Tag Archives: cinema

Happy Birthday to Jeremy Northam!

1 Dec

Big, big, BIG Happy Birthday to Jeremy!

This time last year, a few of us pondered how to mark Jeremy’s birthday, and whether or not a gift should be sent. After putting ourselves in his position and suspecting that a gift from some possibly slightly unhinged complete strangers would probably not be deeply appreciated, instead we composed a silly birthday poem, posted it online and sent the link to someone who was working with Jeremy. It’s highly likely that he never got to see it (we never heard), but working on the premise that it’s the thought that counts and remembering that it was fun to do, it’s all fine.

This year, needless to say and rather wisely, the slightly unhinged strangers have not been invited to Jeremy’s birthday party, so we’re having our own celebration right here!

To kick us off in style, here is PrincessAmerigo’s latest video, made especially for Jeremy’s birthday, on behalf of all of us who frequent Jeremy Northam Chat. Thank you Agi!

As it’s close to Christmas, I’m thinking of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (it should be illegal not to watch that movie at this time every year). Can you imagine what might have been had the wonderful happenstance of Jeremy’s birth not taken place? ‘Emma’, without Jeremy as Knightley? They might have cast Hugh Grant instead, the actor that David Thomson describes as ‘an incipient sneeze looking for a vacant nose’*. Or ‘The Winslow Boy’ without Jeremy’s Sir Robert Morton? The whole subtext of sexual attraction between Sir Robert and Catherine would not have been there (that was Jeremy’s suggestion). I can’t even bring myself to imagine ‘Miami Medical’ without Jeremy as Proctor, that would break my heart … Actually, this whole exercise breaks my heart, so I’m going to stop before I become the party’s maudlin weeping drunk! I only want happy tears at this party!

So, let’s get tipsy on reasons to celebrate that this wonderful actor was born 49 years ago today!

Robert Altman, Director ‘Gosford Park’, of Jeremy as Ivor Novello:
I think this performance by Jeremy Northam is one of the, really, best performances I’ve ever seen in a film.

As Ivor Novello in 'Gosford Park'

Norman Jewison, Director of ‘The Statement’:
I just wanted him so bad. I went to him and told him, I didn’t know why, but I desperately wanted him to play this role. He was one of the first people I cast.

Vincenzo Natali, Director of ‘Cypher’:
I cast Jeremy not particularly because he’s British but because he’s one of the few leading men who is also a character actor. We needed those two things in the person who played Morgan Sullivan because he does transform so dramatically through the course of the film. I think if people who haven’t seen the movie were shown a scene from the beginning and then a scene from the end I don’t know that they would recognise Jeremy because he really did disappear into the role. I was very lucky to get him, he did an amazing job.

With William H Macy in 'Happy, Texas'

William H. Macy, co-star, ‘Happy, Texas’:
He’s completely charming, so good looking. He’s got this great mellifluous voice. There’s something compelling about Jeremy, it’s quite easy to watch him … I just loved dancing with him. He’s a tall drink of water. It was a little rough on the do-si-do’s ’cause he’s about 3 feet taller than I am.

Francesca Hunt, Literary Editor at Silksoundbooks, of working with Jeremy on audiobooks of ‘The Aspern Papers’ and ‘The Real Thing and Other Stories’:
We had a superb time working with Jeremy, as I imagine most do … Jeremy was a classic case of a very clever man suggesting some superb choices … He read the Henry James beautifully, he would read a railway timetable pretty well, obviously, but the fact that he knew and loved (the work of Henry) James quite as well as he did added immeasurably to the recording and to the pleasure of preparing the piece. It was such a good experience that we went on to record a second series of short stories with him all suggested by Jeremy himself … He is a lovely and an intelligent man and it was a great pleasure working with him.

Jeffrey Lieber, creator of ‘Miami Medical’:
He’s an incredibly talented man who brought a lot to the show. I, like you, look forward to what he chooses to do next.

And most recently, here is what legendary film writer David Thomson has to say about Jeremy in the 2010 edition of  ‘The New Biographical Dictionary of Film’:
… In the late 1980s, he had a great stage success in ‘The Voysey Inheritance’ and he played Stanhope in a TV revival of ‘Journey’s End’ (88, Michael Simpson). He is tall, dark and handsome in an old-fashioned way that has brought him a good many period roles. But he has a quietness and an ease that are not just unusual – they are intelligence itself. He is a star in waiting, increasingly versatile and inclined to take big gambles in his material. He runs the risk of making nearly everything seem easy, but proper recognition will come.

