Director: Stephen Fry|
Cast: Simon Callow, Peter O'Toole, John Mills, Jim Broadbent, Emily Mortimer, David Tennant
Duration: 104 mins
In this ceremony of sparkles and nasal accents, the title was snatched from an imagined book-title in Evelyn Waugh’s successor to Rise and Fall and seminal chic flick satire Vile Bodies. That the title wasn’t suitable for Stephen Fry’s directorial début should have spoken volumes, but the fear is that these too would be mangled in the contrived web of spangly mispronunciations. And that the imagined author of this virtual volume wrote under the pseudonym Sue de Nimes ought to have given the game away. Despite the duly followed option of pretence, it could have been ascribed to Sew Denim. But then, ho, ho, this is art imitating life.
If the book can provide titles but fail to lend one, Bright Young Things could just as well have been titled A Gay Throng in Fancy Dress or I was a Teenage Party Monster, though none of these aptly portrays the grotesque zeal for histrionics that Fry would have you believe is the quintessential nature of young affluence. It’s not. Neither is the dirgesome overexcitement that pervades the 30’s It-Crowd with an overbearing Luvvie sentimentality that surely no self-respecting Berliner would have sought to emulate. The tale of Adam’s woes with his fiancé lacks love where love’s labours lost, and money won; and as a Rat Pack without the talent, there isn’t much going for their friends.
The throwaway line “So sorry, it’s rather a bore” could not have been more prophetic if it was spoken by the crew and not the cast while in the heady smoke of the first of many parties seen, mentioned or merely implied. But still it wasn’t enough to warn against the ennui on which the plot relies to secure this audience’s compassion.
Where Waugh implied a structure to the lives of his bored personalities, here their depth matches their depictions. To be fair, the film isn’t totally bad; Stephen Campbell Moore’s portrayal of Adam is enjoyable in a sort of Hugh Laurie way, and Emily Mortimer’s Nina is entrancing in her prim, flimsy morality. It’s just inescapable to see it as related to the book’s emotional path, and too easy to spot the faithful hand of Jeeves behind a camera that’s merely taking note, most dutifully, of Mr Wooster’s splendid antics, despite the ethical vacuum in tone.
Quelling the mooted concept of broadminded youth shocking their stauncher peers (high-society pun now intended) the only shock is how through demonstrating the plot’s flacid moral dilemmas the film not so much pulls punches as quite forgets to throw them. Perhaps the idea of directorial conscience was deemed too far from the “period film shot with modern pace and cinematography” that Fry describes.
This time, modern pace is a cost of polished silverware; too many instances where the love for the scenery falls foul of cameramen and crew having cameos in the reflective crockery. To add irony to injury, where the lens that once promised to score for the home side instead forced panic cuts to avoid more crew peeking into the frame. Sadly, everything Fry can do, Gosford Park can do considerably better.
All fingers point to the look, rather than the purpose of the film taking over at an early stage. It’s far too easy to envisage the director gently purring another financier into the British Film Council wallet, waxing about wax, orgasmic organza, twirling crinoline, draped velvet and the “opulence, opulence” routine. It’s a West End fantasy, all arts nouveau and deco, the pre-war slush that Waugh penned as satire and Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun viewed as tragedy - and appropriately laughed with sorrowful tears. Yet Fry and his team decline to confront it as anything but a fabulous time of freedom fresh from the mist of one conflict, during the hectic calm before the looming storm of another.
Modern pacing requires hurried gear-shifts into the Second World War rendered into shadow via the dry tone of Chamberlain’s hollow “No such undertaking has been received” broadcast. Less ironic wars have Churchill introductions; here the irony is delivered in chrome pails.
The parallels, if it’s safe to draw some, point uncharitably. Fry’s options were narrowed with every unnecessary scene he shot, and shrunk steadfastly with each refusal to cut or twist them to his advantage. Rather than watching his pawns bay for broken glass they are peered at through a haze of absinthe, supporting hopes that old thespians hamming clichés in tired characters will convince as quaint eccentricity.
Bright Young Things requests that you tut quietly rather than ridicule the self-inflicted squander of life. But it is hard not to feel dimly seedy, watching these pasty cul-de-sacs without ever being invited inside. You can see this anthem for doomed youth proclaimed as life imitating art, where really it’s trash imitating truth. No time was invested in asking “Where are these people from?” except for answers regarding Home Counties and hillclimb races; or “Why are they thinking like this?” aside from suggestions of drug abuse and over-zealous drinking. Questions such as “Why was Simon Callow / Richard E. Grant / John Mills / Peter O’Toole in this at all?” may be better left tacet.
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Interview with Director of Bright Young Things, Stephen Fry, about the Harry Potter phenomenon
Audio commentary from director Stephen Fry; 'Behind The Scenes' featurette; Documentary on Stephen Fry; Interactive menu; Scene access