Sunday, March 30, 2014

1934 - The Barretts of Wimpole Street

Not content to demand constant attention at home, my six-week-old son, Charlie, has now taken it upon himself to upstage my acting career. Well, technically, his mother and I took it upon him, since his decision-making capabilities are still rather limited. Nonetheless, Charlie has now trumped my two-decade career by sharing the screen with Julianne Moore and Alec Baldwin in a scene for the upcoming Still Alice. He plays (if you can call it that) their grandson, coincidentally also named Charlie. While you may not actually see his face through all the blankets, you can be guaranteed that the baby in Kate Bosworth's arms is indeed our little man.

Moving on now to another 1934 Best Picture contender...


The Barretts of Wimpole Street
Director:
Sidney Franklin
Screenplay:
Ernest Vajda, Claudine West, Donald Ogden Stewart
(based on the play by Rudolf Besier)
Starring:
Norma Shearer, Fredric March, Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Sullivan, Katharine Alexander
Academy Awards:
2 nominations
0 wins

Published English poet Elizabeth Barrett (Shearer) is gravely ill and confined to her room in a house occupied by her overbearing father (Laughton) and her many siblings. A visit from another poet, Robert Browning (March), lifts her spirits, especially when he confesses his love for her, a love that grew solely from reading her beautiful words. The two begin a sweet and loving affair despite the insistent disapproval of her father, who unreasonably demands her affections remain only with him.

A relatively stock-standard drama, The Barretts of Wimpole Street presents an emotional family story. However, the tension is occasionally alleviated, perhaps incongruously, with bursts of silliness in the form of visiting cousin Bella and her heavy rhotacism.

Set in the mid-19th century, the period costumes are obviously sumptuous, but otherwise the picture leans toward the visually bland side. Perhaps an unfair assessment considering the number of sets was necessarily limited - not only is it based on a play, an art form generally short on location changes, but it's based on a play about a mostly housebound woman.

Norma Shearer delivers a subtly sincere performance, earning herself a Best Actress nomination - the only other citation the film received aside from Best Picture. It is Charles Laughton (pictured with Shearer), however, who commands the most attention with his portrayal of a deliciously callous father, the king of guilt trips. But the casting of his many sons is a bit of a curiosity - all six brothers appear to be of a biologically impossible similar age.

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