Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Object of Beauty (1991)

"I began by thinking about a rich couple who have everything, but whose lives start to unravel because of their fear about not having money." ~ Michael Lindsay-Hogg, writer/director 

The Object of Beauty is a seductive, classy comedy drama from BBC Films that was broadcast in 1992 as part of the Screen Two season and - like Truly Madly Deeply - received a cinema release in the US and other parts of the world.

It stars John Malkovich and Andie MacDowell as Jake and Tina, a stylish and transient American couple currently living on their wits and reputation in a luxurious hotel suite in London. However, as we see in the film's opening scene, they are clearly cash-poor as Jake's American Express is declined at the restaurant they wine and dine their influential friends and contacts at. Jake is a man who knows that money is made with money, but right now there isn't a dollar to be had; an industrial dispute in Sierra Leone has seen the cocoa deal he ploughed his money into delayed, as the product lies at the bottom of the ocean. He owes the hotel thousands of pounds in unpaid bills and has to resort to hiding from the management, taking the stairs rather than the lift because he hasn't the slightest prospect of being able to pay.

The one thing Jake and Tina have, besides their sparkling repartee and great sexual chemistry, is an exclusive small bronze head sculpture by Henry Moore that is estimated to fetch around £20,000+. It was a gift from Tina's estranged husband Larry (Peter Riegert) an American also based in London. Jake wants to sell it, but Tina is adamant she wants to keep it. In the midst of their disagreement, Tina hatches a plan; if they hide the sculpture away and report it as stolen they'd be able to claim the insurance and resolve their money woes in one fell swoop without having to lose the statue.

Working as a maid in the hotel is Jenny (Rudi Davies - flame haired daughter of Beryl Bainbridge and Alan Sharp, and wife of actor Mick Ford), a deaf mute whose life couldn't be more different than the glamourous Jake and Tina. She resides in a drab, dingy basement flat with her loutish and nefarious younger brother (Ricci Harnett) and, upon seeing the Moore figure in their suite, instantly falls in love with it because, as she later explains in writing 'it spoke, and I heard it' Having such communication for the first time in her life, Jenny impulsively pockets it, thus scuppering Jake and Tina's plans and opening the rift in their relationship - their inability to trust one another completely.

The Object of Beauty is an intelligent, sophisticated and sexy offering from Michael Lindsay-Hogg which boasts a fine cast. Malkovich and MacDowell bounce wonderfully off one another with the aforementioned great chemistry - and MacDowell really is beautiful here. Rudi Davies' striking and somewhat unusual features make a great impact in a character who hasn't the ability to speak and Lindsay-Hogg captures so much in her facial expressions that is both easy to grasp and utterly beguiling. There's also Lolita Davidovich as Tina's friend Joan and Bill Paterson as a delightfully unctuous hotel security chief, whilst familiar faces like Joss Ackland, Roger Lloyd Pack, Rosemary Martin, Jack Shepherd and Jeremy Sinden round out the rest of the supporting cast.

Ultimately, the plot reaches a climax that works out to everyone's satisfaction, but the plot isn't really that important here and the financial difficulties and the satire on living a life bound by economic liquidity is actually secondary to the film's real theme of love and trust as Jake and Tina (and even Jenny and her brother) have to confront who they really are and how they really feel about one another. 

Oh, and I have to laugh at the scene which sees Jake moan about yet another remake of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde on TV - given that Malkovich would be back in the UK five years later to star in the Stephen Frears flop Mary Reilly, a revisionist take on the Robert Louis Stevenson tale.

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these plays still languishing in the bowels of the corporation please sign the petition I started here

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