Thursday, February 5, 2009

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Casting Coup Month: The Picture of Dorian Gray

They beat me to it. True, a version of the story appears every couple of months or so, but not a major theatrical release. And here it comes, this year, directed by Oliver Parker, starring Ben Barnes and Colin Firth. Dammit all, and here I had the perfect cast!

Oscar Wilde's homoerotic masterpiece was given its first big-screen spectacular in 1945. I believe it was Halloween when I saw it. Turner Classic Movies had a horror marathon, and oh I couldn't wait to see it! Angela Lansbury + George Sanders = AWESOME! And when I finally did...I was a little disappointed. The film was a trifle dull, not at all a horror piece, despite the supernatural elements. Dorian bored me, the addition of a second love interest (played by Donna Reed) was uninteresting, and there was that atrocious little song they made Angela sing. But Sanders was awesome. And then, of course, there were the four color sequences, depicting the painting in all its horror.

Funnily enough, though nominated for Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White (losing to the Japanese-set Blood on the Sun) and Best Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury, losing to Anne Revere for National Velvet), it only won Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Harry Stradling, Sr.). At that time, some categories were divided into Color and Black-and-White. It has always seemed odd to me that the winner of the Black-and-White category had color sequences. But I see their point. The Picture of Dorian Gray is, indeed, a beautiful film to look at. I find the scenes with Angela Lansbury and the final scene of Lowell Gilmore especially impressive. It's certainly leaps and bounds superior to the screenplay.

I can only hope that the new Dorian Gray is as beautiful as this version. I can only hope my cast is better than the original's, and as good as the upcoming one's. Let's see.

Who is She: Wife to Lord Wotton. Appearing only once, her Ladyship is romantic and rather silly, and has a mania for attending church.

Originally played by:

Lisa Carpenter, who appeared uncredited and did nothing else. This is what I found when I Googled the name. I think it fits.

My Choice:

Helen McCrory (Interview with the Vampire, the upcoming Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)

Who is She: A pretty, bored young noblewoman who flirts with Dorian at his country estate.

Originally played by:

Mary Forbes (The Awful Truth, Ninotchka)

My Choice:

Natascha McElhone (Ronin, TV's Californiacation)
McElhone may not be the "young woman" the book describes, but I frankly like the idea of an older woman intrigued by Dorian's good looks, still willing to throw herself at him. It's good drama and good comedy at the same time! Plus, McElhone is a fox.

Who is She: Lord Henry's aunt, a woman who does much charity work in London slums.

Originally played by:

Moyna MacGill (The Unsinkable Molly Brown, My Fair Lady), mother of Angela Lansbury

My Choice:

Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones's Diary, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
A brilliant actress, Gemma Jones can bring a bit of the stiff upper lip and old lady mannerisms the role requires. She can be disapproving, playful, awful, wonderful. The type of person Lord Wotton would love to hang out with.

Who is He: A doctor, formerly friends with Dorian, but one who has since severed all ties with the young man due his reputation. Dorian blackmails him into helping to cover up a crime, and Campbell is unable to take it.

Originally played by:

Douglas Walton (Bride of Frankenstein, Camille)

My Choice: Razzie Award Nominee for Worst Supporting Actor (Hudson Hawk), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Gosford Park)

Richard E. Grant (The Age of Innocence, Penelope)
Oh, Richard E. Grant. He sneers, he disapproves, he's pale. He fits costume dramas perfectly, because he looks so out of place in the modern era. Well, unless it's Spice World. Anyway, like every other role that's not in the first chapter, he would only get a scene or two, so you want a gripping actor that can sell us on Campbell. And that's Grant.

Who is She: A faded actress, mother of James and Sibyl. She sees Dorian's wealth as a suitable partner for her daughter, a decision she eventually regrets.

Originally played by:
Lydia Bilbrook (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [1941], The Spider Woman)

My Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Darling), BAFTA Award Winner for Best British Actress (Darling), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress in a Drama (Away from Her), SAG Award Winner for Best Actress (Away from Her), Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actress (Away from Her)

Julie Christie (Troy, Dragonheart)
This would be delicious. Christie, the most modest of grande dames, could play off her reputation as one of the greatest living actresses (that is not Meryl Streep). I mean, Julie Christie? As a has-been? Not to mention the fact that she could totally sell it. I see her channeling Glenda Jackson.

Who is He: Sibyl's brother, a hot-headed, protective sailor who returns to England to take revenge on Dorian.

Originally played by:

Richard Fraser (How Green Was My Valley, Bedlam)

My Choice:

Patrick Baladi (Last Chance Harvey, the upcoming The International)
There was an episode of Poirot in which Baladi plays a hot-tempered, protective farmer who goes to a local inn to take revenge on a blackmailer. So...yeah, he can do it.

Who is She: A beautiful and naive actress who falls in love with Dorian -- and he with her. But, of course, falling in love makes her realize how false the theatre is, a realization she comes to just when Dorian brings his friends to the theatre to be impressed. Oops! (Though, frankly, this is strange. Doesn't knowing what love is only improve your understanding, and thusly, your performance?)

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Gaslight, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Manchurian Candidate), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Death on the Nile), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Manchurian Candidate)

Angela Lansbury (The Mirror Crack'd, Nanny McPhee) -- and look at that image. That's what wins you a Cinematography Oscar, friends.

My Choice:

Kelly Brook (The Italian Job, Marple: The Moving Finger)
Okay, I'll confess, she does not exactly look "innocent". But I approve of her as an actress. Angela Lansbury played a madam the year after Dorian came out. And she'd be in period garb anyway. Plus, she's hot. I would fall for her. Why shouldn't Dorian?

Who is He: An artist who feels compelled to capture Dorian's beauty on canvas after meeting him at a party. It proves to be his masterpiece. He later fears for Dorian's soul, tries to keep Lord Henry away, and eventually discovers a secret that may cost more than he bargained for.

Originally played by:

Lowell Gilmore (Fortunes of Captain Blood, King Solomon's Mines)

My Choice: SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Gosford Park)

Jeremy Northam (A Cock and Bull Story, The Invasion)

Who is He: To quote Sparknotes: "A nobleman and a close friend of Basil Hallward. Urbane and witty, Lord Henry is perpetually armed and ready with well-phrased epigrams criticizing the moralism and hypocrisy of Victorian society. His pleasure-seeking philosophy of 'new Hedonism,' which espouses garnering experiences that stimulate the senses without regard for conventional morality, plays a vital role in Dorian's development."

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (All About Eve), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (All About Eve)

George Sanders (The Jungle Book, Village of the Damned)

My Choice:

Toby Stephens (Orlando, Die Another Day)
Any son of Maggie Smith is going to get cast. Done deal. And Toby can be charmingly villainous, as evidenced by his turn in Die Another Day. He can give off that "is he or isn't he" vibe, as showcased in Poirot: Five Little Pigs. And he's a hell of an actor, as witnessed in the PBS miniseries Jane Eyre. Stephens is perfect for this role.

Who is He: The protagonist. "A radiantly handsome, impressionable, and wealthy young gentleman, whose portrait the artist Basil Hallward paints. Under the influence of Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian becomes extremely concerned with the transience of his beauty and begins to pursue his own pleasure above all else. He devotes himself to having as many experiences as possible, whether moral or immoral, elegant or sordid."

Originally played by:

Hurd Hatfield (King of Kings, Crimes of the Heart)

My Choice:

JJ Feild (Poirot: Death on the Nile, K-19: The Widowmaker)
Isn't he pretty?

Best Actor: JJ Feild
Best Supporting Actor: Jeremy Northam, Toby Stephens
Best Supporting Actress: Kelly Brook, Julie Christie

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