Saturday, March 17, 2012

(Love) doesn't feel like Puccini...

"To me it feels more like this:

Jeremy Irons says I've been waiting for you and Patricia Hodge says What do you mean? They're in a bedroom upstairs in a smart house; music is thudding below. I knew you'd come he says, and she says I've just come in to comb my hair. He says I knew you'd have to comb your hair. I knew you'd have to get away from the party.

He's drunk but he looks like he means it. She laughs - he's her husband's best friend and there is absolutely nothing whatsoever about her which suggests that flirtation or infidelity has ever crossed her mind. So when she asks Aren't you enjoying the party? and walks amusedly to the dressing table to pick up her hairbrush, she is just humouring an old friend, no more, no less. He just comes out with it. You're beautiful. Listen. I've been watching you all night. I must tell you, I want to tell you. You're incredible.

You're drunk.

Irons delivers this word beautifully. It is a beautiful word to say, after all. I was best man at your wedding. I saw you in white. I watched you glide by in white.

I wasn't in white.

I should have had you in your white before the wedding. I should have blackened you in your bridal dress before ushering you into your wedding as your best man...

She looks headmistressily unbothered by the situation. My husband's best man, your best friend's best man.

Irons ignores this. You're lovely! I'm crazy about you. All these words I'm saying - don't you see they've never been said before? Can't you see? I'm crazy about you. It's a whirlwind. Have you ever been to the Sahara Desert? Listen to me. It's true. Listen. You overwhelm me, you're so lovely.

I'm not!

You're so beautiful - look at the way you look at me!

Patricia Hodge gives us this woman's easy talent for coping with such situations. Fending off this kind of approach, we see, has always been one of her more instinctive accomplishments. I'm not looking at you! She is kind but stern.

Look at the way you're looking at me! I can't wait for you. I'm bowled over. I'm totally knocked out. My jewel. He puts his hand near her hair as though it's radiating heat. This isn't a pitch or a line, although I have seen several actors play this speech of Pinter's as just that. Nor is it a drunken error, as Douglas Hodge had it at the National Theatre in 1998: Hodge is supposed to be good in Pinter but he never plays against Pinter, which is what Irons is doing, rather than nudging us in the ribs to tip us off to what the author really thinks of these avowals. You could do this scene so many ways. But for Jeremy Irons, no editorialising, no standing apart. This is actually happening. The actual magic. It's magic.

I can't ever sleep again. Now, listen! It's the truth! I won't walk! I'll be a cripple, I'll descend - I'll diminish into total paralysis. My life is in your hands, that's what you're banishing me to - a state of catatonia. Do you know the state of catatonia? Do you? A state where the reigning prince is the prince of emptiness, the prince of absence, the price of desolation. I love you. She makes some footling objection, looking as pale as Patricia Hodge has ever looked. You want to reach into the scene and pinch her cheek, raise the blood to the surface. I adore you. I'm madly in love with you. I can't believe that what anyone at this moment is saying has ever happened. HAS EVER HAPPENED. Nothing has ever happened. NOTHING. This is the ONLY thing that has ever happened. Your eyes kill me. I'm lost. You're lost.

No she says. But her brain is beginning to register depths of feeling which have been slumbering under her marriage for years, for fifteen years, which this man has disinterred for her.


Well, that's Pinter. The film is the backwards-running Betrayal (1982) and this, the final scene, is the start of the story, a trick which the last decade has become rather addicted to copying. It's one of the greatest love scenes ever filmed because it does something which you almost never see. This is where, if you don't have a script like Pinter's, you have to cut away (to bedroom or breakfast) but here we actually witness the woman falling in love with the man, and you can see it because you can see Irons hypnotising himself, enchanting himself. You can see the actual magic.

Of course Irons has this quality of doomed romanticism - there is in his face something tending towards sickness and his teeth look a little brown - which makes him perfect for old-fashioned romantic parts. His best bit in Brideshead Revisited was being dumped by Julia Flyte, sitting on the stairs, embodying the pain of love: I don't want to make it easier for you. I hope your heart may break."

(Apologies for the extended quote but this is one of my favourite chapters from one of my favourite books, Antonia Quirke's gloriously uneven Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers - a book that was recommended to me by the lovely Nick Lezard with the words "you'll either love this or hate it because it's what you should be writing". He flattered me, the smooth fucker, but the book has stuck with me. Lo-ve-ly).

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