I recently watched the British miniseries Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, starring favorite Richard Coyle and the brilliant scene-stealing Claire Foy. I recommend this program, just recently released on DVD in the US. It reminded me of my affection for Richard Coyle’s Lorna Doone (2000) which also features a very young James McAvoy (with lots of hair), Michael Kitchen (droll in a comically hideous wig), Martin Clunes (love this man), Honeysuckle Weeks (pre-Foyle’s War), and Jesse Spencer (pre-House). This made-for-British-TV movie inspired me to finally read the book, and now one of my best friends has moved to Devon on the edge of Exmoor. It seems like the perfect time to look again at this movie. The DVD could use a an HD upgrade, but here are some images. Warning: these contain plot spoilers if you’re not familiar with the story:
Tag Archives: James McAvoy
Over at the BBC America blog, Anglophenia, there’s been an “Anglo Fan Favorite Tournament.” It started with 32 guys, and now it’s down to four (Alan Rickman, David Tennant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth). The problem with the list is that there are so many of my favorites missing. They also mixed up Brits with Irish actors, even including Michael Fassbender, who was born in Germany.
I decided to make a list of my favorite British actors, categorized by where they were born. I had to cheat a bit, though. Even though Andrew Garfield was born in Los Angeles, I’ve included him with the English. I stuck to the ones still living and mostly still working. I considered putting them in some sort of order, but in the end, I just alphabetized by first name. (It’s interesting how many Ruperts and Stephens there are.) Next to the name of the actor is the movie or show that first brought them to my attention. This isn’t always the first thing I saw the actor in, just the first time I thought, “Hey, I really like this guy.” I plan to do a separate list of Irish actors later, as well as Aussies, Canadians, and even a list of actresses. This list is long enough!
There are a lot of actors who almost made my list, but I just can’t bring myself to add their names. For example, I love Orlando Bloom as Legolas, but he hasn’t sustained my interest in other roles. Hugh Grant has entertained me for years, but…I don’t know. I guess I’m still cringing over his quote in the July 22nd Entertainment Weekly, about his involvement in News of the World phone hacking: “…it was difficult to get the whole country outraged. But now they are incandescent.”
Also left off my list are young up-and-comers who I know I will like, but I just haven’t seen enough of their work yet. These includes Eddie Redmayne, Dominic Cooper, Charlie Cox, and Henry Cavill. I’m sure they’ll be on future lists.
I’ll think of dozens to add later, but here it goes:
Yesterday, The Conspirator was released on DVD, so I checked it out of the Redbox right away and watched it with a friend. As much as I love James McAvoy, I didn’t make it out to see this film in the movie theatre. Now that I’ve seen it, I don’t regret waiting. I do like the film, and McAvoy is fascinating to watch, as always. It’s just that my friend and I had to stop the film often, trying to figure out what was happening. Maybe we should have just watched it straight through to see if things became clearer, but that’s just not our style.
The Conspirator, directed by Robert Redford, is about the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Most of us know that John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at the Ford Theatre at the end of the Civil War. I’ll confess right here that most of my knowledge of the affair comes from that list of similarities between the Kennedy and Lincoln assassinations, the one that comes with copper pennies attached. Turns out there was a conspiracy to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward at the same time. Eight conspirators were arrested, and one of them was a woman. Mary Surratt owned the boardinghouse where the men met, and her son John was identified as a co-conspirator. Because he escaped capture, Mary Surratt was arrested and tried by a military tribunal, even though she was a civilian. The movie focuses on her trial and the young Northerner, Frederick Aiken, who reluctantly defends her. He begins the trial convinced of her guilt, and while he’s never sure of her innocence, he becomes passionate about defending her rights as a citizen. She is denied a regular trial, a jury of her peers, even the chance to testify on her own behalf. According to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, the war-torn country is divided and in chaos, and only a swift, harsh sentence for those involved in the conspiracy will restore order.
The part of the movie that confused us was right at the beginning, so I’m confident that I’m not giving away any plot spoilers. It was the sequence showing the assassination attempts. Who is that twitchy fellow who goes inside—a club? a private home?—has a drink at the bar, hides the gun in his jacket, looks around, runs out and rides away? Turns out he is George Atzerodt, who was supposed to kill Andrew Johnson at the Kirkwood Hotel. He lost his nerve. My friend and I spent half the movie assuming that this fellow was John Surratt, since he ran away. It wasn’t until the actor playing John finally appeared in a flashback that we realized it was a different fellow. Sure, upon viewing the movie a second time with the audio commentary, I could see that this Atzerodt fellow was one of the conspirators who was arrested. Let’s face it, men with beards and moustaches tend to look the same.
