This post is part of StinkyLulu’s Supporting Actress Blog-a-thon. Head over and feast on the posts.
2009 turned into something of a banner year for its women, regardless of what the precursors want us to think woman after woman meted out tremendous work. Judging Supporting Actresses is always a difficult task. Although I, like anyone else, appreciates when an actress gets a plum Supporting Role with good scenes served up on the platter; sometimes it’s all the more satisfying when a woman takes mere lines from a script and turn them into something completely human. It’s the most difficult task for any actress and in An Education we are privy to just that. Cara Seymour, Olivia Williams, Emma Thompson all serve up delicious supporting tidbits. However, the supporting piece that really had me cheering when the credits had rolled was that of our most dubious character. None other than my favourite piece of arm candy all year long.
Rosamund Pike as Helen
True, of Seymour, Thompson and Williams, Pike does have the most screen time, but she also has the weakest story arc. After reading the script Helen is not perceptible as a significant person, but all that changes with Rosamund. The role is not exactly one of exceptional uniqueness – the blonde-arm candy-girlfriend role. Every gangster and every rich man has one and Dominic Cooper’s Danny is no different. It’s not difficult to be enthralled with Helen as much as Jenny is, even though we realise before she that Helen may just be a little empty in the head. Jenny and Helen’s first conversation is a golden example.
- Chelsea. C’est beaucoup trop cher pour moi.
- I just said … it was too expensive for me.
- No you didn’t. You said something completely different.
- I just… well, I said it in French.
- In French. Why?
It’s a perfect way to let us know a little about Helen without beating it on our heads. She’s ignorant, but she’s the type dim person who doesn’t even realise her shortcomings – or perhaps, is too unconcerned to care. Notice, for example, on that Oxford trip when Danny asks Jenny to imagine spending three years there. Such a glorious future can surely not be lost on the audience, but it is lost to Helen who shudders in trepidation. I know, she says, as if she saw her own ghost. The old cliché goes that you have to get someone smart to play stupid and Rosamund known for her cold villainess in Die Another Day and her respectable Jane Bennett in Pride & Prejudice is not your typical ignoramus. Who’d have thought that she could do this role justice; more than justice even.
The thing is, as excellent as her line readings are what really sells me on Rosamund’s performance are her silent moments. They're done so subtly, and Lone Scherfig’s compact direction spend so little time on her, that sometimes it’s a case of blink and you’ll miss. Remember Helen’s confusion as to Jenny’s apparently superfluous use of French? I chuckle when her eyes go aghast when Danny bursts into a French lament at the dinner table. She’s probably wondering what she’s missing and it’s the subtlety of Rosamund’s acting choices that are so laudable. Notice too how her eyes go vacant at the Symphony, as the three are moved by the orchestra Helen knows not what to do and the discomfort in her eyes shows. By the time this is done it’s so easy to underestimate Helen but I read so much more into that scene where Danny and Jenny dance at the club and Helen gives David that look. Perhaps she understands all too well that Jenny’s thirst for knowledge may be something that even Danny wants to fill. But maybe I’m overestimating.
It’s a pity that Helen doesn’t have a good enough exit, but that would belie the importance [or lack thereof?] of her character. She is above all else the dutiful woman to her man and even as we sense a slight sadness at Jenny’s lot she still will obediently sit by his side as he says what he must. For all her dimness though we must note Helen’s accurate scientific analysis.
Most girls aren’t ugly, but most girl students are. So there must be something about these places that, you know, makes you fat, or spotty or short-sighted.
How can one argue with logic like that?