×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Genius does not fade away

BAFTA: Down to the Wire 2013

Faced with a veteran horde of theatrical knights and dames in pics such as “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and “Quartet,” BAFTA voters could be forgiven for wondering what happened to all the British actors under 60.

Apart from Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln,” a stripling at 54, most of the hometown contenders for this year’s acting prizes are well into their seventh or even eighth decade.

There are Maggie Smith in both “Marigold Hotel” and “Quartet”; Judi Dench in “Marigold” and “Skyfall”; Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins in “Hitchcock”; Ian McKellen in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”; Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins in “Quartet”; Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton in “Marigold”; and Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave in “Song for Marion.”

By a fluke of timing, there are few younger Brit thesps in this year’s race. Daniel Craig for “Skyfall,” Eddie Redmayne in “Les Miserables,” Jude Law in “Anna Karenina,” Andrea Riseborough in “Shadow Dancer” and perhaps BAFTA darling Helena Bonham Carter (“Les Miserables,” “Great Expectations” or “Dark Shadows”) are being mentioned the most in dispatches. Rachel Weisz won the New York Film Critics prize for “The Deep Blue Sea,” but that film qualified for last year’s BAFTAs, and Weisz was overlooked then anyway.

So how come so many legends of the British stage and screen are still competing so vigorously well past pensionable age? Perhaps their stage training taught them the stamina and technique to sustain their longevity. Or maybe it’s just that their early careers in the public theater or the BBC never earned them enough money to retire on.

Audiences certainly don’t want them to stop. The baby boomers who grew up with these actors still have an appetite to see them on the bigscreen, in stories which explore the comedies and tragedies of aging.

These British veterans are not alone. Octogenarian French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in “Amour” are strong kudos candidates this year, while Alan Arkin (“Argo”), Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field (“Lincoln”) plus Robert De Niro (“The Silver Lining’s Playbook”) are the most eye-catching contenders among the older Americans.

Working with older actors has its perils, however. “Marigold” screenwriter Ol Parker recalls the anxiety of waiting several months from greenlight to shooting, in case one of the film’s stars became incapable of making the grueling trip out to India. And as each actor arrived on set, after two plane journeys and a long taxi ride, the physical toll was so visible that Parker says he doubted they would get through the shoot in Indian conditions.

But they breed them tough at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theater. Even though memorizing lines can be challenging for older actors, Parker was delighted to discover that they are exceptionally respectful of the script, down to the last comma.

“One of the many great things about writing for that cast is that they are so theater-based, they try and learn the lines exactly as they are written,” Parker says.

BAFTA has always loved to celebrate the work of veteran British actors, but it may not get many more chances to honor such perennial favorites as Smith and Dench. Dench first blipped on BAFTA’s radar in 1966, when she was named most promising newcomer, while Smith was nominated for the same award back in 1959.

But Smith is always ruthless about quashing any hint of sentiment, as Parker recalls from a memorable conversation with the great dame on the set of “Marigold.” She asked him who had been his first choice for her role as the racist Cockney Jean. “You, of course,” Parker replied.

“No, really,” said Smith, “you can tell me, who did you really write this for?” “You,” insisted Parker.

Smith fixed him her best Dowager Duchess stare and said, “So why didn’t you write me a better fucking part?”

Given such magnificence, can BAFTA voters resist the temptation to hear her acceptance speech?

BAFTA: Down to the Wire 2013
Genius does not fade away | BAFTA evolves to handle doc boom | A case study of Internet’s impact on filmmakers

More Film

  • Rosie Day, Harriet Sanson Harris, Natalia

    Rosie Day, Harriet Sanson Harris, Natalia Tena Set For Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s Thriller ‘Baby’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES– Rosie Day (“Outlander”), Harriet Sanson Harris (“Phantom Thread”) and Natalia Tena (“Game of Thrones”) will star in Spaniard Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s psychological thriller “Baby,” Variety has learned exclusively. The project will be pitched on May 19 at Fantastic 7, a new Cannes initiative seeing seven of the world’s most prestigious fantastic festivals back and [...]

  • Polish Fest’s Industry Event Presents Upcoming

    New Horizons’ Polish Days Goes to Cannes With Five Films in Progress

    CANNES  —  Buoyed by a wave of international successes, including Pawel Pawlikowski’s 2019 foreign-language Oscar nominee “Cold War,” Polish cinema will get a fitting showcase Sunday morning with the presentation of five new projects at New Horizons’ Polish Days Goes to Cannes. Organized in conjunction with the Polish Film Institute, Polish Days is the most important [...]

  • Cannes, Annecy Animation Day Hosts ‘Bob

    Coala to Pitch ‘Bob Spit: We Do Not Like People’ at Cannes, Annecy Animation Day

    São Paulo-based Coala Filmes impressed in the series competition at last year’s Annecy Intl. Film Festival with an episode of their popular stop-motion series “Angeli the Killer,” based on the famous comics of the Brazilian comic-book writer of the same name. This year, the film’s director Cesar Cabral and producer Ivan Melo are participating in [...]

  • Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich’s $100 Million

    Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich’s $100 Million Film Fund Launches

    CANNES  —  Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s $100 million private film fund Kinoprime is ready for business, the fund’s CEO, Anton Malyshev, said in Cannes this week. Financed to the tune of $100 million over the next three years, the fund can provide up to 50% of a film’s production budget, with a $2 million cap [...]

  • Russian Helmer of Blockbuster ‘Stalingrad’ Looks

    Russia’s Fedor Bondarchuk Unveils Four New Films in Cannes

    CANNES  —  Russian director Fedor Bondarchuk introduced four new productions from his Art Pictures Studio Saturday in Cannes, including “Attraction 2,” the sequel to his 2017 sci-fi blockbuster. The invitation-only showcase at the Gray d’Albion hotel also unveiled footage from three new features that Bondarchuk is either directing or producing. Sci-fi thriller “Sputnik” is the story [...]

  • "The Whistlers" Review: The Romanian New

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Whistlers'

    With all due respect to Lauren Bacall, there’s always been a bit more to whistling than putting your lips together and blowing. Certainly for Cristi (Vlad Ivanov), the corrupt Bucharest policeman embroiled in a comically complex plot to get a local gangster off the hook in Corneliu Porumboiu’s Cannes competition title “The Whistlers,” it is [...]

  • 'Vivarium' Review: Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen

    Cannes Film Review: 'Vivarium'

    Ah, the suburbs. The rec rooms and Formica kitchens and manicured lawns. The cozy suffocating middle-class conformity. The way they once stood for everything that was worth rebelling against. For decades, the suburbs have been the ultimate cheap-shot movie punchline — not just a location but a state of mind, a place to thumb our [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content