He was in the TV series Wish Me Luck (88-9) and then he played Hindley Earnshaw in ‘Wuthering Heights’ (92, Peter Kosminsky); Beacus Penrose in ‘Carrington’ (95, Christopher Hampton); went to America for ‘The Net’ (95, Irwin Winkler), with Sandra Bullock; ‘Voices’ (95, Malcolm Clarke), outstanding as Mr. Knightley in ‘Emma’ (96, Douglas McGrath); ‘ Mimic’ (97, Guillermo Del Toro); ‘Amistad’ (97, Steven Spielberg).

With Sean Hayes in 'Martin and Lewis'

He was funny with Parker Posey in ‘The Misadventures of Margaret’ (98, Brian Skeet) and with Steve Zahn in ‘Happy, Texas’ (99, Mark Illsley), but no one has really explored that potential. So he did ‘Gloria’ (99, Sidney Lumet); Chiltern in ‘An Ideal Husband’ (99, Oliver Parker); the barrister in ‘The Winslow Boy’ (99, David Mamet) – nearly comically cool; the Prince in ‘The Golden Bowl’ (00, James Ivory) – icily hot. He did ‘Enigma’ (01, Michael Apted); Ivor Novello – singing very well—in ‘Gosford Park’ (01, Robert Altman); ‘Possession’ (02, Neil LaBute); ‘Cypher’ (01, Vincenzo Natali).

Then for TV, he did his best work – suave but shy, as Dean Martin in ‘Martin and Lewis’ (02, John Gray) …

And finally, from me … you all know by now (oh please don’t yawn!) that I think Jeremy is an extremely talented actor, one of the very best, and one whose ‘great role’ is still to come (and it will come, I’m sure of that). I hardly need mention his great beauty and presence on screen. But what makes him so special for me? Why is it more than a fangirl crush? I could try to put it into some coherent form, but for me to be too analytical about it might destroy the magic; I’m not sure I really want to know! Whatever it is that Jeremy does and however it is that he does it, all I can say is that I know of no-one else whose performances affect me in the same way. Maybe this quote from my favourite writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, is worth adding: ‘Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child; it is there that he changes the atmosphere and tenor of his life.’

So, time to top up those glasses and toast Mr Northam:

Jeremy, we wish you the Happiest of Birthdays, and many, many more, and we thank you for all your wonderful work and all that it gives us.

Please add your own birthday wishes and appreciation for Jeremy by leaving a comment. I can’t promise that he’ll see it, but it’s the thought that counts!

*2010 edition of  ‘The New Biographical Dictionary of Film’

by Gill

Thanks to Joan aka Hazel P, to Debra, to Martina, and to Linnie, all of whom have provided material used in this post

Well done, Mr. Northam! A Review of the Movie Emma

27 Jul

I was delighted that the first film chosen for the weekly Jeremy Northam Night was Emma. It is entirely appropriate that Mr. Knightley start us off, since this is perhaps still Jeremy’s best known and most beloved role. (Yes, I hear the cries of “Sir Robert Morton! Sir Robert Morton!” But he’ll have to wait his turn.) For me personally, Emma is significant as the movie that made me sit up and take notice of this handsome and talented actor; it was my “where has this guy been all my life?!” moment. And from what I’ve been reading lately, I’m not alone in this. Seems as though quite a few of you were “Jeremyized” while watching Emma too.

My favorite adaptation of my favorite novel by my favorite author

Just so you know where I stand, this is my favorite adaptation of my favorite novel by my favorite author. Now, this isn’t The Jane Blog, so I won’t go into why Emma is considered Jane Austen’s masterpiece or debate her place in the canon of Western literature. There is a universe of information available about Austen, written by people with far better credentials than I have. If you’re interested, I’ve recommended several great resources below.

