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Overall Rating
4.09

Awesome: 27.27%
Worth A Look63.64%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 9.09%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 5 user ratings


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Dresser, The
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by MP Bartley

"Courtenay vs Finney - fight!"
4 stars

The Dresser takes arguably the best approach to representing the art and craft of acting on screen - i.e. with as little respect as possible.

As the eponymous dresser of the title, Norman (Tom Courtenay) has been the long-standing and long-suffering servant to the Shakespearean actor known only as Sir (Albert Finney), the lead in a touring production company. A not-so-secret homosexual, Norman spends his days calming Sir down out of his frequent rages, coaxing him out his sulks right before he's due on stage and battling the alcohol-afflicted nervous breakdown he's seemingly on the brink. As well as all that servitude, Norman also has to deal with the backbiting behind the scenes and the mutinous storm that is brewing amongst Sir's beleaguered co-stars who are a little sick of his garguantan ego and prima donna tendencies. All this meanwhile, while the troupe prepares to put on a performance of King Lear in the north of England which is blitzed nightly by the raiding Luftwaffe.

Adapted by Ronald Harwood from his own screenplay (which was adapted from his very own experiences with noted actor Donald Wolfit), what's first notable is that for a constricted film that can't help but be very stage-like, particularly as 90% of the film is set in the two hours before curtain call, is how light and carefree it is, Yates' measured direction content to happily observe the backstage ructions and battles and Yates is clearly confident to let the success of the film rest on the shoulders of the two leads.

As well he might, as Courtenay and Finney turn in heavyweight performances that reach for the sky in their more over-the-top moments, but considering the wordy material, do so in a manner that's absolutely necessary. Finney has a whale of a time as the old ham, intensely in love with the sound of his own voice (one of the funniest bits in the film comes when Finney stops a train in its tracks just by shouting at it), who thrives of the adoration of the audience, and yet takes his constant, snarling unhappiness out on his co-stars. It's a character that doesn't really call for subtlety, yet it does call for a special kind of talent that can go over the top with it, but still dial it down to a believable and human level - and Finney has that talent.

Although unequals in the film, Courtenay is his equal as actor (probably helped by the fact he had already taken the role on stage). Effeminate and fey (Norman literally jumps and twirls around when his name is called, he clearly lives for his role as the dresser and his life behind the stage. Constantly humming a nervous and tuneless little ditty to himself as he scampers around, Norman is a bundle of nerves the one time he's asked to show his face in front of the curtain to announce the play, yet displays cunning, guile and nerves of steel to calm Sir down. It's not quite a sadomasochistic relationship between the two of them - neither takes particular pleasure in upsetting the other - but both are so wrapped up in their own lives, problems and so concerned with putting on a performance either to the audience or in front of others, that neither realise what a peculiarly mismatched couple they make. Both need the other to get by, yet neither really acknowledge it until too late, which is when Courtenay really lets loose, decades of buttoned-up complaints and rage finally bubbling over in a tirade of anger and heartbreak. And yet, despite the florid characteristics and flamboyant mannerisms, Courtenay never turns Norman into a cliche - he feels as real as Sir, a man who's spent his life in service of another, with no thanks for it, and has all the grudges and issues you might expect someone in that position to have.

This odd couple are the subject of many dark glances and muttered insults from the other actors, as is Sir's moodiness (in a witty film, there's a great running joke about how the rest of the company would rather take on Hitler's hordes than deal with Sir anymore - Sir, meanwhile, takes the nightly bombing raids as a personal slur on his performance), and there's an unspoken dig at the acting profession throughout - how can one person put so much effort into being so unpleasant into something so fundamentally silly?

The Dresser isn't really interested in answering that question or addressing any other great questions of human nature - it simply looks at a combustive individual, his soothing partner and shakes them about in a way both funny and sad. And if nothing else, fans of Manic Street Preachers will finally be able to place the sample that closes their track [b]PCP[/b].

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=6512&reviewer=293
originally posted: 01/16/12 05:54:55
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User Comments

2/10/10 PAUL SHORTT SUPERB ADAPTATION WITH GOOD PERFORMANCES 4 stars
11/11/07 docmoreau A definitive film about thespians. Courtenay shines. 5 stars
1/18/06 Pickles Christ peerless beauty 5 stars
4/19/04 Doris A masterpiece!Excellent acting by the two "Sirs" 5 stars
1/22/03 Pinkline Jones Coma-inducing 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  06-Dec-1983 (PG)
  DVD: 06-Apr-2004

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Peter Yates

Written by
  Ronald Harwood

Cast
  Albert Finney
  Tom Courtenay
  Edward Fox
  Zena Walker
  Eileen Atkins
  Michael Gough



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