Pass­port to Eal­ing

TV Times - - Interview - Emma Cox

Richard E Grant on his love of the clas­sic come­dies – and why he never wanted to be an ac­tion hero

s an ac­tor known for quirky roles, it’s no sur­prise that Richard E Grant’s film tastes are a lit­tle off­beat, too.

The star of cult com­edy With­nail & I (1987) has shied away from big blockbusters, pre­fer­ring movies that al­low a cast to flex their act­ing mus­cles. So he jumped at the chance to present a new three-part series for Gold about some of his favourite films, the Eal­ing Come­dies.

‘In my own ca­reer, I’ve al­ways been most in­ter­ested in char­ac­ter­driven roles,’ says Richard, 59. ‘I’m less in­ter­ested in play­ing ac­tion heroes or smoul­der­ing heroes.

Yet al­most without ex­cep­tion, most movie artists th­ese days tend to play just one kind of char­ac­ter.

‘As an ac­tor, I was al­ways struck by the fact that the Eal­ing Come­dies had this cast of peo­ple in al­most a reper­tory sys­tem. I thought that was amaz­ing, be­cause you could see them go­ing from one film to

Athe next and not know what kind of parts they were go­ing to play.

‘They’re some of my favourite films of all time – witty, quirky and with a vast range of plots and roles.’

The Eal­ing Come­dies – in­clud­ing Pass­port to Pim­lico (1949), which is shown im­me­di­ately af­ter this week’s pro­gramme – were filmed at the west Lon­don stu­dios of the same name be­tween 1947 and 1955. Be­fore World War Two, film come­dies had gen­er­ally been far­ci­cal ve­hi­cles for co­me­di­ans. Then stars like Arthur Askey and Ge­orge Formby be­gan ad­ding po­lit­i­cal and so­cial com­men­tary.

Af­ter the war, the Eal­ing Come­dies took this one step fur­ther by mak­ing films with ac­tors rather than co­me­di­ans, and plots be­gan to be­come much clev­erer.

‘they not only put Bri­tish com­edy on the map, they also earned a spe­cial place in the heart of film lovers the world over,’ says Richard.

As well as set­ting the stan­dard for plots and scripts,

The Laven­der Hill Mob The Ladykillers fea­tured Peter Sell­ers (top row, cen­tre) and alec Guin­ness (front left) the series made big stars out of Alec Guin­ness and Peter Sell­ers, among oth­ers.

‘Alec Guin­ness was my favourite out of them all,’ re­veals Richard. ‘He was just some­body I al­ways ad­mired and wanted to em­u­late.’

The come­dies range from award-win­ning heist movie The Laven­der Hill Mob (1951) to the sub­ver­sive Meet Mr Lu­cifer (1953). One of the most fa­mous of the series is Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), in which Alec Guin­ness plays eight dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters.

‘One amaz­ing scene is a com­pos­ite shot of him in six of his roles,’ says Richard. ‘That’s easy enough to do now with our tech­nol­ogy, but back then it was com­plex, time­con­sum­ing and ground­break­ing. The direc­tor even slept next to the cam­era overnight to make sure it wasn’t moved even an inch, or the shot would have been ru­ined.’

the Eal­ing come­dies sadly came to an end when the stu­dios were sold to the

BBC, but their le­gacy lives on.

‘It was a rel­a­tively short pe­riod of film-mak­ing but they make for a fas­ci­nat­ing so­cial doc­u­ment of that time, as they go from blackand-white at the end of the war to the 1950s, when ev­ery­thing bursts into colour,’ en­thuses Richard.

‘They in­clude all sorts of ideas that we take for granted now –

The Ladykillers (1955) has a lit­tle old lady who’s smarter than any­one re­alises, which is quite Miss Marple-like. I love th­ese films be­cause they’re witty and quintessen­tially Bri­tish. It was a de­light to watch them all again.’

They’re witty and quintessen­tially


alec with Stan­ley Hol­loway in

New doc­u­men­tary Richard E Grant on Eal­ing Come­dies sun­day / gold / 7.00Pm

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