A Very English Bear
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He has also been brilliant, comb-overed and devious, in A Very English Scandal which concludes on Sunday as Jeremy Thorpe — the 70s Liberal MP attempting to have his gay lover murdered. The same actor who stuttered his way through a parade of porridge-y romcoms is now excelling in roles that uncork his suavely carnal side, and pour liberally from the bottle. Remember the scene in Notting Hill where he turns down Julia Roberts, for no reason? Of course, the script required the character to immediately change his mind, and race across town to announce his love at a press junket.
Bridget Jones proved he was more alive when playing the villain, although he was rarely allowed. I assumed he had more or less retired in the years after, frustrated at having to be winsome for a living. He found some substance, too. His most high-profile work in the past decade has been testifying to the abuses of British tabloids as part of the Leveson inquiry.
He is still campaigning against the decision to abandon the inquiry, which David Cameron promised would be in two parts. The current government, needing press support, has declined to greenlight the sequel. And here he is at 57, free of the romantic-lead straitjacket, doing his most shimmering, engaging work. Like the women of , I have fallen for him, too. He no longer coasts on a wave of his own hair, spouting platitudes of love.
In Florence Foster Jenkins , his character is immersed in the tactical connivances of love. Thorpe into marriage, family and respectability, Scott into partying, poverty and halting attempts at heterosexuality. To Davies and Frears, Scott is the hero of the piece, and they place their thumbs on the scale by supplying him plenty of moments — based on trial transcripts along with invented scenes — for him to express his out, loud and proud dignity, while Thorpe goes on stiffly dissembling, and stiffly prevaricating, and stiffly conspiring.
Had A Very English Scandal been made even ten years ago, the story might simply have been mined for its sordid details, of which there are plenty, without placing it in a meaningful context.
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But several wonderful actors show up to invest real emotion into scenes about the effect of the closet on themselves and their loved ones look out for David Bamber's brief but moving turn as Lord Arran in episode two. A queer sensibility pervades the series, colors it and ultimately informs it in ways that pay off both in specific scenes and on the whole.
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It frees Whishaw to queen it up to the heartwarming extent he does here, flouncing about the place in a way that feels as it should — natural and free and unconcerned, not soberly studied or practiced. Not, in other words, actorly.
Crucially, while the series sides squarely with his character, it doesn't falsely revere him — he's given the necessary room to be vain and impatient and selfish and whiny, and the result doesn't feel, as it otherwise might, like any kind of Statement About The Gays, but simply an intimate portrait of this one guy, and his seriously impressive head of hair. For his part, Grant is playing a variation on the artistocratic cad he played in last year's Paddington 2 , substituting for that role's vaudeville ham something more centered, more sinister and — disturbingly but unfailingly — charming throughout.
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Sure, Grant's played a lot of supercilious jerks over the years, but it's very possible he's never had more fun — or been more fun to watch — than he is here. The man can make the simple act of stirring an egg into his steak tartare a tableau of supremely punchable self-satisfaction, and later make us feel his cornered, heart-thudding panic at being discovered, and still later allow us to see, behind the toothy grin-grimace that causes those blue eyes to crinkle so, his quiet, soul-sick desperation.
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In A Very English Scandal 's opening scene, the script calls for Thorpe to mimic the upper-class mannerisms of a colleague "I would be veddy veddy veddy disappointed". It's to Grant's credit that the actor slips so deftly between that caricature and a character with which, after all, it shares so veddy, veddy much in common — which is, of course, the joke. Whenever the camera pans away from Grant and Whishaw, the tone of the mini-series tends go a bit wobbly.
As would-be assassin 'Gino' Norton, Blake Harrison goes comically broad — like, early Coen Brothers broad — and never quite slips into the groove of the show around him, which is marked by so much sniffy, buttoned-up rectitude.
A Very English Scandal: What the critics thought
And while Davies's script and Frears' direction expend considerable time and attention on the women in Thorpe's and Scott's lives, they never manage to emerge as clearly delineated characters in their own right. The actors starred together in Paddington 2 , of course, and over and above its manifold delights, it's fun to imagine this mini-series as a kind of alternate-universe sequel — one in which Paddington voiced by Whishaw ditches that lumpy, unflattering overcoat for a clingy top and flared polyester pants to hit the gay disco, undergoing, in the process, that rarest of all transformations possible in the gay community: From bear to twink.
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