Tag Archives: Jeremy Northam Chat

Jeremy Northam: Just Call Him the “Intellectualizer”

11 Sep

A bit of silliness for the unofficial end of summer from yours truly, LauraP

So, get me. I’m reading Henry James! Last weekend was Labor Day Weekend, the American holiday that signals the end of summer—but was I reading a romance or a thriller or some other summer brain candy-type book? No. I was making my way through the carefully constructed complex and compound sentences of James’ The Aspern Papers.

Henry James? That's a coincidence...

Being a regular reader of this blog, if I say at this point that I have a confession to make, you can probably guess what it is. I wasn’t actually reading The Aspern Papers. Jeremy Northam was doing the reading and I was just following along in my copy of the novella. Gill, the founder of the Jer Blog who kindly lets me contribute my thoughts here, had been waxing rhapsodic to me for a few weeks about Jeremy’s reading of Henry James’ work. Her recent post about it may have sent you dashing off to SilkSoundbooks for your own copy of Jeremy’s Aspern Papers.

But Labor Day, and its associations of beaches and cookouts and one last grasp at fun before we go back to the Everyday Grind, juxtaposed with reading one of the most challenging writers in the English language, got me thinking. How many intellectual pursuits have I undertaken because the name Jeremy Northam was attached to it in some way?

I remembered a thread at Jeremy Northam Chat a while back where we were discussing how his involvement in a project has led us to expand our knowledge of a related subject—the time period one of his movies was set in, a literary work he did an audio version of, an historical figure he played. As I started to make a list of them all, I noticed he’s been the motivation behind quite a few of my more “cerebral” activities in recent years. More than I realized.

Now, I’m a fairly intelligent, well-educated person. I read a great deal—and not just romances and thrillers! I do tackle intellectual projects of my own volition. For example, my interest in gardening with native plants has led me to read works on botany, entomology and ecology. I’ve amassed quite a lot of knowledge about the native plants of my region and the benefits of using those natives instead of exotic imported plants in gardens.

But that’s only one puny thing on my side of the scale; the other side of the scale is completely overbalanced by a heap of Jeremy-motivated items. And here I thought I was an intellectual. Turns out it was Jeremy all along. The guy’s a regular one-man Enlightenment! I’ve taken to calling him my “Intellectualizer.”

Intellectualizer? I like it!

So, here are the mind-improving pursuits I’ve embarked on in the name of Northam:

Some are subjects I was already interested in, where Jeremy came along and spurred me to further reading. I was already a Jane Austenite when the movie Emma and his Mr. Knightley changed my life forever and I’d read Possession before his R.H. Ash swept me off my feet. I’d visited Brideshead Revisited and was already well versed in the Romantic poets when Jeremy’s superlative readings made me feel I’d only skimmed the surface of Waugh’s novel or Keats’ and Shelley’s poetic works.

As RH Ash in Possession

Others are things only Jeremy could tempt me to try. I’d dismissed Graham Greene after agonizing over The Power and the Glory in high school, so only rave reviews of his audiobook by some of you got me to listen to Our Man in Havana. (What an absolute delight that is, too. Don’t miss it!) A similar traumatic experience with W. Somerset Maugham and Of Human Bondage didn’t stop me from seeking out The Moon and Sixpence at the mere mention of Jeremy’s name being attached to a film version of the novel. That project seems to have died and gone to Development Limbo, but I enjoyed reading the book and trying to decide which character he would have played.

With Jeremy’s charming help, I have gamely tackled writers with the reputation for being inaccessible. The aforementioned Mr. James’ Golden Bowl was easier to plow through with Prince Amerigo to lead the way, and a CD of breathtaking readings brought to life the unique rhythms and vocabulary of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry for me. There do seem to be limitations to Jeremy’s power, I’m sorry to say. After two tries I still haven’t been able to get through Tristram Shandy. I’m so ashamed. Can you forgive me, Jer?

As Sir Thomas More in The Tudors

Jeremy’s gifted portrayals of Sir Thomas More in The Tudors and Rev. John Innes in Creation sent me scurrying to the library for biographies of More and Charles Darwin to learn more about these fascinating men. By the way, I love the confession by Paul Bettany, who played Darwin in Creation, that he read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species mostly because he knew interviewers on the movie’s press tour would be sure to ask him if he had. Now there’s motivation for you!

