he performed several of Novello’s songs that we perk up our ears whenever a Northam character breaks into song—usually for just a few short bars—like Miami Medical’s Dr. Matt Proctor singing “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover,” or the Rev. Innes leading the congregation in “All Things Bright and Beautiful” in Creation. In Gosford Park, Jeremy handles the jaunty humorous tunes and the serious love songs equally well. And his interpretation of “The Land of Might-Have-Been” is achingly beautiful. (Submitted by Ansie) “The Land of Might-Have-Been”, from the Gosford Park OST:

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50. Because he looks like this!

We love him for his intelligence, his prodigious talent, and the warmth and humor he displays in interviews, but there’s no denying that Jeremy is one beautiful, sexy man. Fifty is going to look fabulous on him!

Thank you for all the wonderful entertainment you’ve given audiences over the years, Jeremy! We eagerly anticipate seeing you next year on television in White Heat and in your return to the stage in Hay Fever.

We wish you a Very Happy 50th Birthday today. May happiness, love, good health, and many choice roles be yours for at least another fifty years!

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Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this special birthday post, and extra special thanks to Laura for having the idea and for curating it so beautifully.

If you’d like to send personal birthday wishes to Jeremy, you can do so at our Just Giving page.

The Voice

1 Jul

Let me say it right now. If a search engine pulled up this post because you’re looking for the American reality-TV singing competition called The Voice, you’re in the wrong place. The only Voice in question here is that of British actor Jeremy Northam. An educated guess on my part says that Mr. Northam would rather have bamboo sticks shoved under his fingernails than sing on a reality show. Well, I’ve never met the man, so for all I know he’s actually pining to be asked to sing on Pop Idol… I just wouldn’t put any money on it, if I were you.

If you’re still reading this then you probably know that the Jer Blog is exactly the right place to be if the subject is great voices. You know that Jeremy’s is a truly glorious voice, one that deserves to be referred to in initial capital letters. So let’s give The Voice our full attention. I mean his speaking voice, of course. Although he was wonderful when he sang as Ivor Novello in Gosford Park, modest Jeremy disparages his singing and sticks to roles that don’t require him to use that particular talent.

It’s not exactly breaking news that his speaking voice causes people to sit up and take notice; critics as well as admirers have long heralded it as one of the features, along with his good looks and oodles of acting talent, that make him such an arresting presence on screen. Adjectives used to describe his voice include melodious, deep, rich, resonant, seductive and mellifluous.

I was a little fuzzy on the exact meaning of that last word, so I looked up mellifluous in my Merriam-Webster’s (11th ed.) and found this definition: “having a smooth rich flow.” Jeremy’s voice certainly does have that quality. The word’s roots are in the Latin for “honey” (mel) and “to flow” (fluere). Honey suggests sweetness, which is also entirely appropriate here. Now add to those ideas my own phrase, “capable of making a grown woman melt into a puddle,” and you’re approaching a good description of the Northam Voice. Don’t take my word for it: a female interviewer once called it “one of the sexiest voices Hollywood has ever pumped through loudspeakers.” I guess she was left feeling a little “puddly” after hearing The Voice, too.

Sir Robert Morton, 'The Winslow Boy'

A great voice is a gift, but Jeremy has taken his gift and honed it like a fine instrument. He has learned how to bring out all its varied qualities and use it to its best advantage. He can make the rafters ring with its most sonorous tones or draw the listener in close with its most intimate murmurs. He can give it the gentle touch of a butterfly’s wing or the hard, cold edge of steel. He can make us laugh with its silliest accents or move us to tears with its heartfelt emotion. Although you can hear the effect time and cigarette smoke have had—it’s deeper and gruffer than it was twenty years ago—his voice has lost none of its strength. Rather the reverse is true, I think. With every year that passes, with each new role, Jeremy comes closer to realizing the full extent of its power.

Dr Matt Proctor, 'Miami Medical'

His voice has been in my mind quite a bit lately, and probably in yours too, because it has been a year since we’ve seen the man—since we saw Dr. Matt Proctor gazing off into the sunshine from the roof of MT One in the final frame of Miami Medical. While going a year without seeing Jeremy Northam is definitely a bad thing, it’s not as bad as going a year without seeing or hearing him. He has at least made his presence felt this past year by putting his splendid voice to excellent use in several audiobooks.

