The Dresser Reviews
Then it proves that this is an exceedingly diverting film from the late director Peter Yates even though the quintessence of pleasure may lie in Finney and Courtenay‚(TM)s crack two-hander, which is beyond any thespian methods, two utterly gallant performances brilliantly deliver every tiny little nuance and never descend into a stasis of tedious affectation. Theatrical adaption has always been an impeccable showcase for actors. A copybook triumph from both Finney and Courtney. The King Lear play in the film proffers a tour-de-force stage for Finney's expertise and his overpowering sway is both intimidating and entertaining; as for Courtenay, whose character molding even merits more pluck due to the self-challenging devoutness. Which one I prefer, after some contemplative thinking, despite of Finney‚(TM)s pretty fierce endeavor, I will choose Courtenay, a lesser known actor but achieves a more startling reverberation.
Among the supporting roles, Eileen Atkins is managing to steal some flare from two leading players, she is so underrated and should be ranked alongside Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, among the most venerated names inside the so-called UK Dame coterie.
The film has set up a perfect mode for the contemporary play-goes-film trend, within some minimal usage of settings, the impact has been magnified in an index level to be seen by a much larger audience. The screenplay is the keystone here, that‚(TM)s why they‚(TM)re emerging in an inexhaustible tide which verifies that theatrical play is an endless fodder-provider for both awards-craving production companies and thespians.
There are things we will only put up with from those we love. Arguably, you can tell when you don't love someone anymore because you feel that you're done putting up with their crap. I had given Graham a sort of vague description of this movie when I was putting it in, and of course he followed that by putting on his headphones. When he emerged again an hour or so later, he asked if this was "the guy he's supposed to fall in love with." And I assured him that, no, he was long since in love. And you could tell this, I said, because the guy was still there. He wasn't getting paid anywhere near enough to put up with the level of mistreatment he was suffering under--and I don't exactly think anyone stays a dresser for love of the theatre. Though it does rather bring to mind the old joke where the punchline is, "What, and leave show business?" I suppose it was love of show business that got him there in the first place.
The eponymous dresser is Norman (Tom Courtenay). It is the early '40s, in the heart of World War II, and he is on a tour of the provinces with Sir (Albert Finney), who has been acting in Shakespeare since he acted [i]for[/i] Shakespeare. Most of the movie is about one night in the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford, UK. Sir is performing as King Lear, his 227th performance of same. Unfortunately, he is also suffering from what might charitably be called nervous exhaustion. Most of the cast hates him, and Norman stands between Sir and the things he doesn't want to deal with. Which is pretty much everything. For about the first half of the movie, the question is whether or not the show will go on. For the second half, it's rather more a question of whether Sir will make it through. With the added excitement of an air raid right about at curtain time. Although Sir is married to Her Ladyship (Zena Walker), mostly, we just see him interact with Norman.
Norman is quite obviously in love with Sir. Toward the end, he claims that it is a secret, but if so, it's the worst-kept secret in the troupe. When he goes onstage to announce that there is, indeed, an air raid, and to ask those who wish to leave to do so quietly, he comes off the stage and worries about what Sir thought about it. As if he had done something truly, deeply challenging--and then he worried about whether Sir noticed that he flubbed his line and asked those who wished to live to exit quietly, not those who wished to leave. Which, yes, everyone noticed. But no one really much cares, I think. Sir takes any and all tribute as his due, Her Ladyship knows that Norman is not a threat to her relationship, and everyone else just seems to think "better Norman than me." And, indeed, Norman's love for Sir does mean that he is stuck doing the difficult work no one else has much interest in doing. I think the thing which keeps Norman going, however, is the idea that his devotion is noticed and appreciated, if not reciprocated.
It looks as though it's an interesting production of [i]Lear[/i], if nothing else. Sir may no longer be at his best, but he's certainly still worth watching. [i]Lear[/i] isn't my favourite Shakespeare, but it's worth noting that the house, while no longer completely full at the end of the play, is very close. It reminds me of what Mrs. Nicholson taught us in California history class about the desperation of gold miners for entertainment. The audience did, of course, have other choices, inasmuch as there was almost certainly a movie theatre around Bradford somewhere if nothing else, but there was still a need for something to do to get your mind off the fact that the bombs were falling. It's true that a lot of the best younger actors were off in the military, and [i]Lear[/i] needs at least a few young actors in order to work, but it is also a play highlighting a man who is by very definition too old to go off to war. Though he must be hale enough to carry a body!
Similarly, the movie relies on two strong performances. No one else matters; hardly anyone else gets more than a few lines. What matters is Sir and Norman and how they work together. Norman is a bit of a flamer, of course, but most of his love shows as mothering. He takes care of Sir and does not know any other life. What is there for him to do? He seems younger than Sir by a decade or so, but he's also been doing this for a long time now. He's still too old to go out for a soldier; I'm pretty sure he was too old for the British draft at that point. There were plenty of jobs given up by younger men that an older man could still do, but Norman doesn't understand them. We must see that he loves Sir, and we must see that he loves what he does. And Sir cannot ever be aware of what's going on. This is in part because Sir is not doing very well in his mind, but it's in part because Sir hasn't been looking outside his own head in a very long time.
The film takes place in one day. Albert Finney plays Sir, a career Shakespeare-ian actor who has a few screws loose, either due to age or due to playing Lear 227 times. This day, he is going for number 228, and we get to see him prepare with his dresser, Norman, by his side, holding his hand. Sir is delusional, grouchy, proud, impatient, etc. (you get the idea), and Norman is the only one who knows how to get him ready for the stage. We see the hour before the performance and the performance itself.
The two leads, Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, are absolutely captivating. Sir is not completely looney, and Norman is not completely composed, and the moments where they are actually in sync are really touching. The chemistry is wonderful, like they've been working together for years. The directing is strong, but that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone familiar with Peter Yates. While it earned 5 Oscar nominations, it was overshadowed by Terms of Endearment. Luckily, TCM remembered it for their 31 Days of Oscar.