The lives and relationships of those within a British traditional touring stage company provide thebackdrop for the five-time Oscar(r) nominee, The Dresser (Best Picture; Best Actor; Best supporting Actor; Best Director; Best Screenplay Adaptation). The Dresser is a compelling study of the intense relationship between the leader of the company and his dresser. Sir (Albert Finney), a grandiloquent old man of the theater, has given his soul to his career, but his tyrannical rule over the companyis now beginning to crack under the strain of age and illness as he prepares for his two-hundred-twenty-seventh performance of King Lear. Sir's fastidious and fiercely dedicated dresser, Norman (TomCourtenay), submits to Sir's frequently unreasonable demands, tends to his health and reminds him of what role he is currently playing. The two men are essential to each other's life. This is a film rich in comedy, compassion and love for theater.
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Anglophiles, Theatre buffs and Shakespeare nuts will all enjoy this film but anyone who loves great acting will enjoy this gem of a picture. Some marvelous British actors fill the smaller roles beautifully (including the wonderful Edward Fox) and the script is one of the wittiest ever filmed. In an industry filled with dumbed-down scripts and "actors" who rarely practice the craft, The Dresser is more than just an overlooked, good film. It's a diamond in the dross. Let this fine work glitter for you.
The 1983 motion picture with a screenplay by Harwood, brought together Tom Courtenay as Norman and Albert Finney as Sir. The time was World War II, and German planes were bombing some of the cities where the troupe appeared. Sir is on his last legs, under extreme pressure. He has chosen a difficult group of Shakespearean plays for his small touring acting company to perform including "King Lear" which is a difficult and exhausting role for a strong, healthy man to perform. The company is in Bradford, and Sir sees the fire brigades fighting to put out bombing fires. He's exhausted, and it's been a struggle to find a cadre of actors to be in his troupe because of wartime demands.
Sir has an attack and has to go to the hospital the night he's supposed to play Lear for the 226th time in his career. He discharges himself from the hospital, but he is in terrible condition. Norman, Sir's dresser, who idolizes his employer, is the only one who can keep him going. He knows every trick to jump start the old man. He knows the lines of the play as well as Sir does.
Madge, the stage manager, played by Eileen Atkins, who also adores her employer, thinks Sir is too ill to go on, but Norman insists he can be ready and gets him up for the part by his powers of persuasion. Norman fights off the other cast members and bullies them into letting him get the old man ready. It's touch and go whether Sir can go on or not.
The movie does a beautiful job of portraying an England at war, and showing how a theater production looks from backstage. The scenes in which Finney as Sir is applying his make-up with Courtenay's Norman prodding him are masterful. The fuss budget Norman has only his nips of brandy to keep him going. Sir is egotistical, domineering, fond of the ladies, and a fine actor. Finney and Courtenay are both absolutely superb in the movie. If you love theater and actors, this is the movie for you. Powerful with brilliant character delineation and plot development.
It is easy to see that Finney was classically trained, and that his booming stage voice must have rung through many a theater. The snatches of Shakespeare that we do see are great fun, as is the byplay between the old man who can do them in his sleep and even the most humble members of the crew, who by now know all the cues. But mainly this is the story of two men, one an artist who is used to taking what he needs from those around him, and the other who gives his life over to that man, and to some idea of carrying on the great work. This is not a happy film, but it is a great one.
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