Nor is going a year with only his voice as devastating as it would be if we were talking about a lot of other actors, because Jeremy is an extremely talented audiobook performer. I use the word performer and not reader or narrator purposely; it is the only term that does justice to the way his considerable acting skill brings to life the words on the page. Whether reading narration, exposition or dialogue, he is adept at creating atmosphere and characters by giving his voice various inflections (arch, indignant, dejected) or qualities (raspy, smooth, velvety).

Dean Martin, 'Martin and Lewis'

In an audiobook Jeremy gets to play every part. His use of accents and those wide-ranging voice effects make for characters as vivid as any he’s given us on screen. I don’t need to see gloomy Puddleglum in The Silver Chair or breathy, effete Antony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited to be left helpless with laughter at their comic antics. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, the voice Jeremy gives Jack Miller, the narrator of Dark Matter, is so moving that it literally haunted me for days after I finished listening to Michelle Paver’s ghost story.

For a Master Class on Audiobook Acting just listen to the European Traders’ Association Lunch passage in Our Man in Havana. I’ve lost count of how many different accents and voices he creates in the scene, but it’s a jaw-dropping tour de force which is nonetheless completely in service to the story. Jeremy’s voice effects always add to, and never distract from, our appreciation of an author’s words. For more on his audiobook performances, I refer you to Gill’s excellent Jer Blog reviews of Down and Out in Paris and London, The Aspern Papers, Dark Matter and most recently Homage to Catalonia.

Lane Woolwrap, 'Guy X'

Of course, given our druthers, we like to see as well as hear Jeremy’s acting virtuosity. I’ve been aware for a while now that how a character sounds is part of the persona he creates, but recently, with the audiobook work in the forefront of my mind, I’ve been reconsidering how he utilizes his voice when he’s acting. To what degree does he alter his voice? How? And to what effect?

When I think of Jeremy modifying his voice for a role, his uncanny Dean Martin impersonation in Martin and Lewis leaps to my mind. It shows how completely he can change the way he speaks and sustain it throughout a performance. Another obvious way he changes his voice is the nearly flawless American accent he has adopted for a number of films. Yet think how different from one another Walter Hagen’s heartiness, Morgan Sullivan’s mildness and Lane Woolwrap’s gruffness sound; Jeremy’s not just “doing an American accent” for those roles.

Heseltine and Warlock, 'Voices from a Locked Room'

Now consider his two characters in Voices from a Locked Room; they sound quite unlike each other, too. Philip Heseltine’s smooth, educated accents and Peter Warlock’s deep working-class growl are distinct enough that until we see Warlock for the first time 43 minutes into the film, the secret about the two men is almost as hidden from us as it is from Lily Buxton.

Prince Amerigo, 'The Golden Bowl'

What about the controversial Italian accent Jeremy has as Prince Amerigo in The Golden Bowl? Yes, it’s distracting at first to hear him speak with that accent, but for me it very quickly becomes part of the character, like his beard or the expressive hand gestures. Even if you think it the most ludicrous Italian accent ever perpetrated, which I am far from doing, it serves a vital purpose. It reminds us more effectively than anything else could that Amerigo is a foreigner; and that, however fluent in English he may be, he speaks a different language than the other characters. Without the accent we lose a key to understanding both the Prince’s motivations and also one of the film’s important themes.

Clearly the voice Jeremy chooses for a character isn’t just pulled out of the air; it’s thoughtfully designed to inform the character’s identity and personality. Let’s go back to Morgan Sullivan in Cypher. Changes in his appearance signal the gradual transformation Morgan undergoes as the story progresses, but Jeremy adds to the effect by subtly altering the way he sounds as well. His voice starts out soft, hesitant and with a nasal timbre, a typical nerd’s voice. (You know the line. Say it with me now: “Independent contractor.”) But this quality disappears along with Morgan’s eyeglasses and the Brylcreem in his hair. A slight deepening and strengthening of his voice accompany those visual clues.

With Lucy Liu in 'Cypher'

The best place to examine Jeremy’s vocal dexterity in Cypher is the hotel bar scene. Morgan is chatting with a group of salesmen when he spots Rita Foster sitting at the bar. After he removes his glasses, he sits down next to her, lights up a cigarette and orders a drink. As you watch the scene, he becomes more masculine and attractive. Now try closing your eyes and listening to the scene (yes, I know, but do it anyway!). Compare how he sounds when he’s talking to the other men to when he orders his Scotch, feeds Rita that first line, and begins trying to pick her up. He starts to sound more masculine and attractive, doesn’t he? Until she shuts him down with the “no rings” remark, that is. Then the glasses reappear and so does the nerdy voice. By the end of the movie, when Jeremy looks like a sex god incarnate we shouldn’t be surprised that he thoroughly sounds the part as well. (My definition of a sex god includes a British accent, you see.)

