Bill Britten blog posts


In the recent BBC series Taboo, Tom Hardy delivers a masterclass of screen acting as the protagonist James Delaney. 

Alongside him many excellent actors are working skilfully with a deep understanding of the medium, Jason Watkins, Oona Chaplin and Tom Hollander among them, but it is Hardy who dominates the series and several elements show his total mastery of his craft.

Firstly he utterly commands the screen whenever he appears.  It’s easy to put this down to the blessing of charisma but its cornerstone is deep concentration.  Additionally his stillness and use of silence draw you into his world.  His movements are few and highly controlled and the viewer’s eye never has to search for him.  Whenever an actor moves, or the camera moves, the viewer's eye unconsciously has to readjust to find the point of interest –  usually the character's eyes as we seek to understand what he or she is thinking but not saying.  For this …

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While the four leads give a strong ensemble performance, there are also some valuable lessons in this film about the intangible depth that preparation can bring to a screen role.

Without the structure offered by theatre rehearsal, and the fillip provided by the approval of the director and other actors, it can be hard for screen actors to do an equivalent amount of preparation.  (In fact I believe that even greater preparation is needed because of the intense scrutiny of the camera.)  And, let’s be honest, there’s a leap of faith required that the time and emotional energy spent, alone, developing a character’s backstory will pay off.

The performances of Ewen Bremner and Jonny Lee Miller stand out in ways that suggest extensive emotional preparation.  (I’ll try to write about them without spoiling the plot)  I worked with Ewen on the very first piece of film I directed, when he was in his …

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I have a confession to make: despite the plaudits and accolades it has received, I don't think ‘I Daniel Blake’ is a very good film.

 I'm making a distinction here between its political significance and the quality of filmmaking.  As a piece of social commentary it is outstanding: angry, deeply compassionate, full of integrity and typical of the committed work of a man who has, for 50 years, been shining a light on the iniquities of our increasingly divided society.

 But, as filmmaking, it is not Loach's best.  And perhaps it's worth exploring a few of the things that let it down, particularly in terms of the strengths and flaws of its acting.

 Aside from a rather clumsy and predictable storyline, there are some simplistic and obvious characterizations, such as the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ benefits assessors.  A number of the supporting cast are weak.  I know Ken Loach likes to use nonprofessional actors and …

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This is a film that should not work.  The plot follows the slow degradation of the financial markets, so it has an opaque and complex narrative where the filmmakers have to work really hard to simplify things, like Collateralised Debt Obligations, that most of us neither understand nor care about.  It's set in the world of high finance which, apart from the superficial sparkle that grotesque amounts money can spawn, is a pretty dull place. Plus, it's a story to which we all know the outcome.

And yet it succeeds brilliantly.  It is incredibly well directed by the most unlikely person: goofball-comedy specialist, Adam McKay.  The editing, pacing and tone are all flawless.  It’s light of touch, yet moral without being sanctimonious, convincingly depicting the brutal, feral nature of its dog-eat-dog setting and conveying the excitement of ‘the deal’ without losing sight of the tragedy that the real victims of the …

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Re-watching Some Like it Hot I was struck once again by the problem I have believing anything Jack Lemmon does on screen. I simply see him acting all the time in a way that I don't experience with either Tony Curtis or Marilyn Monroe.  It's partly the difference between showing and sharing that I write about in my book: where Lemmon is continually showing us what's going on, with exaggerated reactions that border on gurning, Curtis and Monroe deftly find the line between credibility and the comic hokum of the plot.

But I also see, in Lemmon, an overwhelming need to be liked. It affects almost every performance of his that I've seen, with the one possible exception of Glengarry Glen Ross.  It's something that often seems to affect comic actors, especially those who’ve been stand-ups.  Long before the tragic suicide of Robin Williams it was evident that, having become a star as a manic comic turn, he …

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