Steyn on Bridges, Pride and Robert Wise

Steyn on Bridges, Pride and Robert Wise September 28, 2005

Mark Steyn, one of my favorite writers even when I disagree with him, has posted a few new film-related items to his website. One is a review of Clint Eastwood‘s Bridges of Madison County that he wrote for the Spectator ten years ago:

Meryl asks Clint to stay for dinner, and he lopes around the kitchen, man enough to help with the place settings and the washing up without being asked; never once does Meryl have to say, ‘Go ahead, hunk. Take my tray.’ We’ve underestimated this last movie star, reckoning that if a man’s good at gunplay he must be hopeless at foreplay. But that moment from In The Line Of Fire, when Clint teasingly tinkles ‘As Time Goes By’ to Rene Russo, should have reminded us that the very apotheosis of Hollywood romance needed a tough guy: like Bogey, Eastwood is crossing the tracks. So the small talk grows smaller and the erotic charge more palpable and every tingle in their unhurried courtship crackles round the theatre like static electricity in Crimplene trousers. The audience is urging them on: ‘Oh, God! Yes, yes!! Now!!!’ we shriek silently.

But Clint goes away, having laid nothing but the table. The sexual tension is wound ever tighter: he knows he wants her, but he also knows it will be all the sweeter if he waits till tomorrow… or next week… or maybe the sequel…

Movies pose as a stud’s medium, but they’re really for premature ejaculators: eyes meet across a bar, and next thing you know clothes are flying and sheets are crumpling and guitars are wailing, and that’s it; they saw, they conquered, they came, all in three minutes. Eastwood’s courage is in playing this seduction in real time. He is, technically, an OAP, and, when old-timers do movies, they’re supposed to show they’re just as funky as the young, like Don Ameche breakdancing in Cocoon. But Clint’s too cool for that stuff. In the slow-burn confidence of the dinner scene, he’s signalling: there’s some things we do better than you kids.

The other is a review of the brand-new Keira Knightley-starring version of Pride and Prejudice, with a mini-obituary for Sound of Music director Robert Wise thrown in at the end:

. . . even in our present-tense culture, the latest Pride and Prejudice seems to have turned up a little sooner than anybody needed it. It’s a full decade since Colin Firth emerged from the lake in the BBC adaptation and I suppose to the young person his name may evoke only the prematurely middle-aged dull stick from recent Richard Curtis offerings. And presumably Keira Knightley was available and her spirited coltishness won’t last for ever. She reminds me here of Winona Ryder’s Jo in the ’94 Little Women, a film that captured a young actress’s girlish spirit at its peak. Aside from her shoplifting trial, Miss Ryder has given few memorable performances since, and one hopes Miss Knightley is more fortunate.

Her Darcy is Matthew MacFadyen, a callow fellow who strides gamely in all the key tracking shots and has a rumpled charm in much of the rest but who unlike Firth seems resistant to being a fantasy kissagram for the singleton audience. Not his fault. Darcy is in danger of ceasing to be a character by Jane Austen so much as a mythic liberation from English womanhood’s contemporary frustrations. . . . MacFadyen and Knightley remind me a bit of Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman in Bewitched — two solo turns that don’t seem to require the presence of the other. MacFadyen has little pride and, with his co-star, less chemistry.

As the film went on, I found myself thinking more about the hole than the doughnut. I’ve been reluctant to grumble about Austen authenticity ever since I passed along my date’s complaints about the anachronistic ‘Good Gods!’ in the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma, and Alec Guinness wrote to the Speccie to draw my attention to page 40 of the book: ‘“Good God!” cried Emma.’ That’ll teach me to plagiarise my nitpicks. Yet authenticity resides not merely in language and sets but also in a basic, well, sensibility. Jennifer Ehle never rode the TV P&P; to the same big-screen success as Colin Firth, but she has one very great underrated quality, unobtrusively on display both in Austen and in that wonderful piece of Mary Wesley hokum, Camomile Porn — er, Lawn. She doesn’t just climb into the clobber, she inhabits the period completely — whether as an upper-middle-class Englishwoman in second world war London or as an unwed daughter in a Hertfordshire country house two centuries ago.

By contrast, Miss Knightley in both her most famous outings has been a contemporary wolf in period sheep’s clothing. In King Arthur and Pirates of the Caribbean, she fulfilled the requirements of Hollywood consciousness-raising-by-numbers and turned the demure heroine roles into generic kick-ass proto-feminists. Agreeable as it may be to see the sylph-like Miss Knightley wallop pirate zombies and Saxon marauders, authenticity is the least of it. That’s the problem here. Bring back Jennifer Ehle.

FWIW, I bought a copy of the BBC version for my wife shortly before we got married, but I haven’t watched it myself. I guess I should, though, before the new film comes to Canada.

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