Then there was the stabbing of William Seward. Why was he lying in a bed with a strange contraption on his head and mouth before he was attacked? Turns out Seward was in a bad carriage accident and was suffering from a broken arm, a broken jaw, and a concussion. The jaw splint he was wearing deflected the assassin’s knife from his jugular vein, and Seward survived his brutal attack by Lewis Payne. (More confusion here, by the way, since Lewis Payne was born Lewis Powell, and that’s how he’s listed on wikipedia.) The way The Conspirator intercuts the three assassination attempts, it’s hard to tell if the fellow being knocked out on top of the stairs is guarding Lincoln or Seward, if the conspirator who runs away was in the same building as the conspirator stabbing Seward…again, it would be much clearer if most of these guys didn’t have bushy moustaches. Maybe on a big theatre screen, it would have been easier to tell them all apart, but this is a review of the DVD.
All this confusion happens in the first fifteen minutes of the film. Once that’s over, the movie slows down and concentrates on Aiken, Mary Surratt, her daughter Anna, and a few other key figures. There are some wonderful actors here, including a favorite of mine, John Cullum. He’s best know for Northern Exposure, but I love him from my LP of the stage musical Shenandoah. The only casting that I question is Justin Long. You can put him in a bushy moustache, but you’ll never believe he’s from 1865. A nice surprise is Jonathan Groff of Spring Awakening and Glee. I didn’t recognize him with his hair tamped down, but he does very well in a small role. Another excellent actor who is hard to recognize, until he speaks, is Kevin Kline as Stanton.
I complained to my friend at the beginning of the movie that not only is James McAvoy wearing a beard, he is using an American accent and his eyes are brown instead of blue. Fortunately, the eyes look brown due to the lighting of that particular scene. They are very blue throughout the rest of the film. McAvoy is great here, but isn’t he always? I listened to the first 38 minutes of Redford’s audio commentary, and it took 35 minutes for him to get around to discussing McAvoy. He revealed that McAvoy is allergic to horses. I guess we won’t be seeing him in many westerns! Earlier, Redford mentioned rather pointedly that often filmmakers are forced to cast well-known faces instead of great actors. Since he kept praising the other performers and not saying anything about McAvoy, I was getting pretty worried. Redford was just taking his time. It seems he likes McAvoy as much as the rest of us. He had some interesting insights about directing him. Redford said that McAvoy’s intense energy allows him to do almost nothing without being boring in a scene. Redford wants McAvoy to trust that energy more. It will be interesting to see if McAvoy takes that to heart in his future performances.
The Conspirator left me with more questions. During the Civil War, was there a border between the North and the South that was patrolled or monitored? Could civilians travel or move across it? I wonder this because Mary Surratt and her family were southerners who moved to Washington DC during the war. I suppose a lot of civilians were accused of spying for the other side. I also wonder what happened to John Clampitt. According to wikipedia (never the most reliable source!) Mary Surratt was defended by another fellow besides Aiken. Now, this is not the Maryland Senator and Attorney General Reverdy Johnson, played by Tom Wilkinson in the movie. It’s yet another lawyer. Having too many lawyers must not have seemed dramatic enough for the movie. Poor Clampitt, forgotten all over again!
Some friends and I had an interesting chat on facebook about Frank Herbert’s Dune. With their kind permission, I am posting it here. This is a great way to blog—just let others do it for you!
Firefly: “We have reached that time when all will seek our lives…” — Paul (Maud ‘Dib) Atriedes, Dune
Doodlebug: You sure that quote isn’t from Barry Zito?
Firefly: You’re sharp! I did intend that as a literary reference to the state of the Giants right now. (Other times it reflects the state of my own psyche…)
Ant: Yeah, so what exactly is Dune anyways? It’s a TV show, right?
Firefly: Oh Ant…Epic sci-fi tome by Frank Herbert. Made into a somewhat controversial movie by David Lynch in the ’80s. It took Lord of the Rings to move this from the number one spot on my all time favorite list. I highly recommend the read. I’m actually surprised you haven’t devoured this one yet.
Ant: I am admittedly out of touch with pop-culture, for I do not own a TV and you assume correctly that I say that with snobbish hipster pride. I also do not read much, sadly, and this I am not proud of. Most books just don’t hold my attention, and I am suspicious of the shelves upon shelves of look-alike fantasy fiction which are a challenge to discern through and choose the worthy vs the unworthy. But if you recommend it, I may give it a sniff.
Firefly: I applaud your aversion to pop-disposable-culture. Your wisdom however belies your aversion to the written word. I frequently have to be dragged by wild horses to a book, reading used to equate too much with school, but find something that intrigues me and I have the capacity to be voracious. The Dune saga actually stretches for 6 books, and Herbert’s son added various prequels – probably totaling a dozen by now. But I wouldn’t suggest all that to anybody. Dune itself is the classic. Herbert is quite the philosopher and that’s the primary thing that distinguishes this work from pulp sci-fi. The interior, thoughtful, non-dialog writing is particularly impressive to me. Anyway, check it out some day.