Randolph Henry Ash, 'Possession'

Pick pretty much any character Jeremy has played and you’ll be able to hear the understated changes he makes to his voice to suit the character’s persona. Recently I had occasion to watch Possession and Enigma on successive days and I was struck by not only how different his characters look in the two films but also how different they sound. I started thinking about what makes them sound so different. First, Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash and WWII Secret Service Agent Wigram are obviously distinguishable by their vocabularies and diction. Ash speaks in images such as “a brilliant dusty hutch of mysteries” and “walked the landscape of my life,” while Wigram uses slangy phrases like “crack codebreaker,” “shiny new shooter” and “seeing each other’s brains out.” And they are worlds apart in tone, too. Ash is earnest and heartfelt, while Wigram is sarcastic and detached.

But it’s more than differences in word choice or vocal inflection; Jeremy actually changed his voice to give each character a unique sound. For Ash, he used his lower vocal registers and emphasized what I think of as the “velvet” quality of his voice. Ash’s voice is deep but hushed; it caresses your ear, brushing against it as if it had an actual nap. Wigram’s voice, by contrast, really is smooth as silk. Jeremy accentuated the higher and lighter components of his voice for the snarky spy. Wigram’s words glide and slip insinuatingly into your ear.

Wigram in 'Enigma'

Many other actors would have been content to use their regular speaking voices for these roles. Unlike most of the other parts I mentioned, here there is no absolute reason for an alteration of his voice. He’s not imitating a famous person, establishing a character’s nationality, underscoring a personality change, or distinguishing between two characters he’s playing simultaneously. But nevertheless, he makes Ash sound like a passionate man under the spell of an all-consuming love affair, and he gives Wigram the voice of a man whose job is ferreting out secrets among people he considers his inferiors. Their voices fit these two very different men perfectly. That Jeremy completes the characterizations with his voice shows what a consummate actor he is. It also gives new insight into the famous Northam ability to disappear into a role.

Although I have seen both movies many times, this was the first time I noticed this aspect of Jeremy’s portrayals of Ash and Wigram. The change in his voice is subtle, doesn’t call attention to itself, and yet it is as essential to defining their characters as their hairstyles are. You could no more exchange their voices than you could switch Ash’s flowing mane with Wigram’s clipped and pomaded cut. Just try to imagine hearing Wigram’s voice say ”I know you live very quietly, but I could be quiet.” or Ash’s voice say “Think of all those Polish names in the U.S. of A.”

Completely absurd, isn’t it?

Almost as absurd as trying to imagine any other actor playing R.H. Ash or Wigram. Or trying to imagine Jeremy Northam singing on an American reality-TV show.

by LauraP

The “one of the sexiest voices” quote comes from a JN interview on The Winslow Boy by Jane Wollman Rusoff for Entertainment News Service, 6/1999.

The JN audio recordings I mentioned that aren’t reviewed by Gill elsewhere in the Jer Blog are: The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis, HarperAudio (2004); Brideshead Revisited (abridged), by Evelyn Waugh, CSA Word (2008); Our Man in Havana, by Graham Greene, CSA Word (2009). They are readily available from the usual outlets in both CD and downloadable audio format, as is most of JN’s superb audiobook work.

As always, thanks to Gill for allowing me to contribute to the Jer Blog and for doing such a terrific job choosing the pictures that accompany my posts.

The Rules of the Park: Gosford Park, The Rules of the Game

23 Jun

Robert Altman famously cited The Rules of the Game (La Règle du Jeu) (1939), by French director Jean Renoir, as his chief inspiration for Gosford Park (2001). That is pretty obvious upon watching both the films. They both involve a large ensemble cast playing servants and masters on a shooting week-end at a country house.

