There are few things more annoying than watching a film being praised for all the wrong reasons. More than that, it’s more exasperating how an unremarkable performance from a film can be praised while others remain in the background both literally and figurative. I suppose the fact that it wasn’t a big role accounts for its forgotten states, but I’m still especially fond of
Crispin Glover in Alice in Wonderland
as Stayne, Knave of Hearts
I think we can all agree that Helena Bonham Carter was the best-in-show in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (reviewed here) and true, even those who’ve mistakenly (in my book) given support to Depp’s work in the film agree on that. What I wish they’d take time out to note is the fact that Crispin Clover’s second-in-command to the diabolical Red Queen easily emerges as the film’s most notable male performance. Bonham Carter has a terrifying screen presence that’s put to full use here and in all her tyranny Glover must be the diplomatic bridge between the Queen’s constant freak-outs and those she freaks out upon. Naturally, he himself has pent-up hatred for the Queen. Woolverton’s resolution to their relationship which only reinforces the poorness of the screenplay but watching Glover’s very slick Knave opposite Bonham Carter’s very fiery Queen is a treat. Because the Red Queen is so officious he ends up having to spend a great deal of time playing reactionary shots that he absolutely sells. There’s something a little creepy about him (put to excellent use in Charlie’s Angels), but he tempers the creepiness – and where the screenplay is doing nothing to help him out he creates the Knave as a very interesting anti-hero who you want to know more of.
There’s that moment where Um, Alice in disguise is at the Red Queen’s lair – fine her castle – and there’s that confusion as to what her name is. Helena is just a treasure there, but it’s interesting watching Stayne’s face as he thinks he’s one-upped our Ladyship. Well, he has actually – but they haven’t realised it. It’s that sort of reactionary consistency – notice he’s always excessively glib when the Queen has her freak-outs to the point of disinterest – that manages to make Woolverton’s script not good, but better than abysmal. I hate and love that about-face moment where he tries to kill the Red Queen at the film’s end. I hate it because you sort of wish that their dysfunctional relationship could thrive, but it makes sense in a way and Glover does a good job of pulling it off. As he tells her, “It is far better to be feared than loved.” He’s just after the best meal ticket – and getting banished means he has no need for her anymore. Either way he’s a nice bit of fun in an ensemble that has some hits (Bonham Carter, Hathaway) and just as many misses (Depp, Wasikowska) and even though his seduction of Alice makes me shake my head it does spawn my favourite line of his – “I like you, Um. I like largeness.” Priceless.
Do you remember Glover’s dark Knave or did Burton’s officiously directed Alice in Wonderland make you forget him?