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In a touring Shakespearean theater group, a backstage hand - the dresser, is devoted to the brilliant but tyrannical head of the company. He struggles to support the deteriorating star as the company struggles to carry on during the London blitz. The pathos of his backstage efforts rival the pathos in the story of Lear and the Fool that is being presented on-stage, as the situation comes to a crisis. Written by
'The Dresser' is one of those films which are so perfect you really struggle to find something not to like about them. Written by Ronald Harwood (himself a former dresser to the legendary Donald Wolfit), it sparkles with energy and true love of life behind the footlights.
As 'Sir', the overbearing actor and main focus of the play, Albert Finney is a joy to watch - whether complaining about the lack of a storm during the 'blow, winds ...' bit of 'King Lear' or chatting to his faithful stage manager, Madge (Eileen Atkins, good as ever) about the old times. As Norman, his camp dresser, Tom Courtenay gives a fabulous performance, wiggling around at the beck and call of 'Lear', collecting a bottle to go at the pub, or bitchily disparaging the former Fool, Mr Davenport-Scott (often mentioned, but never seen!).
In an engaging support cast, there's Edward Fox as Oxenby (a typical arrogant second lead), Zena Walker as her Ladyship, Lockwood West as the replacement Fool, and many others.
This film has great energy, bringing with it some of the greasepaint of its stage origins, it is true, but being so well-acted you don't notice. Very well done indeed.
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