Robson Green is one of my cousin’s favorite actors, too, which makes me feel a little less like a bobby-soxer when it comes to the guy. I first saw him on Masterpiece Theatre in “Reckless” opposite Francesca Annis, whose series called “Lili” made me absolutely psychotic with the delusion that I was she. Green is a wonderful romantic lead who always plays opposite stunning women unknown in the States, so it’s a little startling that his most powerful roles have been played against transgender or transvestite men in “Wire in the Blood.” (Tortured by being strung up totally naked -- no stunt double -- by his hands behind his back.) I ransack Netflix for Robson Green movies, not least because they are generally filmed in the Midlands of England and along the coast in settings of iconic meaning for a genetic Scot like me. That might account for some of my cousin’s fondness as well.
I’ve only come across a couple of stinkers in the Green oeuvre so far. One was “Take Me,” an appalling portrait of suburbia. “Me & Mrs. Jones” was fun but caused him to be accused of doing “froth” instead of challenging his own ability. This week I watched “Like Father, Like Son” and “The Last Musketeer” which both addressed father/son issues and let Green play against teen girls in a fatherly way. There’s someone out there who keeping banging on about Green being “too old” (b. 1964) but both my cousin and I are old enough to be his mother, so the criticism has no legs with us. Too old for what?
Green has his own production company and does a formidable amount of work. “Like Father, Like Son” is nearly schematic: a single father with a teenaged daugher falls in love with a single mother. (Gemma Redgrave, whom that juvenile critic also considers “past her sell-by date and tiresome to watch” but whom I thought was excellent and quite up to Green’s level of acting -- in fact, she rather stole the show.) The plot develops from the former spouses: Green’s committed suicide and Redgrave’s was a psychotic killer now in prison. Redgrave’s son hasn’t known this but finds out as the intimacy between the two parents deepens and complicates everything. The effect on the son, who has idolized a fantasy father his mother invented for him, is a storm of distrust and a demand to meet his real father in one of those stark all-white English prisons. It appears that the father has called the son over to the dark side. Already on the dark side is a little minx of a female who is pretending to have an love affair with Green and knows enough to simulate fellatio with a banana, invent a steamy diary, and reintepret Othello as sexually overheated. (Green is her English teacher.)
One is sometimes aware that a scriptwriter has sat down with the task of creating a vehicle for Green, never more so than in “The Last Musketeer,” which puts Green, playing a gentle guy forced to become tough, in a setting where he is surrounded by women of all sorts, rather like his fan-base, I should think. The key to this plot is a character who needs to be explored in some depth somewhere but so far I haven’t found a satiSfactory book or film explaining this type: the man who lives a rough, tedious life and out of his own insecurity insists that his son be a “real man” which he hopes to force his boy to become by brutalizing him, in this case beating his son badly enough to be sent to the emergency room. When the young man is well enough, he joins the Royal Marines where he learns fencing as a way of channeling his enormous, overwhelming rage.
He emerges from the military just in time to miss his father’s death -- his father had been calling for him but he couldn’t get there in time. In his rage and grief, surrounded by the “villains” [sic] who attend the funeral for free food and drink, he agrees to do some criminal smuggling but is caught and locked up. A model prisoner, he comes out to compete as a fencer and though he’s excellent, his attitude is so belligerent that he’s not put on the team. In another impulsive decision, he accepts a temporary job teaching fencing at a Scots girls’ school housed in a castle on the coast.
This time his “foil” is Arkie Whiteley as a Ph.D. who runs the school and who wants to save everyone, both girls and Green. He needs a place to hide, since he’s nearly been pulled into a second criminal scheme, and she SAYS she wants a winning girls’ fencing team but that’s only the beginning. Arkie Whiteley died of cancer the year after this movie was made. She’s tiny (Green is smallish), saucy, intelligent, and convincing in a rather dubious role. She’s bracketed by a sympathetic librarian and an unsympathetic disciplinarian, both female.
The fencing team is four girls, two not white, one red-head (the only polite and compliant one!), and a “father’s girl” pushed out into defiant territory by neglect. Green knows what to do with her, and in teaching her how to “ride the anger” into useful aggression, also learns for himself. Briefly he visits his “Mam” who has just had a stroke and his sister, tough, sensible and taking care of family. Clearly they have been his lifeline.
The love scenes (the Ph.D. is sexually liberated and emerging from the grief of an earlier relationship) were remarkable in my opinion. Instead of the SPAM-celebrated medieval battering ram approach, this brief depiction shows a quiet probing for genuine response. I hope kids watch it over and over!
The grand finale overlays the girls’ fencing team competing in that formal referreed way that they do while Green’s character is pulled into an anything-goes knife-fight on the roof of the building. The director has a stuttering style -- playing the same move twice or sometimes a third time from a different angle -- that works well.
This movie spoke to me on a number of levels. Of course it’s fun to watch someone as fluid and skilled as Green with an equal like Arkie Whiteley. (What a major loss!) Of course the plot was interesting and the scenery gorgeous. Once, I took a beginning fencing course, so I could sort of “feel” the moves. I watch these DVDs twice unless they’re stinkers, so I can think about the camera strategy, the editing, the pacing of the scenes, and all that technical stuff while still appreciating the story. The dialogue was uninspired, but I can't resist the accents and vocabulary. ("Emily" refers to the Green character as an "oik!")
But what made this movie exceptionally rich for me was having a fencer in the family, in fact, a world-class competitor. Bob Scriver’s grandson, Lane DeSmet, stayed with us for the summer when he was six-years-old while his mother had cancer surgery. His son, Ariel DeSmet, Bob’s great-grandson, is the fencer. Inevitably he’s on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_jDk3GzJg0 He is well-named as he characteristically leaps in the air, something he’s been doing since he could stand up and launch himself off the furniture. His formidable and sometimes overwhelming energy has found the perfect outlet. I hardly know him -- he grew up over in Portland which I left in 1999. Lane spent his earliest years here in Valier -- I sometimes think I’m occupying the space his mother would have taken if she had lived.
All this echo and cross-referencing means that a relatively competent but run-of-the-mill movie had deep meaning for me, not that I could put it into words right now. Maybe it will come out in writing later.