The British can be forgive for not basking in the post-Christmas glow any longer than we have to. Half of Yorkshire is under water making the government’s foreign aid policy – Louboutins for African dictators’ wives – appear all the more suspect. The New Year’s Honours List is bound to throw-up (and I use that phrase advisedly) another fattage of cats being rewarded for greasing politicians’ palms.
Still, Christmas was rather a lovely day. I’d booked lunch at the Holborn Dining Room in the Rosewood Hotel – Bloomsbury’s answer to the Grand Palais – for me and playwright-opera-librettist friend Daniel. It was all very jolly. We had a Santa Clause like Dickie Attenborough who, on spying my plate of turkey, whispered ‘a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’. We had a singing quartet not dissimilar to the Jersey Boys rocking around the Christmas tree. We had fine food and wine and tip-top service by a squadron of smiling, handsome hipsters.
After lunch, we decamped to Bloomsbury Towers for Prosecco and a screening of Oliver! I don’t know why, but the 1968 film musical does feel like a Christmas movie … though why a story about abducted orphans, dens of child thieves run by vicious old men and good time girls brutally murdered underneath London Bridge is in any way festive is anybody’s guess.
But there is so much joy in the musical numbers such as Consider Yourself, Be Back Soon and Who Will Buy? to lift the spirits and warm the heart. According to IMDb, the London square recreated on the Shepperton back lot in Surrey for Who Will Buy? was modelled on Bloomsbury Square. This I’m afraid cannot be. Bloomsbury Square never was a white stucco crescent and is far smaller than the set with the vast gated garden and pond at its centre.
Oliver! deserved the Best Picture Oscar because, like The Wizard of Oz, it is a musical that aspires and reaches the dramatic. It is ostensibly a children’s story that conceals very dark, adult themes. The songs accompany the plot rather than the screenplay being written to string random numbers together. It is entirely satisfying on every level.
Ron Moody’s Fagin is a definitive performance as, I think, is Shani Wallis’s film debut as Nancy. The children Mark Lester (Oliver) and Jack Wild (Dodger) are perfectly cast and cameos from Peggy Mount, Harry Secombe and Oliver Reed (as Bill Sikes) are meticulously drawn.
The finale of Downton Abbey was a fitting adieu to Christmas 2015. I was rather grateful that Julian Fellowes placed happiness over drama and allowed Lady Edith, Cousin Isabel, Lady Mary and even Mr Barrow peace and goodwill over Christmas. I don’t think we could have taken another car crash, jilting at the altar or exploding Earl’s stomach. The Downton finale comforted and reassured.
Boxing Day saw a cull of the cards, the assassination of an ailing poinsettia and an attempt to get back to work sketching the flat plan for the Henry Poole & Co book. Ordinarily at Christmastime – particularly over a weekend – it would be G&T time at noon, lots more movies and the fourth volume of the collected detective novels of Ngaio Marsh. But I had an urge to crack-on and get my desk in good shape for 2016.
That said, everything does have to stop for an MGM musical on the telly and, though it is Monday the 28th, London is still deserted. I have to say An American in Paris (1951) has never been a favourite musical of mine. Yes, it won the Best Picture Oscar but it truly doesn’t hold a candle to Singin in the Rain.
Casting was a nightmare. Georges ‘Stairway to Paradise‘ Guétary and Leslie Caron, in her film debut, could barely speak English. Gene Kelly plays an artist in thrall to a predatory dame who wants to ‘promote’ him portrayed by Nina Foch. Neither character is particularly appealing. The relationship is like the gigolo-cougar dynamic between George Peppard and Patricia Neal in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
However, the twenty-minute ballet that combines the glory of Gershwin and costumes/sets inspired by French Impressionist masterpieces that ends the film is sublime. The costumes – a two-hander between Orry Kelly and Irene Sharaff – replicate the cafe-cabaret posters and drawings of Toulouse-Lautrec so cleverly with Kelly dancing the real-life role of hoofer Chocolat.
The Gershwin ballet was Gene Kelly’s vision. Director Vincente Minnelli was going through a truly messy divorce from Judy Garland so it was left to Kelly to direct as well as choreograph the superb set piece that MGM under producer Arthur Freed was famous for. Again, I prefer the Broadway Melody ballet from Singin in the Rain because it is danced by the great Cyd Charisse.
Apparently Cyd Charisse became pregnant during pre-production of An American in Paris so was replaced by Leslie Caron. Caron is a terrific little dancer but I don’t think she was an MGM leading lady at this early stage in her career. I do love a game of Hollywood ‘What if?’ You know my favourite is Marilyn Monroe as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s rather than Audrey Hepburn as the author Truman Capote wished.
So what does 2016 hold for you, my dear? I feel rather hungry for a little more filthy lucre than 2015. After all, you’ve got to pick a pocket or two. Until next time…