Film Review: Christopher and his Kind (BBC)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1651062/

 

(from imdb) In 1931 budding author Christopher Isherwood goes to Berlin at the invitation of his friend W. H. Auden for the gay sex that abounds in the city. Whilst working as an English teacher his housemates include bewigged old queen Gerald Hamilton and would-be actress Jean Ross,who sings tunelessly in a seedy cabaret club. They and others he meets get put into his stories. After a fling with sexy rent boy Caspar he falls for street sweeper Heinz,paying medical bills for the boy’s sickly mother, to the disapproval of her other son, Nazi Gerhardt. With Fascism rapidly rising Christopher returns to London with Heinz but is unable to prevent his return to Germany when his visa expires.

Review by Erastes

A visually beautiful film, which draws you into to the Berlin of the early 30’s, Christopher and his Kind is the dramatised version of the book of the same name which was not published until 1976. Becoming a figurehead for the growing gay movement, Isherwood reflects on his earlier life, particularly his relationships in Berlin and decides to add to the existing canon by writing Christopher and his Kind.

With immensely clever set direction and some CGI which did now and then show the join, it looks and feels like an immensely lavish production. There are all the familiar scenes we expect in a film like this in this era, steam from the trains billowing onto the platform, scary and omnious scenes with the Nazi flag flying from every building, book burning and the like. It’s cleverly done and you hardly notice that it’s actually done in small scale, but it looks like it’s done with a cast of thousands.

The cast is wonderful–Matt Smith could have overshadowed the piece with his performance, but he’s nicely tempered by the dour and slightly clingy WH Auden (Pip Carter), Isherwood’s domineering mother Kathleen (Lindsay Duncan) of whom Christopher takes no notice but has an more extreme effect on Isherwood’s younger brother Richard (Perry Millward) (who was also homosexual.)

Imogen Poots has large shoes to fill as Jean Ross (the woman who Isherwood immortalised into the unforgettable Sally Bowles) and here she is much more like her actual incarnation. Many American viewers will probably be surprised not to find Bowles is American!  Poots does a grand job, from her chewed green lacquered fingernails to her brittle strength to her not-brilliant singing ability! There’s a marvellously campy performance by Toby Jones as Gerald Hamilton (the inspiration for Mr Norris in the books) who double-entendres his way through his first meeting with Isherwood and enjoys every perverted pleasure Berlin can throw at him.

Of course, only having an hour and a half to play with, there’s a lot condensed here, and some people might say that there’s not enough time  spent on the political situation and it’s top heavy with the gay scene and gay sex, but that’s rather the point of the book. Isherwood wanted to show the reasons he went to Berlin, and he gives those reasons very succinctly at the top of the film:

It’s 40 years since I first wrote about my time in Berlin, and the book I’m now writing is perhaps an attempt to set the record straight, well,as straight as it’s possible to be. I destroyed my Berlin diaries you see, so have had to rely a good deal on memory. As to why  I went in the first placy, my friend Wystan Auden was there and encouraged me to join him. I could say that I went there because of what was happening politically, but in fact I went because of the boys. To me, Berlin meant boys

Smith, in recent interviews–and very sensibly–has said that he wanted to show that he’s not just The Doctor and he does that in spades in this film. I don’t think anyone was in doubt of his talent, but here he really drives home that he’s an old soul in a very young body. He absolutely convinces as the rather remote Isherwood, who says in an interview with the Jewish Landau, that he has his sympathies but he finds it hard to work himself up to the pitch required to “do something” about what’s happening in the city.  “I rather suspect I’m best equipped to observe and record.”

This is certainly borne out by Isherwood’s prescence in the city. He seems to glide along on the surface and never really engages with the maelstrom. I don’t criticise him for this, for I’m sure, being, like him, a Brit, with the luxury of simply being able to walk away when things got too hot, I would do the same.

Fan of the era, or Isherwood or Matt Smith, or simply gay history, this is a must-see, must buy.

 

2 Responses

  1. I have this recorded onto my digibox. I’m really looking forward to watching it now!

  2. It was fabulous and I entirely agree! I wish there were more classy dramas like this on TV. Up until now, I’ve been very ambivalent about Matt Smith’s talent (I don’t think he’s a top-grade Doctor Who), but here he was incredibly good. He totally nailed that role and I was very impressed indeed!

    Anne
    xxx

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