I also don’t want to compare and contrast the three most recent screen adaptations—the other two being the 1996 A&E Kate Beckinsale/Mark Strong version scripted by Andrew Davies and the 2009 BBC production starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller using Sandy Welch’s screenplay. To me, the mark of a great work of literature is that it admits many different interpretations. So I think all three adaptations have their merits and deserve viewing. They are all valid “readings” of the book. But it is the 1996 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and our Mr. N, written and directed by Douglas McGrath, that I believe best captures the humor and wit of the novel and the spirit of the characters created by Jane Austen.

I like this production’s light touch; it isn’t afraid to show how funny Austen’s brilliantly sharp observations of human foibles are. We have a tendency to rate as “important” only serious and somber books or films. I think this is a mistake. It seems to me that in life, truths, whether universally acknowledged or not, are as often accompanied by laughter as they are by tears.

Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma and Jeremy Northam as Knightley

It’s not the definitive screen Emma. To fit into the confines of a two-hour movie, it has to give short shrift to several characters (John and Isabella Knightley are almost totally gone) and omit some key scenes from the book. Most notably missing are the alphabet puzzle scene where Frank Churchill and Emma embarrass Jane Fairfax with the word “Dixon” and its follow-up scene, where Knightley suggests to Emma that there’s something going on between Frank and Jane and she in turn tells him he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. What does remain of the story works as a coherent whole, however. Even without those scenes, we understand the characters and their motivations.

Emma and Harriet

What this adaptation does best is portray the relationship between Jane Austen’s heroine and hero. Douglas McGrath has understood an essential point about these characters. Knightley chooses to spend a great deal of his time with the Woodhouses at Hartfield, and I seriously doubt it is done solely out of a sense of family obligation and respect. Nor do I think Mr. Woodhouse is the main attraction! No, Knightley enjoys Emma’s company; they consider one another to be friends. They tease each other: “Really, Mr. Knightley you are so comical you ought to perform in the town square.” And they share a private joke: “Your playing was lovely. It was…’very elegant’.” Although he is sixteen years older and therefore has more experience of life, in intelligence and wit Emma is very much his equal. The argument over Harriet Smith and Robert Martin is a well-matched one, even if Emma is the one in the wrong. It ends because Knightley walks away, not because he’s made his point. McGrath shows us the range of their relationship, not just Knightley’s frustration at Emma’s faults. When they finally realize their true feelings, it seems natural and right that these two people should love each other.

An equal partnership

The movie is blessed with a wonderful ensemble of actors. The standouts in the cast are the ones who get the biggest laughs. I adore Alan Cumming’s silly swain of a Mr. Elton, Juliet Stevenson’s sumptuously vulgar Mrs. Elton and, most of all, Sophie Thompson’s tirelessly grateful and chattering Miss Bates. But no one really strikes a false note. Even Toni Collette only looks different from Austen’s description of Harriet Smith. Her portrayal of the naive Harriet has just the right mixture of sweetness and silliness. I may take some flak for saying this, but Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance as Emma has really grown on me. Described by Austen as the heroine “whom no one but myself will much like,” Emma is meant to be irritating to us, especially at the beginning of the story. (I know what some of you are thinking right now: “Well, she did a bang-up job of it!”) But I do think Gwyneth ably manages the character’s emotional journey to self-knowledge and humility.

Gwyneth ably manages the character’s emotional journey to self-knowledge and humility

Of course, Jeremy Northam has a great deal to do with why I prefer this version to the other two. I know I won’t get any arguments here if I say that he is film’s greatest asset. That he brought his usual intelligent and thoughtful consideration to the part of Mr. Knightley is evident in the interviews he gave at the time. One of his thoughts on Knightley reminded me that this is someone whose university degree is in English literature: …[H]e has learned to be altruistic, he has learned to be kind and selfless and for various reasons, which aren’t really explained in the book. I imagine that his life has somehow become circumscribed by duty and responsibility—so much so that he has to learn to be selfless and I think in the course of the story he has to learn to be selfish again. I hadn’t thought of Knightley in those terms, nor had I encountered anything like it in any of the literary criticism of the book I’ve read. With such insight into the character, it’s no wonder Jeremy’s is considered the definitive Mr. Knightley!

Jeremy Northam, the definitive Knightley

That he looks the part certainly helps, too. Jane Austen doesn’t give us much of a physical description of any of her characters, Knightley included, so it isn’t in appearance that Jeremy fits the role. (In fact, some Austenites found him to be too young, too short and too pretty. But that’s just ridiculous nitpicking, if you ask me.) No, most of Austen’s description of her hero has to do with his manner: he’s a “sensible man of seven or eight and thirty” with “a cheerful manner,” “a fine air and way of walking.” He has a “downright, decided, commanding sort of manner” and a “tall, firm, upright figure.” Emma tells Harriet “You might not see one in a hundred, with gentleman so plainly written as in Mr. Knightley.” The emphasis is Austen’s but it just as well might be mine. We know that Mr. Knightley was her favorite among her six male protagonists. His name is not an accident; in him she created her ideal English Regency gentleman. This is where Jeremy’s famous ability to “disappear” into a role comes into play. His posture, his walk, the placement of his hands, angle of his head and expressions on his face all say “perfect English gentleman.” He’s graceful yet masculine, dapper without being foppish. And every time he sits down, he elegantly flips the tails of his coat behind him! Watch other contemporary actors playing Regency characters: almost to a man they plop themselves down on their coattails without a thought. In fact, some actors in Austen adaptations look so uncomfortable it’s clear they’re wearing a costume whereas Jeremy looks so natural, you’d swear he’s been dressing this way all his life. He pays attention to details, so that unfamiliar period clothing enhances his performance instead of getting in the way. (By all means, pause here and contemplate just how to-die-for gorgeous he looks in those Regency clothes!).

Nor does unfamiliar language pose a problem. Jeremy’s experience with the wordy plays of Shakespearean and Restoration drama makes him very much at home with the dialogue of Douglas McGrath’s screenplay. And it is in the screenplay that this adaptation shines. McGrath wisely uses Jane Austen’s words as much as possible, paraphrasing the dialogue only where necessary. There is a certain otherwise-exemplary Austen adaptation that frustrates me greatly because the screenwriter seems to have a perverse need to rewrite the author’s famous lines. It’s like going to see Hamlet and hearing the melancholy Dane say: “I think I’m going to kill myself, but I can’t decide.” I’m willing to bet you’d walk out of that performance! That’s not a problem here: McGrath has a genius for finding the most memorable lines and editing out what he can’t use. When he does change Austen’s language it is either to shorten a speech, to help the flow of the words when spoken, or to update syntax or vocabulary. Occasionally, he actually improves a line. The famous “Badly done, Emma! Badly done.” was originally “It was badly done indeed!” With Jeremy’s pitch-perfect delivery—the second “Badly done” softly spoken, sad rather than angry—it becomes the most memorable sentence in the whole film. McGrath even adds in a few of his own lines that are quite Austen-worthy: “Emma, you didn’t ask me to contribute a riddle [for Harriet’s book].” “Your entire personality is a riddle, Mr. Knightley. I thought you overqualified.”

'Badly done, Emma, badly done'

If Jane Austen were able to see this version of her novel, I think she would be pleased—although I’m sure she’d have a few snarky remarks to make about Hollywood and its machinations. Mostly, though, I think she’d ask, “Pray tell me, who is this Mr. Northam? He is quite delightful! Where else might I view his work? Such a noble profile!” Yep. Jane Austen would be thoroughly Jeremyized, too! She’d probably want to write a review for this blog.

Miss Austen would approve

Here’s a wonderful online resource for Austen fans:

The Republic of Pemberley will connect you to most anything in the known universe related to Jane Austen.

And here are two books to treasure:

Jane Austen: the World of Her Novels
, by Deidre Le Faye (published in the US by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. in 2002) Gorgeous illustrations!

A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen
, edited by Susannah Carson. (Random House, 2009) Gathers essays by everyone from E.M. Forster to Amy Heckerling (the director of the movie Clueless).

by LauraP

Jeremy Northam Night no. 3: what do you fancy?

