Free to air
WITH apologies to other worthy contenders, the title of greatest living screen actress may come down to a choice between Hollywood’s Meryl Streep and Britain’s Judi Dench, though for versatility and sheer output (not to mention the range of her accents) Streep must be given the edge. She was an Oscar winner in 1979 for Kramer vs. Kramer and a leading star in the 1980s, yet extraordinarily the best years of her career were still ahead. In 1992 she was confident enough to play a fading actress in Robert Zemeckis’s black comedy Death Becomes Her (Sunday, December 16, midnight, Seven), a role most actresses at the top of their form would have spurned as a portent of decline. It’s a weird spoof on the culture of narcissism and celebrity, in which Streep’s character, Madeline, marries a plastic surgeon (Bruce Willis) in the belief he can restore her tarnished glamour, thus sparking a murderous feud with her best friend Helen (Goldie Hawn). Yes, the jokes are laboured, but the film has some wonderfully funny moments, and Streep brings typical gusto and conviction to her role.
In Plenty (Saturday, 1.50am, Nine), she plays an English resistance fighter working behind the lines in German-occupied France, where she has a passionate affair with dashing British agent Sam Neill. Post-war life seems flat and stale by comparison, especially in the company of husband Raymond (Charles Dance), a polished foreign office type who patiently endures her increasingly neurotic behaviour and the cruel edge of her personality. Fred Schepisi’s sad, dark and troubling film, based on a David Hare play, can be seen as the playwright’s lament for the squandered hopes for a better post-war Britain in age of growing affluence and plenty’’. Streep’s performance is edgy and unsettling and her English accent, of course, is impeccable.
She was great as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady just as Dench was great as Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown, and as Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. So is there a clear winner here? With famous turns as Cleopatra, Mistress Quickly and the fading Iris Murdoch, not to mention M in the Bond films, perhaps the versatility prize should go to Dench. The part of Laura Henderson in Stephen Frears’s Mrs Henderson Presents (Saturday, 11.30pm, Ten) may well have been made for her. It’s another film about a woman’s efforts to come to terms with dissatisfaction and ennui after an exciting life abroad. With no relish for idle widowhood after the death of her husband (a high-up in the Indian foreign service), Laura buys a derelict London theatre, the Windmill, and turns it into a flourishing vaudeville house, a venue for nude revue in the tradition of Paris’s Moulin Rouge. All rather shocking for the British in 1939, though the Windmill was much loved by servicemen in the war years.
(M) ★★★★✩ Saturday, 11.30pm, Ten
(M) ★★★ ✩ Saturday, 1.50am, Nine
(M) ★★★✩✩ Sunday, December 16, midnight, Seven