Tag Archives: Julian Fellowes

Memories of ‘Gosford Park’ from the Ivor Novello Consultant David Slattery-Christy

20 Jan

When people who are unfamiliar with Jeremy’s work ask me ‘What will have I seen him in?’, it’s always Gosford Park, and Jeremy’s wonderful and much admired performance as Ivor Novello, that I suggest first.

Robert Altman's 2001 masterpiece, 'Gosford Park'.

Robert Altman’s sublime murder mystery set above- and below-stairs in a country house gave Jeremy one of his very best roles to date, and despite being amongst one of the most talented casts ever assembled, Jeremy gave what Robert Altman himself described as ‘one of the, really, best performances I’ve ever seen in a film‘.

Ivor Novello is the only non-fictional character in Gosford Park. To give Jeremy’s portrayal authenticity, David Slattery-Christy, author and playwright, and expert in the life and works of Novello, was engaged as the film’s official consultant. I was delighted when David agreed to tell me about his memories of working on the film.

David Slattery-Christy

I am fortunate enough to have some great memories of my time working on ‘Gosford Park’. The first ever meeting I was invited to, at an apartment in Kensington, London, I shall never forget. At the time I was directing a tribute show, to mark the 50th anniversary of Ivor Novello’s death, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, when I was called and invited to attend the meeting. At that point I had no idea what the film involved. Imagine my surprise, on arriving at the said apartment, to find the likes of Robert Altman, Dame Maggie Smith, Charles Dance, Dame Helen Mirren, Eileen Atkins, Kristin Scott Thomas and Jeremy Northam, to name but a few. At this moment I realised this would be like no ordinary film.

During the location filming at Wrougtham Park near London I was fortunate to meet and see Jeremy Northam shoot his scenes and witness the resulting rushes. The one memory I was left with concerning Jeremy was his modesty. He quietly went about his scenes and left everyone so impressed with his skill and the depth he brought to the Novello role. Watching the rushes of his scenes was the only time I remember there was total silence in the tiny screening van. He did all this with no fuss or fanfares. He was a very warm and polite man and always had a ready smile for everybody.

Jeremy as Ivor Novello, with Claudie Blakely

Prior to shooting I had compiled a list of all the things that Novello did or didn’t like along with a few insights into his character. Jeremy’s portrayal and performance captured Novello brilliantly, even to the playing of the piano and singing of the various songs whilst shooting the scenes. The only thing that changed was the piano playing – Jeremy’s brother played the piano track we hear in the film.

David Slattery-Christy
Ivor Novello Consultant – Gosford Park

David has written at greater length about his work on Gosford Park in his excellent book on the life and work of Ivor Novello, In Search of Ruritania.

An absorbing and thoroughly engaging read, and a must-own for fans of Altman’s film looking to learn more about Novello and his work … straight from the film’s Ivor Novello consultant.’ Tara O’Shea, Chicago.

You can find out more about David’s book and where to purchase it (I have a copy myself and I highly recommend it) by visiting his website: David Slattery-Christy.

I’d like to thank David very much indeed for taking the time to make this wonderful contribution to the blog.

by Gill


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

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