26 Jul

Last Friday’s Jeremy Northam Night had us all basking in the warm glow of a nice glass of Tokay, as we watched Dean Spanley. It’s one of those movies you can never tire of watching, and it surprises you with something new every time. Even now, earnest discussions are taking place about Young Fisk and the laundry maid…

This week, we’re choosing between Possession, The Misadventures of Margaret, and Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius. Here’s a little information about each to help you make up your mind…

Possession (dir. Neil LaBute, 2002) is adapted from AS Byatt’s best selling, Man Booker prize-winning, novel. It follows two couples: a pair of academics from the present who stumble upon a possible connection between the other couple, two Victorian poets. Jeremy and Jennifer Ehle are wonderfully passionate and charismatic as the Victorians, a frosty Gwyneth Paltrow and a slightly miscast Aaron Eckhart are the modern academics. Paltrow and Eckhart follow the clues and uncover the details of the Victorians’ secret affair, whilst embarking upon a relationship of their own. Of necessity, Byatt’s dense and elaborate novel is simplified for the screen, but this is not to the movie’s detriment, on the whole.

Jeremy as poet Randolph Henry Ash in Possession

Here’s what director Neil LaBute had to say about Jeremy’s performance in Possession:

Jeremy made such an excellent Ash I just felt that they (JN and Jennifer Ehle)…just conveyed the weight of the times, the Victorian era and I believed them as writers and as people who were challenged by their lives and the choices that they made.
He (Jeremy) is one of those actors who has such a melodious voice. He reminds me of Richard Burton in a number of ways. He’s such a fine actor and a deeply moving one. Particularly in this part he is so warm and great.
He was really adept at creating the spirit of this guy without even having the other actor to work with. He was just very moving. When we went to shoot this (the final scene when Ash meets the daughter) I think it was a big culmination for his character as well and he really showed the weight of what had happened from the first time he met Christabel until this moment with the way he dealt with this little girl.

JennyTheNipper recently reviewed Possession for us, if you’d like to know more: Jenny’s Possession review.

The Misadventures of Margaret (dir. Brian Skeet, 1998) is another literary adaptation. Based on Cathleen Schine’s novel, Rameau’s Niece, it tells the story of novelist Margaret Nathan (Parker Posey). Margaret is married to Englishman Edward (Jeremy), who is a university lecturer and likes to quote poetry. Margaret has written one successful book, and while attempting to write a steamy follow up, she suspects Edward of having an affair and contemplates several of her own. She ricochets between her wild, erotic fantasies and the frustrations of her real life.

Jeremy Northam and Parker Posey

The director is obviously attempting to capture some of the style and sophistication of 40’s and 50’s movies, with Margaret looking and sounding like an even more brittle Katherine Hepburn (but sadly lacking her charm). There are classic movie posters plastering the walls of the Nathans’ apartment, and the movie is accompanied by the retro music of St Etienne. Somehow, it doesn’t quite all work, though there are some scenes where the wit and quirky humour hit the spot. There are some seriously mis-judged scenes, but there is still much to be enjoyed (especially if you own the German, uncut version…). Jeremy is utterly charming as Edward Nathan, though you may be left wondering what he sees in Margaret. If you are unable to source a copy of the DVD, the entire movie is on YouTube.

And now we come to Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius (dir. Rowdy Herrington, 2004) and we really are firmly into ‘I’m only watching this because Jeremy is in it’ territory. The movie tells the life story of revered golfing legend Bobby Jones (a bland Jim Caviezel). Jones overcomes many obstacles in his struggles to reach the top of his game, but never relinquishes his amateur status (unlike money-grabbing peer and rival Walter Hagen, who is played with relish by Jeremy) and retires at only 28 years old. Jones later founded the Augusta National, and sadly succumbed to syringomyelia.

The movie is made with too much reverence, and Caviezel plays Jones with too little charm (whilst sporting one of the most atrocious wigs seen in film). But, but, but Jeremy’s performance as Hagen, golf’s bad boy, is a delight! Think Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk, plus a golf club. Hagen is the movie’s one redeeming feature, I’m afraid. And I quite like golf!

Scott Tobias of The AV Club says:

As the film closes with a grueling succession of golf highlights, with no one tournament distinguished from the next, Jones’ unimpeachable decency does nothing to raise the dramatic stakes. To judge from Stroke Of Genius, he was great husband, a great sportsman, a great champion, and a spectacular bore.

I’m aware that I haven’t really recommended Bobby Jones, but there will be some of you who will enjoy it, and if you haven’t seen it before, it’s worth catching Jeremy’s performance.

But don’t take my word for it, live dangerously, try something new and make up your own mind! Here’s where to vote:  Vote for Jeremy Northam Night’s movie for this week.

by henrysmummy2003

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