To Be Or Not To Be

Recently, in Melbourne, I was at that city’s eponymous university visiting the Ballieu Library for its mini-exhibition, as it turned out, on the ground floor – ‘TeeVee in the Sixties’. Some great stuff, but too little in scope. Upstairs, though, I noticed they were advertising another showing – to commemorate four hundred years since the birth of Shakespeare. Duly I mounted those steps and entered the several rooms devoted to it. Now this was more like it – something to get one’s teeth into. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I didn’t really do it justice. It was a rushed, cursory appraisal but I was impressed. I was particularly taken by some of the old editions of his works dated way, way back. And the Bard featured prominently in ‘The Carer’, a movie viewed since my return. It had some faults, but overall I enjoyed it immensely.


Now I’ve never been a great fan of the Elizabethan playwright’s works, but, of course, his legacy to the language I scribble in is immense. And his words form a fair amount of the script for this offering.

You see, the great Shakespearean actor Sir Michael Gifford is dying – but he’s not going easily into the night. His Parkinson’s is really starting to take hold and he is in need of constant monitoring. However, he is a bugger to care for, thus the quick turnover rate for the girls hired to do so. Gifford is in no mood to consider that, indeed, he is, in a word, finished. Enter the latest in a long line, a would be acting student in the form of Dorottya. Of Magyar background, she is a dab hand at mangling the language. But she does love her Shakespeare, with the added advantage possessing detailed knowledge of her new patient’s interpretations of the great man’s classic plays. Austrian born actress Coco König shines as the carer, gradually wooing the old fellow with charm and her recall of ancient movies. The rest of the supporting cast – Emilia Fox as his frosty daughter; the always sumptuous Anna Chancellor as his secretary/one-time lover and Karl Johnson as the chauffeur/former dresser – are an attractive ensemble and more than adequate.

But this is Brian Cox’s show. The Scottish actor, sprouting Shakespeare at the drop of a hat, is, in turn, pompous, curmudgeonly, horrid and defeated by aspects of the disease – particularly when he loses control of his bowels. There is no gloss presented here about the downside of ageing in the hands of an affliction that isn’t going to let go.


It is, admittedly, a fairly predictable pathway that Hungarian director János Edelényi takes us on and the final stanza does grate somewhat. The movie perhaps takes its cues from the French sensation of a few years back,’The Intouchables’, but is less life affirming.

Paul Byrnes, writing for The Age, had a great line to sum-up his review perfectly, so I present it as my final word on ‘The Carer’ as well. He says that, between Dorottya and Sir Michael, ‘A kind of love develops, and the movie is never so unsubtle as to state it. Cox’s timing throughout is superb – a comic masterclass that gives way to a temper worthy of Lear. It’s easy to enjoy his playing to the back of the theatre, as she (König) works the front row.’

Trailer for the movie =

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