Ant: That part about reading=school+therefore+undesirable is my point exactly. So I’m on the hunt for soul-nourishing stories. I shall investigate this one, thanks! How thick are the Dune books? Not that it should matter if they’re wonderful. (In fact, thicker would be better if they’re great.)
Firefly: Dune itself is about 400-500 pages.
Doodlebug: Sorry Firefly, I couldn’t handle either Frank Herbert or Dune!! I was an Arthur C. Clarke, H.P. Lovecraft kind of guy : )
UglyBug: I’m going to throw out a comparison here that will make you gag, but the Dune series is, in one way, like the Twilight series. The first book is good enough (in the case of Dune, completely brilliant, of course) to make you read the rest of the series, but none of them satisfies in the same way. I will also point out that Dune was remade as a TV miniseries, and even though it’s not great, it is where I discovered James McAvoy (as Leto II, twin son of Paul). Finally, you have to persevere at the beginning of the book Dune, because Herbert needs time to describe his incredible universe before the action kicks in. Wow, now I think I need to read this again.
Firefly: You really hit the nail on the head. I was completely blown away by the initial work—it is a classic. But you’re right. The scope is so large that you have to give Herbert time to set the stage. And yes, I raced to read Dune Messiah, but quickly after Muad ‘Dib leaves the scene, the work loses some important power. I liked the miniseries, if only for the fact that they attempted it. What was it, a Hungarian production? Intriguing. I enjoyed the Paul/Muad ‘Dib characterization but they lost me with the Baron’s portrayal. Was he trying to play the part as a bad conscience? Anyway, I liked it for what it was, but you can’t get past the absence of Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis, Patrick Stewart, Jürgen Prochnow, and, for that matter, José Ferrer. I’m in the midst of “Middle Earth” right now, but perhaps when I’m finished I’ll have to dust off the old paperback for another go. In the meantime, I might just watch the David Lynch cut on dvd.
UglyBug: One of the funniest books I’ve ever read is The Making of Dune, about the Lynch movie. They spent a fortune on special effects to create the sandworms. The first time everyone sat in the screening room to view the footage on a large screen, all the men crossed their legs in horror. The worms looked like giant penises. Everything had to be re-shot, which is why you only see the worms from certain angles, with their mouths open, to avoid the problem. My favorite cheesy film line: “The worms, the spice; is there a relationship?” By the way, don’t forget Linda Hunt (fresh from her Oscar win for playing a man in A Year of Living Dangerously), Brad Dourif, Dean Stockwell, Sting, and Virginia Madsen. Let’s have Dune party one of these days!
Firefly: Well, you also have to love the Twin Peaks crossover: Lynch, MacLachlan, Everett McGill (Big Ed!), Jack “There’s a fish in the coffee pot” Nance, José Ferrer (Miguel’s father)…Yes, I think a Dune party is certainly in order! The spice must flow!!!
(Thanks, everybody, for the lively discussion. I think I need to go watch James McAvoy shirtless now.)
If you’re going to title a movie “first class” you better be sure it’s a good one. And the latest X-Men movie certainly is. I will probably always like the original film the best, because of Hugh Jackman and the relationship between Wolverine and Rogue. Still, X-Men: First Class is a very entertaining film, and I’m glad I saw it the first day without reading any reviews or spoilers.
James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have no difficulty leading the movie with their charisma and intensity. They are both excellent in their individual scenes, and they have the necessary chemistry in their scenes together. I have to give a shout out to Laurence Belcher, who plays Xavier as a boy, because he’s such a good match to McAvoy. Jennifer Lawrence is great as Mystique; January Jones as Emma Frost is cool and distant, but at least she’s tough and smart. I appreciate strong female characters in this genre, ones who aren’t just dumb sex toys. The new faces playing the other young mutants are all enjoyable to watch. Kevin Bacon was obviously having a grand old time playing villain Sebastian Shaw. I can’t believe all the brilliant character actors who keep popping up in tiny roles, like Ray Wise, James Remar, and Rade Serbedzija. Another favorite actor makes an appearance, but mentioning his name would just be a spoiler, and you’d hate me. Matt Craven and Oliver Platt have bigger roles, and they are a treat, too. Brendan Fehr from Roswell, and more recently CSI: Miami and Bones, has a blink-and-you-miss-it part, as does Randall Batinkoff. Who’s Batinkoff? He appeared with Kellie Martin in the 1994 TV show Christy.
