Saturday, January 26, 2008


The movie called “Falling” (2005) is a pun that puts together a woman who falls literally, rendering herself vulnerable, but who also falls for all the wrong men. This time it’s Michael Kitchen. What could be wrong with THAT, asks the Foyle’s War fan? Well, you see, Kitchen is NOT Foyle -- he’s an actor. I’m sure that like Robson Green, he thought it would be a good idea to show some rough edges to prove his range. (“Beaten,” also 2005, is the Green movie.) After all, it’s deadly dull to be too stainless and admirable, though I’m devoted to Foyle.

“Henry Kent,” the character in “Falling,” is not only a rotter who evidently had all his empathy knocked out of him as a child, but also he explains to the camera all the time, and we even see flashbacks. This vulnerable woman also talks to the camera and shows flashbacks, but her stories and what we see actually match, while the rotter’s don’t. The plot trick is that she makes her living writing novels but in a way he also makes his living by inventing stories about himself. They are both tale spinners.

I’ve been back to look at Kitchen in “Out of Africa,” where he’s puckish and agreeable, an excellent “foil” for Robert Redford -- in part because he’s physically small enough to make Redford look average -- and he’s very young, unlined, though this movie comes about halfway in a long career. In “The Buccaneers” he plays an irresponsible father, splitting the difference between Foyle and Henry as he takes a governess for a spin that is doomed from the beginning. As Foyle, Kitchen dresses in the fedora, three-piece suit, tie and overcoat that were standard uniforms of serious men in the Forties. He stands straight, walks like a dancer, the way Jonathan Pryce does, and shows the deepest emotions by simply closing his eyes while the wave breaks over him. The rest of the time his eyes rove and flirt, missing nothing, seeming to look elsewhere while proposing the truth to a culprit and then stabbing him or her with a stare as sharp as a fork piercing a frankfurter.

As Henry Kent, his clothes, his cap, his whole manner is raffish, off-hand, and evasive. It’s a shock to see him lounging, lurking, slumping, and another to see him undressed in bed with Daisy, his novelist victim. (Played beautifully by Penelope Wilton. I love BBC in no small part because their women seem real.) Nothing explicit is shown (I have a feeling that the actor Kitchen knows two important things: that it is better to imagine some things and that an actor must always preserve a bit of modesty.) but I must say that it must be very pleasant to wake in the morning to find this man leaning on a naked elbow under the covers.

Of course, Daisy can recover from victimhood, though her second failure as a husband-chooser has left her a bit paralyzed. We know now about the dynamics of the co-dependent woman, the one who can’t resist an exciting but dubious man because of the pleasure of saving him plus the adrenaline kick of the adventure. We know less about the narcissistic man, the one who believes the world is only his -- no one else quite exists. And who slips into violent tantrums if he doesn’t get his way. (Some will say that narcissists are incapable of self-analysis, but at this fascinating website, you’ll find an excellent example of one who can:

In the US with a different sort of actor and director, etc, this tale would be a violent noir tragedy. But this is an intelligent and civilized English movie, often very funny in a rueful way, and the story ends much more like real life -- with a few bruises along the way. No one dies (sorry). Daisy may or may not be more mature but Henry is quite unchanged. The original novelist was Elizabeth Jame Howard, who was married to Kingsley Amis for ten years.

A male narcissist with a female co-dependent is a plot line that plays out over and over in both real life and in scripts. We recognize the roles, we respond to the issues, we find them in our own lives all the time, because they emerge from our gender assignments. Big tough guys who insist on their way, draw everyone else into their goals, take advantage of women, are everywhere from politics to the ministry. Doting, enabling, forgiving women are likewise everywhere from Laura Bush’s big white house to just down the street. These psychological patterns often succeed brilliantly. What if Henry Kent had been able to curb his temper and lend his gift for fabulism to Daisy, thus giving her career a major boost and bringing in enough money to keep Henry in a life of pleasant sloth?

The culture in question grows out of Euro-ag, where farming centered on a strong, driven man who could manage things in a very firm way for a goal he defined. And his success depended very much on a woman invested in keeping him happy, healthy and focused -- and it would be helpful if she could and would stay nearly continuously pregnant. (Productivity! The mantra of the farm!) One of the most interesting phenomena on the election circuit is the effort of the Clintons to reverse their roles -- not just that, but also the efforts of the rest of us to accept that what liberals have been predicting is actually possible. We CAN negotiate our social styles and capacities -- right? The conservatives would say absolutely NOT. (They were whistling a different tune when Elizabeth Dole was attempting something similar while her husband touted a little “marital enhancement” chemistry.)

People who do intellectual or aesthetic or technological work have a good deal more elbow room when it comes to choosing their personal patterns, either consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, it a wonderful thing when they pass on their insights to the rest of us, who may not have had the ability to try things out so much, and therefore can benefit by second-hand examples.

It is not accidental that Henry purports to be a gardener and is capable of actually performing up to a point. It is also not accidental that Daisy’s garden is overgrown into a jungle and needs pruning. When this is illustrated in terms of English landscape and households, we are so glad to watch that we don’t necessarily get the metaphorical value on first watching. This is not a “secret garden,” but it bears pondering.


warycary said...

I very much like your style and your analysis, prairiemary! The scene where the drunken Henry sits alone, planning her entrapment, tenderly chanting "Daisy, Daisy, Daisy" is as chilling as the spooky music welling up in a slasher flick. Then as you mention, in the bedroom scene, there is something about this heartless bastard that completely seduces you into wanting his shoes under your bed!

