AN EFFEMINATE PERSONAL ASSISTANT OF A DETERIORATING ACTOR
Excellent film adaptation of Ronald Harwood's play about an aging actor-manager (based on real-life Donald Wolfit) whose very survival depends on the constant pampering and prodding of his valet - dresser - who lives vicariously through the old man's performances. Finney, as Sir, and Courtenay, as Norman the dresser, are simply superb. Yates captures the look and feel of wartime England, and backstage atmosphere of a small touring company, with uncanny ability. A must for anyone who loves acting and the theater.
England, 1940, during the blitz: all the young actors are in uniform, hospital, or dead. Albert Finney, playing an aging Shakespearean, carries on as best he can, leading his troupe of women, and men too old or damaged to fight. Actually, he doesn't lead, but rather is daily cajoled into carrying on by his dresser (played by Tom Courtenay).
Courtenay is wonderful as the fussy, loyal, oh-so-English man behind the man, maintaining a desperate hold on his good humour even as his life is coming apart in shreds as Finney disintegrates. It is easy to see that Finney was classically trained, and that his booming stage voice must have rung through many a theater. The snatches of Shakespeare that we do see are great fun, as is the byplay between the old man who can do them in his sleep and even the most humble members of the crew, who by now know all the cues. But mainly this is the story of two men, one an artist who is used to taking what he needs from those around him, and the other who gives his life over to that man, and to some idea of carrying on the great work. This is not a happy film, but it is a great one.