amus— Pryce of fame
Jonathan Pryce tells Alan Morrison about his immersion into the Bloomsbury Group as Lytton Strachey in
C arringlon .
All too often. when an actor is playing a role that demands a high level of eccentricitics or physical and vocal mannerisms. the performance floats along on the surface. and the behavioural details become a convenient cloak wrapped around an empty characterisation. When Jonathan Pryce first approached the task of playing Bloomsbury (iroup writer Lytton Strachey in Christopher Hampton's film ('arring/on. he found plenty ofevidence in paintings. photographs and hooks of Strachey's bushy beard. long lingers and peculiar. high—pitched voice.
The actual character was far tnore complex — Strachey was a gay pacifist who had a deeply loving. platonic relationship with painter l)ora Carrington (played by Emma Thompson) —- and yet Pryce. in the ﬁnished film. has never let the more ﬂamboyant traits obscure the intellectual and emotional core of the man. It is a brilliant performance. one of the year's best. and it is easily the highlight of the film; at one point. about three-quarters of the way through. Strachey drops out of the narrative for some titne. and the film immediately begins to drag.
‘It was a worry at lirst.‘ says Pryce about the preparation for portraying a character from real life. ‘hut the more I discovered that most people knew very little about him. the more liberating it became. Given the security that he was a real person. I still had to build and shape a character as if he was a piece of
1 that provided an emotional foundation
provided a great deal of comfort for fiction. It‘s not like portraying Winston him. given his desperation in his
Churchill or even Richard Nixon. like Tony Hopkins is doing [in a new film for Oliver Stone]; people have a very strong image of how they look and sound. With this film. we are appealing. ; hopefully. to a broad audience in Europe and America who know nothing about these people. and so the character i has to stand on his own two feet as a piece of liction.‘
The story of Strachcy and (‘arrington is indeed a strange one. They met in
1‘) l 5 and at once formed a strong bond
for their complicated approaches to the times. Strachey flirted openly with young men; Carrington drove her ardent admirers to distraction by guarding her virginity and professing her love for Strachey. Together they broke social taboos by living together in an idyllic house in the country. which they later shared with Carrington‘s husband. who was also the object of Strachey‘s affections. ()ther lovers came and went through both their lives. but somehow they remained true to each other.
‘I think. on a very simple level. it was mutual need.‘ is Pryce‘s view on the essence of their relationship. ‘Shc
I ‘ s. I ' ., g I," I, I ‘4 ‘1' ‘ Ask r
Jonathan Pryce in Carrington: ‘a brilliant performance’
relationships with men. that then turned round into affection. And she wasn‘t a simple human being. She had a
complicated relationship with her own
father. which. you could say. would lead her to look fora relationship with an older. wiser man. This relationship would last a week now. because the journalists would be sitting on their doorstep or going through their rubbish bins. In retrospect. we can say this must have been extraordinary at the time. but the number of people they would have
‘This relationship would last a week now, because the journalists would be sitting on their doorstep or going through their rubbish bins.’
had an immediate effect on was minimal. What permeated through into society was the effect they had as a group of political thinkers and artists and philosophers. not necessarily the minutiae of their personal lives.‘ Nevertheless. it's that personal detail that screenwriter and debuting director Christopher Hampton (writer of Dangerous liaisons) is interested in. It is true that Strachey. with his book [imminent lie/oriuns. overthrew many of the stuflier values of the time. and
that Carrington caused a stir with her one-woman sexual revolution more by cropping her hair to a short bob than by what she got up to in the conﬁnes of her home; but it is an unusual and surprisingly contemporary love story that is the story’s focus. In this way. it's more challenging than the typical. prettier British period ﬁlm.
Pryce shot Carringlmt last summer. just before beginning rehearsals for his West End run as Fagin in Olive/1’. Throughout his career. the Welsh-bom actor has alternated between stage and screen. His flirtations with Hollywood have ranged from critically respected projects like The Age (If/rinoeenee and (I/engarry (ilen Ross to commercial pap like Haunted Honeynumn and Jumpin ' Jtlt'lv' l’las/i. At his best — in. say. Brazil. Breaking Glass. The l’loughman '3‘ Lunch and Something Wicked This Way (‘omes — he shows presence. charm and remarkable range. His best known role. however. was on the London and Broadway stage as the star of Miss Saigon. for which he won the Olivier Award and a Tony Award. His next project is ‘a marriage ofboth those worlds'. playing Peron opposite Madonna in Alan Parker's film of [iii/a.
Pryce began his career some 23 years ago at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre Company. and one of the first roles he played was a Glaswegian in John McGrath's Fish In The Sea. He and McCrth kept in touch over the years. and it has been Carrington that has reunited them professionally. McGrath came in as producer with Ronald Shedlo in 1992. when the Carrington package was in trouble after the original director. Mike Newell. dropped out. ‘John and I still catch ourselves smiling at the irony of it.‘ says Pryce. ‘We never thought. twenty-odd years ago at the Everyman. we‘d be wearing black ties and sipping champagne on the seafront at Cannes.‘ But. given that he came home from France canying a well deserved Best Actor prize. the bubbly seems more than appropriate. Carrington opens at the Glasgow Film 'l‘hearre and Edinburgh Cameo on Friday 22 September.
DEE!— Scottish showcase
In a year when Scottish filmmaking is back in the spotlight, the great danger is that by trumpeting the commercial successes, the achievements of good low-budget works are drowned out. It’s not always enough for this sector to have festival or blink-and-you’ll-miss- it television screenings; if the resurgent industry we’re hoping for is to really take off, the work of younger film and video makers needs more exposure. Opportunities also have to be created to bring these people together, and to encourage them to debate contemporary ideas and potential collaborations while viewing each other’s work.
That’s exactly what this month’s Scottish Film and Video Expo, organised by Edinburgh’s Video Access Centre, aims to do. A series of
screenings, workshops and forums will be backed by talks and information stalls to pass on the latest word about training, funding bodies and broadcasters. But it’s not all geared towards those in the know: the Expo provides a golden opportunity for the public to discover the wealth of material that’s being made right on
Terry Pratchett’s Jungle Quest
their doorstep, and perhaps - if the bug bites — get involved in the process themselves.
The screenings have been programmed under loosely thematic banners. ‘Body’ examines different aspects of human physicality; ‘Journey’ tackles geographical and spiritual explorations; ‘Poetry And
Motion’ focuses on more experimental visual techniques; and ‘Crossing Boundaries’ covers race, age, language, gender and much more. If the Expo reveals anything, it’s the astonishing range of subjects and treatments, from dramas to documentaries to short poetic works. In particular, it is becoming clear that Scotland has a highly evolved culture of video art.
Other highlights include a screening of this year’s Tartan Shorts, followed by a point-ot-view discussion from a producer, director and writer who have been involved with the scheme; a focus on Scotland’s workshop sector, in many ways the backbone of the low-budget industry; and a discussion by director Andy McLeod about the process that took his film Terry Pratchett’s Jungle Quest from First Reels project to Channel 4 broadcast. (Alan Morrison)
The Scottish Film and Video Expo takes place on Friday 29 and Saturday 30 September at the Edinburgh Filmhouse. For further details, see listings and Index.
The List 22 Sept-5 Oct 1995 1: