Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Forgotten Characters 4.4

Another week, another forgotten character to fête...
Ever noticed how a number of play-to-screen adaptations tend to have bit supporting players in the droves? Sometimes a film isn’t necessarily a straight adaptation of a play, but they retain that same theatricality. And, in the theatre it’s important for each player – from the chorus to the lead – to have the opportunity to grasp our attention. And, when it comes to holding our attention I think few would disagree that this actor manages to do just that.
Ben Affleck in Shakespeare in Love
as Ned Alleyn

There are so many facets for me to enjoy Shakespeare in Love on. For one, it’s the finest romantic comedy of the last twenty years. For two, it’s as good a shrine to Shakespeare as a legitimate adaptation of his play could have been. And, three, it’s a veritable smorgasbord of acting talent. When I think of Ben Affleck, the actor, I immediately think of Daredevil and then I just try to expunge from my brain. Shamefully, his Ned keeps getting forgotten and now that I think of it, it’s a shame because he’s wonderful in Shakespeare in Love. He plays Ned Alleyn, the coveted mainstay of the Admiral’s Men – an acting group, who turns up on the scene when Will (Shakespeare) begins production of “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter” soon to become “Romeo and Juliet”.
The film’s all about mirror-images, the Romeo/Juliet romance mirrored in Viola and Will, the Nurse in the play as against the Nurse in reality and Ned is every bit as brash and occasionally egoistic as Mercutio, the character he plays. When he shows up Tom Wilkinson’s moneylender is nonplussed as to the hubbub and Ben launches into his tirade.
Silence you. God!

I am Hieronimo! I am Tamburlaine! I am Faustaus! I am Barabbas, the Jew of Malta.

Oh, yes, Master Will, and I am Henry VI. What is the play and what is my part?

Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard are so astute with the screenplay. They get the intricacies of glorious anachronisms and brilliant witticisms down pat, but they also manage to tie such rote things like broad characterisations into moments that don’t play as particularly broad. That first scene of his is essentially the only significant scene of Ned, but as he appears throughout the rest of the film there’s that sense that you know him well enough. Granted, it’s not just the writing – Affleck is doing fine work. Good lines are one thing, but delivery is everything. The only reason the puns work is because the actors deliver them so glibly.
Later in the film Ned goes to Will, concerned about his character, the lead of the play as Will has duplicitously told him.

“The speech is excellent Oh, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you!. Excellent and a good length. But, then he disappears for the length of a bible.”

It’s not overtly funny, but I always smile because Mercutio’s soliloquy, to which he’s referring, is Shakespeare’s longest soliloquy. When we see him later, in rehearsal and at the real thing, he pulls off Mercutio expertly. And, that’s the sort of adeptness that impresses me over time.

He also goes out with a bang when Tinley arrives at the close to implicate Viola for acting on stage. At his “that woman is a woman” bit Ned turns to Ralph (the nurse) and demands,
What?! A woman?! You mean that goat?!

It’s his last line and it’s a completely throwaway a moment, but the character is not. It’s proof that Affleck the actor is not useless.
Was Affleck's Ned worthy of a space in your memory, or were you distracted by all the other great actors in Shakespeare in Love?


anahita said...

I thought he was great in this. Also when I think of Ben Affleck I think of Good Will Hunting and Gone Baby Gone, to me he's a good actor that's done some bad stuff, not the other way around :) xx

Robert said...

I totally forgot he was in this! Hence, such a great choice for your "Forgotten Characters" series. :) He was great, and it's such a great movie.

TomS said...

Count me in among Affleck's admirers. I agree, he gave "Shakespeare in Love", a wonderfully witty and smart film, an extra kick of comic energy. (And he looked awesome in his costume!)

DEZMOND said...

I must admit I didn't like SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE at all, it had no charm nor the right atmosphere, and it was just very monotonous and plus almost all of the actors were just bad, Affleck and Paltrow before all others. It had an americanish vibe which is just wrong given the topic and the setting.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

ana yeah, he wasn't bad in good will hunting but other than that he sort of bores me as an actor.

robert SUCH a great movie.

tom yeah he does look good in the costume :)

dezmond how is that even possible? i ADORE this movie. i never really got the american-vibe.