I do find it strange that a movie set in 1962 had almost no period details. The hair, makeup, costumes, and sets seem deliberately generic. Banshee has hair that would have gotten him stranger looks in 1962 than any genetic mutation. In other words, it looks totally normal for any time after 1968. I didn’t mind the lack of period details, really, but I do wonder about the decision to go in that direction for the film’s look. Another thing I couldn’t help noticing is that all the mutants except Angel and Darwin have blue eyes.
Without giving away any spoilers (and if you hate spoilers, don’t read this paragraph just in case I’m not obscure enough!) there’s one thing that happens early on that makes no sense to me, when young Magneto first faces Sebastian Shaw. I suppose it happens, or doesn’t happen, “because if it didn’t, or did, there would be no movie.” (That classic plot device!)
As much as I enjoyed X-Men: First Class, I have no desire to see it a second time, at least not until it comes out on DVD in a few months. A key ingredient to a blockbuster hit is repeat viewings from loyal fans, so it will be interesting to watch the box office numbers over the coming weeks. I do want to go back and re-watch the original X-Men. I also want to see more of Michael Fassbender’s films. I’ve already seen just about everything James McAvoy has done, so it’s just a waiting game until he hits the big screen again.
Note: Comments are encouraged and welcomed, but I will not post any with spoilers.
I discovered James McAvoy in 2003 when he played Leto in Children of Dune, the son of Paul Atreides who transforms into a sand worm. A good friend in the UK recorded all the British TV he did in the next couple of years and mailed me the tapes, which included State of Play, Early Doors, and Shameless. When I went to London in March 2005, I had no idea he was appearing in a new play at the Royal Court in the tiny Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. I almost missed the listing, so when I stumbled across it, I was falling over myself to get to the theatre. I was able to get the last seat at a special matinee for school groups, even though I hardly qualified.
I stood outside the theatre after getting my ticket at the box office, stunned at my good fortune and wondering how to pass the time until the play began. I saw a very familiar face headed toward the theatre, so I called out a friendly hello. It was McAvoy, clearly in a rush, but he stopped to meet me and give me a big smile. I’m sure he could see how excited I was, and I suppose having enthusiastic fans was still a novelty back then. He said he’d look for me at the stage door after the performance, and then he went inside. I went down the street to a card shop and bought some blank cards with envelopes for the autographs that I hoped to get.
People often say when they meet an actor that he looks shorter/taller/different than onscreen. McAvoy looked exactly the way you’d expect. We are the same height, so I was eye to eye with him. His Scottish accent is delightful, and it’s a shame that he rarely gets to use it in his movies. He usually adopts a British accent, which is fine, but I want more Scottish!
The play was Breathing Corpses by Laura Wade. It explores the way finding a dead body affects a series of people, and the first character to find a body ends up being the last corpse in a chain of deaths. McAvoy played a guy whose girlfriend is abusive to him, both verbally and physically, but he doesn’t fight back until his girlfriend abuses his dog. The other cast members included Tamzin Outhwaite, Paul Copley, and Niamh Cusack.
The Jerwood Theatre is an intimate studio space with only 85 seats, and I sat in the third row center. During the curtain call, McAvoy saw me and winked. There was a Q & A with the cast onstage after the performance. Unfortunately, Paul Copley couldn’t stay for it, so I missed meeting him at the stage door later. He appeared in one of my favorite miniseries, Horatio Hornblower, so I regret not getting the chance to talk to him.
I can’t complain, though, because McAvoy came out the stage door to find me. I had him all to myself, since none of the students stayed around. He signed several autographs for me and some of my friends who are also fans. He also posed for several photos. Too bad I didn’t have my good Nikon, just a cheap pocket camera, so that’s why my photos are rather poor. McAvoy was warm and open, and he told me he was going to Africa next to film The Last King of Scotland. He talked about Shameless and his recent vacation travels. Then he had to go meet his grandparents for a meal, so he said good-bye. I left the Royal Court feeling completely satisfied.
I don’t have to say that James McAvoy’s career has exploded since I met him. The Last King of Scotland, The Chronicles of Narnia, Becoming Jane, Atonement, and Wanted are just some of the major films that have kept him working hard over the years. This weekend Gnomeo & Juliet opens (he voices Gnomeo) and this summer he stars in X-Men: First Class, as a young Professor Xavier. I’ve read some recent interviews with him, and he’s become more guarded, which makes a lot of sense to me. Keeping your life private these days has got to be a challenge. McAvoy has earned his success, and I look forward to watching him in many more films. I hope to see him accepting an Oscar one of these days. It’s only a matter of time.
(Click on photos to scroll.)
The second in a series of stage door fan encounters. See the first here.
All photos ©2005 The Ugly Bug Ball. Please do not post to other sites without permission.