For yet another side of the enormously versatile Mr. Kitchen, I recommend the Reckless series (with Robson Green), and especially, Alibi (with the wonderful Sophie Okonedo). Both show off his exquisite comic timing. There are several scenes in Alibi where Kitchen's Greg Brentwood exhibits barely controlled hysteria that is at once hilarious and heartbreaking.

And there is the truly ruthless assassin in The Last Contract - he has absolutely none of Henry's charm nor Greg's vulnerability. Icy-cold as a Maine morning.

The Hanging Gale and of course Foyle's War, are two more examples of his wide-ranging, completely mesmerizing, and very economic acting style.

I just wish we could get to see more of his work here in the US. He is absolutely top drawer in any role he plays - and I think I could stand waking up to that wonderful voice murmuring "G'morning" as well. Oh, Daisy! You lucky, unlucky dog!

prairie mary said...

Exactly what I needed! Some recommends of more Michael Kitchen movies! I saw Reckless long ago. There must be something going on between the two of them to both do wife-abuse movies in the same month. I'll get them on my Netflix queue at once!

I've also become quite interested in this author, Elizabeth Jane Howard, who was married to Kingsley Amis. May have to order from a few English bookstores!

Prairie Mary

Anonymous said...

Just dropping in to say that I second warycary's recommendations of Reckless, The Hanging Gale, and Alibi and would like to add To Play the King, Mrs Dalloway, and especially the 1999 Masterpiece Theater version of Oliver Twist, in which he plays Mr Brownlow, the nicest man who ever lived in a novel. As for his earlier stuff, Caught on a Train and Brimstone and Treacle are very good, although his characters aren't particularly likable.

To get really obscure, he was also in a BBC TV movie called "The Benefactors", about two married couples whose relationship sort of implodes against the backdrop of late '60s architectural renovation, that I highly recommend to anyone who likes a good plotless character study. Of course, it's not on DVD (or even VHS), but somebody managed to stick a copy up on this site:

warycary said...

I can heartily second the suggestions made by anonymous, and say MUCH thanks for The Benefactors link! Of less interest, but hey, it's Kitchen, are Mobile, Wilderness, The Buccaneers, and Dandelion Dead.

I've seen Enchanted April, but I need to add that to my collection if it comes out on Region 1 DVD. The ones that have eluded me so far are The Guilty, where he plays a boss whose advances end in rape, and The Secret World of Michael Fry. He plays a sleazy purveyor of Internet porn, and yes, Michael Kitchen wears an earring. I'd kill to see those.

There a few more titles that escape me at the moment, mostly UK mini-series and TV appearances. He's also done numerous voice overs and audio books.

Which brings me to Brimstone and Treacle, Caught On A Train and Comedy of Errors, among others. Aside from the fact that he is quite young, you will notice that he had not yet perfected the tone and control of that marvelous voice. In addition, being completely shallow for the moment, he is in every way FAR more attractive now than then. ::blush::

prairie mary said...

Ah, yes. Cheese, wine, steaks and men are improved by age. (I look forward to the day we think that about women!) I've always loved men in their mid-fifties when they are world-wise, tough, not at all needy, but somehow able to nurture. Unfortunately, as I approach seventy, they're too young for me!

I also am very fond of "The Buccaneers" though one can argue that an Edith Wharton story with any kind of happy ending at all is NOT Edith Wharton, so maybe he's part of the more Whartonesque part of the story.

Prairie Mary

Annie Bowlby said...

Prairiemary, your comments about Michael Kitchen are so right on! And I thank each of your respondents for their recommendations of other Michael Kitchen performances. The only other one I had ever seen, prior to the mesmerizing Christopher Foyle, was his role in Enchanted April, one of my favorite movies ever. You mustn't lose hope over falling for 50ish men, you know. One of my newest friends is a delightful and brilliant woman of 74, quite glamorous and gorgeous, who enjoys motorcycle riding with her 48-year-old boyfriend. Age is just a number, my dear.....

Maja said...

well I'm 23 and I would not say no to Michael Kitchen if he came by... or at least I would love to hear him read something or other. I think it is so funny to watch the early works of him because he looks so odd because he is young and I first discovered him as mr Brownlow in the BBC Oliver Twist from 1999. But I must say I loved Caught on a Train, it's just such a beatiful movie! and so much fun to watch all the little things when they get to Frankfurt and there is a poster on the station with the rote armee fraction labeled Terrorist. I think the whole feeling of Europe 1980 is so nicely caught in that movie. and somehow it still feels like that when you take the train even though the movie is that old.

by the way it's so cool that you write this blog, my mom have problems even using the internet!

lots of hurrah

Maja, Denmark

Anonymous said...

For all serious Michael Kitchen fans, good luck tracking down "Love Song," a 1985 Masterpiece Theater movie. He plays opposite Diana Hardcastle as competitive young academics who fall in love. The couple in later years is played by Maurice Denham and Constance Cummings. I haven't seen this in almost 25 years, but still remember it fondly.

Pat, New York

Susan Malter said...

I so fell in love with Christopher Foyle that I could hardly bare seeing Kitchen in Guilty. I urgently backtracked and watched more of Foyle and then Michael Kitchen as the king of England in a series about an ambitious British legislator. I know that it is wrong to objectify him and make him be what I want to imagine, but I am a narcissist as a viewer. I know that he has range, but I refuse to allow it into my life. My fictions must fit my needs of fantasy.

Johnny said...

Hi Pat, the Michael Kitchen movie "Love Song" was filmed at my parents' home in the Cathedral Close, Norwich, England during June/July 1984. I have a copy of it.