Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Forgotten Characters

When two screen legends come together sometimes it’s difficult for anyone else to get any recognition. If you’re lucky you’re a future James Bond, or an imminent acting legend. But if you’re just John Castle. The gods are not with you, and sometimes you play your character so well that you can’t be anything but forgotten. And so it was with
John Castle in The Lion in Winter
As Geoffrey

This role is out of the running in the Katharine Hepburn awards so I’m free to write without influencing anyone. Hepburn vs O’Toole – that is what we remember first and foremost from The Lion in Winter. It is after all, their film. But behind them, nipping at their feet – as far as I’m concerned – is John Castle. Of the supporting cast, Castle impressed me the most. The King of England is holding a Christmas court. He sends his Chancellor to call his two of his sons and his Queen. Richard is duelling, the Queen is in her prison of a castle and Geoffrey is playing with his subjects. It’s a powerful scene and one without dialogue. The men are divided in two, and purely for his entertainment he has them fight each other at his behest. Those snake-like eyes, those upturned lips. We would be led to believe that Geoffrey is a villain. Maybe he is...maybe he is not.
Geoffrey is the quintessential middle child. It’s an old myth. One parent loves the oldest, one the youngest and the middle child is left to his own whims. Of course Geoffrey is not really the middle child of Eleanor and Henry…but for this story where only these three matter – for all intents and purposes he is in the middle. The most poignant child/parent scene in the film is often attributed to the two powerful scenes between Hopkins and Hepburn, an established screen legend and one in training. But the parental scene that’s most dismal for me occurs somewhere in the middle. The defeated Eleanor scrutinises her visage in the mirror. Geoffrey comes in. Eleanor, ever distrustful, is certain he has some motive. “I wanted to wish you Merry Christmas.” And then he utters those famous lines, “I remember my third birthday. Not just pictures of the garden or the gifts, but who did what to whom and how it felt.My memory stretches that far back,but never once can I remember...anything from you or father warmer than indifference. Why is that?”. Those are some of my favourite lines in the film [and every line in the movie is quotable]. But it’s Castle’s expression that sells it. Completely expressionless.
Geoffrey is an emotional cripple. That’s why as Eleanor astutely puts it, “He’ll sell us all, you know? But only if he think we think he won’t”. As he tells his parents in an earlier scene “It’s not the power I feel deprived of. It’s the mention I miss.” Geoffrey’s situation really is hopeless and he’s so good at being invisible that the performance is ignored too. In retrospect we remember Hopkins’ bravado, Dalton’s charm some even remember the insolence of Terry. But above all I think we should remember Geoffrey. For his cunning, for his intellect, but most of all for his misery.
Previous Entries
Marilyn Monroe in All About Eve
Ethan Hawke in Training Day


Runs Like A Gay said...

Just found this mention on your site (linked from arey Mulligan).

Would you believe I played this role in a theatre production back in 2005. Great role to have some fun with.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Lucky you! This is the quintessential forgotten performance [see no one commented :P]. It's a pity he didn't go on to better things.

And how lucky for you! It's a killer role. Are you an aspiring actor?

Runs Like A Gay said...

I try to be...