And then there are the little bits of Jeremy-related information that cling to my brain as if superglued there. No, I don’t mean the man’s birthday or his shoe size; the former is common knowledge around here and the latter is largely irrelevant. I mean things like what Brugada Syndrome is. When a relative was diagnosed with Brugada this summer, I knew a bit about it because of the Golden Hour episode of Miami Medical. My father was all ready to tell me about this rare condition no one’s ever heard of. He was dumbfounded that I had heard of it. Thank you, Dr. Proctor.

And at a cookout this past weekend—I didn’t spend the whole time closeted away with Henry James—the subject of Scotland came up. One of my relatives was trying to describe the unique bunkers at St. Andrews golf course. I could help him out because I so adore Jeremy’s wicked Walter Hagen that I’ve seen (parts of) Bobby Jones: Strokes of Genius at least a dozen times. My family has decided that I know the weirdest collection of facts imaginable. I’m not about to tell them the common thread is a British actor born December 1, 1961.

In case you’re wondering, there IS one subject Jeremy won’t be motivating me to pursue. Math. I’m allergic to all higher forms of mathematics, a complete math idiot. You couldn’t get me to solve an algebraic equation for X if it were written on his bare chest. Well…maybe if he asked me nicely, I might give it a try. Wait a minute! What am I saying? If Jeremy Northam is standing in front of me shirtless, the very last thing I’m going to be thinking about is math!

After all, woman doesn’t live by intellect alone.

by LauraP

Dark goings on all round for this week’s Jeremy Northam Night choices

23 Aug

Our poll is open for this week’s Jeremy Northam Night (see the link at the foot of this post) and we have three incredibly diverse performances from Jeremy to choose from.

Gosford Park (2001, dir. Robert Altman), in which Jeremy played a fictionalised version of the composer and actor Ivor Novello, is one of his most well-known movie roles, and it ranks amongst his best.

Gosford Park is a murder mystery set in a large country house in 1932, boasts the most eye-wateringly starry cast, and for the first half of the movie, is the most wonderful, almost fly-on-the-wall, observation of the life of the house and its occupants (both upstairs and down), with all the politics and undercurrents, comedy and tragedy such a place contains. The movie was inspired by the crime novels of Agatha Christie, and scripted by Julian Fellowes from Altman and Bob Balaban’s original idea.  It’s such an amazingly well realised evocation that you can almost smell the cigars and port and you’re so spoiled by wonderful performances you almost don’t know where to look! It becomes rather more conventional when one of the people meets a nasty end and Stephen Fry’s comical police inspector arrives to investigate.

As a Hollywood celebrity, Jeremy’s Ivor Novello stands apart from the obvious class distinctions the movie draws so clearly. He is neither aristocracy nor servant, having been invited to literally ‘sing for his supper’, which, if you haven’t seen or heard it, by itself is a wonderful treat. Jeremy has a beautifully sweet singing voice. Novello is idolised by the servants and largely ignored by the guests, or deliciously derided by Maggie Smith’s Countess of Trentham. Robert Altman said of Jeremy:

I think this performance by Jeremy Northam is one of the, really, best performances I’ve ever seen in a film. And it doesn’t get noticed because he doesn’t have a real plot place to go. He is part of the color, he is there, you believe him. No one considers it to be serious acting but it is probably some of the best acting in the piece.

I’m afraid, once again, I am unable to source a non-US trailer (i.e. one unadulterated with unnecessary and utterly ghastly voiceover pointing out the bleeding obvious). So here is a clip instead.

Guy X (2005, dir. Saul Metzstein) is a movie I know very little about. I have to confess I have not yet watched it, though I have a copy ready to be viewed so that grave omission is about to be addressed. A little background reading tells me that it is a black comedy set in 1979 and tells the story of Corporal Rudy Spruance (Jason Biggs) who is the victim of mistaken identity when he is accidentally dumped by the army in Greenland instead of Hawaii. There, he meets crazy Colonel Woolrap (Jeremy) and a beautiful sergent (Natascha McElhone). He tries to escape, but after a while begins to realise that the camp harbours a dark secret involving the mysterious guy known only as X.

Most reviewers agree that it failed to be as good as it could have been, but there is still much to enjoy. Jeremy’s Col. Woolrap, for example, is a brave casting decision, and I can imagine that Jeremy relished the challenges of the role. On the whole, he is praised for his performance and his gruff southern US accent. It ought to please him to know that if you were not told it is him, you’d be unlikely to recognise him in this role. I have to say, I like the look and sound of Guy X, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

It’s the second feature for the British director Saul Metzstein, an ambitious leap which, while it doesn’t entirely pay off, showcases some of Metzstein’s strengths — an offbeat sense of humour and a real talent for the kind of running joke that gets under your skin and pesters you into laughing yourself silly.

