Friday, 30 May 2014

Angela Lansbury in 'Driving Miss Daisy'

Last Saturday we went to a special screening of a recording of 'Driving Miss Daisy' at the British Film Institute. It was followed by an interview with Angela Lansbury that was broadcast live to cinemas around the country. I first saw the play on Broadway in 2011 with Vanessa Redgrave and it was a delight to see it again, although it's rather different with Angela in the lead role.

The play was recorded with Angela, James Earl Jones and Boyd Gaines in Australia in 2013 while it was on tour and broadcast for our enjoyment from the BFI. The play looked good, was clear enough and with good sound but the lighting let it down since it was rather dark - fine for a theatrical performance but not quite right for filming.

It felt 'lighter' with Angela in the lead role rather than Vanesa, no less intense in places but played with a lighter heart and with Angela's comic timing. The war between the matriarch and the chauffeur gradually cements into a deep friendship, mediated every now and then by the son who pays the chauffeur even after he's no longer needed and can no longer drive because of his eyesight. It's a very touching play, not just about the civil rights movement but also about ageing and friendship. I liked the final scene when James feeds Angela cake in an old folks home after sending away her son to flirt with the nurses and she smiles up at James, a conspiratorial smile and one of love.

Then came the big question - I was watching a film recorded last year so do you clap or not? Is this theatre or film? Um...?

After a five minutes break and after the stage was reset, on came Angela Lansbury to be interviewed for around 45 minutes. She talked about doing the tour of the play, about her first professional performances in Canada and then going to school in New York during the last war before heading out to Hollywood. The discussion took in the highlights of her career, in films and on broadway before her long series 'Murder She Wrote'. The one question she demurred to answer was about losing out on the screen version of 'Mame' when she'd created the role on Broadway.

I was pleased when Angela said she'd loved being in 'Death On The Nile' because I'm convinced that her Salome Otterburn in that film is the template for her Madame Arcardi in 'Blithe Spirit' currently in the West End (that I saw a couple of months back). The audience also got audibly excited by mentions of 'Bednobs and Broomsticks' (a film I've never seen). It was also touching that she disparaged the terms 'star' and 'celebrity', saying that what she wants to be is a good actor. I think you've proved that enough times by now, Angela.

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