While Gosford Park is bound to the conventions of a murder mystery, Rules is bound to the conventions of a French farce. Both films sport complicated plots told in an oblique way, with little pieces of plot exposition “overheard” in snippets as the restless camera moves throughout these people’s lives.  Altman made this style of filmmaking his trademark. Renoir on the other hand, was a revelation to me. I’d seen his Grand Illusion in a college course. I wasn’t prepared for something as contemporary feeling as Rules delivers. The irony is that part of my feeling is actually owing to my familiarity with Altman, who is borrowing heavily from Renoir.

The two films have many scenes and characters that line up in synchronicity with one another. Both contain a scene in which a servant announces their master’s dietary peculiarities to a bemused kitchen staff. Both films play the scene for comedy, but I find it interesting, if not particularly important, that in the English country house the orders are obeyed, while the French cook sneers that “I can allow for diets, not obsessions.” I think I might get that stitched on a pillow. In Rules of the Game one of characters is Andre, a famous aviator. His counterpart in Gosford Park is Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) who like Andre, is also famous, self-made and despised by the titled aristocracy as a climber. Though they invite the outsiders in to add a bit of glamour to their week-end, they make it clear that they exist apart from their so-called betters. Novello is kind to Mabel, a woman whose cash-strapped husband is cheating on her and whose position is so tenuous as to be mocked by everyone including the servants. The moment stands out in a film that is all about the nuances of correct behavior, because it is a rare instance of a person actually being nice. One can be polite, the film says, and be mean as hell. In Rules of the Game, the Marquis takes a shine to a poacher about to be punished for killing rabbits on his land. He not only lets the fellow off but gives him a job on his staff and helps him out of a jam involving a married ladies’ maid. In the end, though, noblesse oblige only goes so far and the Marquis has to dismiss the poacher because the fellow takes it too far, driving the maid’s husband into a shooting spree.

Both films take place in the 1930s, prior or the Second World War and reportedly satirize the upper class that was enjoying its last hurrah before the war and encroachment of the middle class. And both films, weirdly, end up falling a bit in love with the upper class creatures they are meant to savage. After Renoir’s hunting scene, where he shows crowds of bunnies and pheasants blasted by ladies and gentlemen in tweed suits, the director doesn’t really follow through. He shows us these people, warts and all, and the result is that we like them. Altman shows us upper class parodies like Dame Maggie Smith’s Lady Trentham, who is best described as a bitch on wheels. By the end of the film, though, he has revealed her fragility and we see her as a weak old lady who has to rely entirely on a paid employee for companionship.

I was reminded of my one and only experience with the titled aristocracy. My husband, then-boyfriend, and I were invited to spend the week-end at the estate of the Earl of Perth, by the Earl’s grandson. I went into the week-end with an American-sized  chip on my shoulder. On the first evening of our visit, His Lordship did nothing to alleviate my prejudices. He fussed about my drinking a glass of Scotch by addressing my boyfriend as if I weren’t in the room, and gave me a pictorial magazine to look at as if I were incapable of reading a newspaper or joining in the masculine conversation about world events. I fumed privately that the French had the right idea in their revolution. By the second afternoon, I began to change my mind as the Earl, dressed like Bertie Wooster on Jeeves’ day off, announced that we should all go into to town in the Purple Emperor (his name for the purple mini van in which he was driven about the county) to purchase corduroy trousers, an adventure which was quashed (to my eternal regret) by his grandson. Later that day he took me aside to show me his treasured collection of ladies’ scrapbooks, some dating from the 18th century, which held the botanical pressings of generations of the female members of his family. That night, he even let me have my dram of whiskey without comment. In short, it can be difficult to hate the gentry once you get to know them. I feel like that is what Renoir and Altman ended up deciding as well.

Since this will be posted on a Jeremy Northam fan blog, chances are that most of you are, like me, more familiar with the imitator than the original. While Gosford Park stands on its own as an independent work of art, it makes it richer when you understand that it is an homage. I’m loathe to say one is better than the other.  Both are fantastic, inventive and so dense with action and detail that rewards repeat viewing.

by Jenny The Nipper

Author of three books about classic film stars published under the name “Jenny Curtis,” Jenny is equally well-known in the world of classic movie geekdom as “Nipper.” If you’ve ever seen Bringing Up Baby or The Awful Truth, you may remember “Jerry the Nipper” on which the nom de blog is an obvious pun.

Jenny’s blog, Cinema OCD, which describes itself as ‘The Aristocrat of motion picture blogs’  is packed with wonderful reviews of classic movies. I highly recommend a visit.

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