Guy X is set in 1979. There’s a touch of MASH about the scenario, and in the bleak, nihilistic humour particular to people forced to live at the ends of the earth.

from a review by Wendy Ide

Thank goodness for a trailer allowed to speak for itself…

Finally, we travel back to an earlier time in Jeremy’s career and A Fatal Inversion, which is not, strictly speaking, a movie but is so good I’ve decided to include it in our movie choices. It originally aired in 1992 on British television and was one of a series of three-part dramas based on crime novels by Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine.

It features a very assured early performance by Jeremy as Rufus Fletcher, whose friend Adam Verne-Smith (Douglas Hodge) inherits a a country house. The two decide to spend the Summer at the house (having told everyone they know that they are abroad). They aren’t alone for long as various unexpected guests arrive. Being attractive young men without a care in the world, there’s a wonderful atmosphere of out-of-time-ness as they over-indulge, swap partners and (in Jeremy’s case particularly) dispense with much of their clothing. But of course, ‘something’ happens, we are in Ruth Rendell territory after all, and whatever it was catches up with them 10 years later.

Both Jeremy and Douglas Hodge are excellent and convincing in both their randy young buck and terrified grown up roles. The three-part story is well above the standard of normal tv fare and is still very enjoyable.

Sadly, I have no reviews or interviews to refer to, but I can offer the somewhat confusing (no patronising cheesy voiceover here!) original BBC 1 trailer for episode 1.

Don’t forget to vote for the one you’d like us to watch this week by following this link: http://www.facebook.com/TheJerBlog

by henrysmummy2003

It’s Enigmatic Mr Wigram for Jeremy Northam Night

20 Aug

The winner of our poll for this week’s Jeremy Northam Night movie is Enigma. Many thanks to all who voted, it’s good to see so many joining in.

Directed by Michael Apted and adapted by Tom Stoppard from Robert Harris’ best-seller, Enigma is a skillful amalgamation of fact and fiction. Inevitably, this brings all sorts of people in anoraks out of the woodwork bleating about  ‘what really happened’, especially since this all took place relatively recently. It’s particularly acute in Enigma’s case because the character of Tom Jericho, as portrayed by Dougray Scott, does bear some resemblance to real-life code breaking genius Alan Turing. Turing’s tragedy played out after WWII when, following persecution by the UK government as a result of his homosexuality (then illegal and deemed to make him a security risk), he took his own life. Some have complained that Enigma does Turing a disservice in making Jericho heterosexual and not acknowledging him as the inspiration for the character. However, this is a red herring; in fact, to have buried Turing’s story in a Boy’s Own thriller such as this would have been to do him a disservice. Far better that you watch the excellent drama about his life, Breaking the Code,  in which he is sensitively and movingly played by Derek Jacobi.

If you do require the movie to pay any historical tribute, it does succeed in enlightening us about the still largely unsung heroes and heroines who worked under a cloak of deepest secrecy at Bletchley Park during WWII. As Jeremy Northam commented at the time, movies …can make fiction from fact to tell you more about the truth. Whether or not Enigma succeeds in this respect, I’ll leave you to decide.

Enigma is an intelligent thriller, and one that I find either requires you to pay very careful attention in order to work it all out; or you can let it wash over you and then ask a raft of no doubt irritating questions of your partner afterwards! I confess to the latter…mainly because my attention is only really fully engaged when Jeremy Northam’s Wigram is on camera. This is not only because of what you might describe as my little peccadillo, but also because it is Wigram who would engage anyone’s attention in this movie.

Dougray Scott as Tom Jericho

Dougray Scott, as Tom Jericho, is our hero. For me, he always seems to lack a spark (and, poor man, to be suffering from an unfortunate eye infection. Perhaps it’s make-up to suggest lack of sleep, but I always feel like marching him to the chemist for some drops). Jericho arrives at Bletchley Park (beautifully re-created near to the actual site) after suffering a breakdown, but instead of seeming fragile and sensitive, somehow his performance translates as lazy or vapid. He is supposed to be returning to his code breaking job but is completely distracted by the disappearance of Claire (Saffron Burrows), an enigmatic and beautiful woman he had become obsessed with before his breakdown. Claire’s best friend is Hester (Kate Winslet), but Hester has no clues to her whereabouts (and indeed, seems to know very little about her all together. Some friend!). Tom, in his awkward, inept way (stereotypically, mathematical geniuses have no social skills) eventually manages to persuade her to join him in trying to track Claire down, and in the process, they embark on a rather cute relationship. In the meantime, there is a deadline for the code breakers to crack the Enigma code before a convoy of ships is destroyed by the Nazis. Just a little thing!

Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet

These two stories, interwoven as they are and populated by an excellent cast of additional characters (amongst them, the late Corin Redgrave, Tom Hollander, Robert Pugh, Matthew Macfadyen, Donald Sumpter) would have made a decent enough movie, but it’s the addition of Mr Northam’s Wigram that really sets the movie alight.

Enigma was originally made without the Wigram character, and shown to the author whose book the movie is based on, Robert Harris. Harris described it as two-thirds of a very good movie. To add the missing third, Wigram was created and Jeremy Northam cast. Jeremy’s first scene in the Enigma, where he oh so stylishly runs down some stairs looking impossibly handsome, immediately promises a treat in store.

Jeremy Northam as Wigram

Wigram is a top army intelligence man and as befits this status, we know very little about him, not even his first name. He is fiercely intelligent and will stop at nothing to root out anyone he suspects of being a traitor. Wigram has been sent to Bletchley Park to investigate because a leak is suspected. Jericho’s connection to Claire (who may or may not be the leak) makes him come under intense scrutiny from Wigram and one of the best, most electrifying, scenes in the movie is Wigram’s visit to Jericho’s room to have a little chat. The tension between the two is beautifully played, Jeremy is blessed with some wonderful dialogue by Stoppard, and the scene is one of my favourites in any movie.

The best scene in the movie

Jeremy’s approach to his movie roles always seems to involve him being very well prepared. Wigram saw him indulging in what sounds like mountains of background reading and led to a very telling experience in a bookshop near the home he used to keep in Norfolk…

He went there to do his research for “Enigma,” venturing out mostly to the local bookshop to buy studies on wartime England and on the history of code-breaking.

“At one point, I plopped down on the counter a stack of books about cryptology, and the owner said that I might like to meet an older gentleman who lived nearby who shared my ‘hobby,'” he said.

Northam surmised the man was a veteran of Bletchley Park and tried to contact him.

“I was never able to meet him,” he said. “I suspect it was still that very strong feeling that you should never talk about what went on. That sense of duty.

(This extract from an interview with Celia McGee, NY Daily Times)

Wigram's interrogation of Jericho is charming but deadly

Wigram isn’t a pleasant man. He’s sardonic, he’s sarcastic, he’s ruthless, and very possibly, a killer. And as Wigram, Jeremy Northam walks away with the movie. Here’s what Charles Taylor, movie critic, had to say:

As Wigram, Jeremy Northam seems to have found his niche….Northam wears his fedora and the overcoat draped around his shoulders so nattily that you want to applaud his style alone. That outer style filters down to his line readings, which are cutting, dry and frequently very funny. I don’t know if Robert Harris has any plans to do sequels or spinoffs of his novel, but Northam suggests one of those great stylish sleuths — the Saint as a British intelligence agent — and the idea seems a natural.

I’m still waiting to watch that movie… Mr Taylor is quite right; Wigram is a such a great character, and so sparklingly realised (and beautifully dressed) that you almost want to start a fan club for him, print Wigram t-shirts for its members and start a Wigram men’s fashion line!

Wigram should be given his own sequel

Enigma rattles along, lickety split (on the whole) to its explosive conclusion and if you have it all worked out by the final scene, then you’re doing well! Saffron Burrows is appropriately stunning and mysterious, and Kate Winslet’s onscreen charm helps to make up for some of Scott’s dourness. Apted (as well as composer of the gorgeous OST, John Barry) has also worked on a James Bond movie, and there are perhaps echoes of that work here, as well as some vague nods to Hitchcock (which can’t be avoided in any thriller worth its salt). It’s quality entertainment, and made as enjoyable as it is largely by the presence and talents of Mr Jeremy Northam.

Not everyone liked the film when it came out, but even those inclined to be snarky praised Jeremy:

…Jeremy Northam, acting like Cary Grant in a foul mood, offers glimpses of Stoppard’s wit. Playing a roguish, sharp-tongued intelligence agent, he steals his scenes so effectively that it’s hard not to wish the film were about him…

(from a review by Keith Phipps )

I hope you enjoy the movie. Do please report back and let us all know what you think about Enigma.

Please can I also refer you to a review by Jer Blog contributor Charity Bishop at her website, Charity’s Place.

If you’d like to read more reviews of Enigma, and interviews that Jeremy gave about his role as Wigram, they are available at Jeremy Northam Info.

with thanks to Joan aka HazelP for images

by henrysmummy2003

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