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THE CARER Film Review
Directed By János Edelényi
“Old age,” the legendary Bette Davis once said, “is not for cissies.” A word you would never use to describe the aging actor at the centre of THE CARER. “Cantankerous”, “contrary”, “incorrigible”, certainly, but never, ever a cissie. Yet the combination of Parkinson’s Disease and being in his 70s makes a carer essential – if only he’d accept the idea.
Sir Michael (Brian Cox) made his reputation on the stage, especially in Shakespeare, but has now retired to his country estate. His daughter, Sophia (Emilia Fox) is insistent he should have a full time carer but his behaviour is such that many have come and gone in quick succession. She employs the young Hungarian Dorottya (Coco Konig) and, once again, he gives her a hard time but her fearless attitude and ability to quote Shakespeare back at him start to win him over. And when he learns he’s going to be given a lifetime achievement award from his peers, his daughter decides that collecting the award in person is out of the question. Sir Michael, however, has other ideas.
Inspired by director Janos Edeleny’s own father, the film is rather like Sir Michael himself – full of references to other works, on stage and screen. Ronald Harwood’s THE DRESSER is immediately apparent, with the curmudgeonly aging actor alienating just about everybody around him. And Sir Michael’s own dresser is still devoted to him, now working as his chauffeur/gardener/general handyman.
Photograph by Jon Attenborough
Then there’s Shakespeare’s KING LEAR, his most famous role and which he quotes from liberally. He’s also surrounded by three women, his carer Dorottya, who is the youngest, daughter Sophia, plus housekeeper and one-time lover Minnie (Anna Chancellor). The two older women do conspire against the younger one, having come to the conclusion that she’s a bad influence on Sir Michael and they sack her.
And in tone the film is also reminiscent of THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL and Dustin Hoffman’s QUARTET. A natural for the grey market, then, although it’s more explicit about the indignities that go with aging. His wealth may mean he can afford personal care, but it can’t prevent the discomforts and moments of sheer embarrassment. They’re there for everybody to see: he soils himself and Dorottya has to clean him up, so it’s decided he should wear “nappies”, he falls over in the garden and can’t get up without help.
It’s very much an actor’s film, in both senses of the word, with Brian Cox’s performance dominating the film, giving us a man who is in turns aggravating, touching and with both warmth and charm. His speech at the awards ceremony – on that Cox had a hand in writing – is a piece of theatre in its own right, his last performance in front of an audience and he delivers it with aplomb.
His speech is – and should be – the end of the film, only we’re given a series of little postscripts about the main characters. We don’t really need them: our main concern is the fate of Sir Michael and we know that that will be eventually. The photographs and captions at the end have more than a touch of a twee.
THE CARER doesn’t bring anything especially new to the table on the subject on aging or family relationships, but it does capture the spirit of older actors who overflow with anecdotes and quotations and can never truly retire from their profession. And it rejoices its central performance from Brian Cox as an actor who can never stop raging against the dying of the light.
THE CARER is on limited release in the UK from Friday, 5 August.
The film’s co-screenwriter, Tom Kinninmont, speaks to Britflicks’ Freda Cooper here.
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