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I have already posted my glowing comments on this unique and very special
tele-film...but, I have to add a few more. I was blessed by having the
opportunity to see "Armadillo" as it premiered on BBC1. Oh...what a treat it
was! If you liked A&E's *very* edited version of this entralling drama, try
and get the *uncut* BBC1 version...then, you'll absolutely love it. It is 10
times better, with lots of fabulous, funny, and emotionally touching
moments...plus extremely important character development and plot
enlightening scenes. A&E cut over 20 minutes from how it was meant to be
presented...all in favor of those big-bucks commercials. I know they have to
have their commercials, and sell their soap and bug spray, and make that
moola. But, it **really** hurt to see how they butchered this wonderful
piece of drama. I just don't understand why they would do that. I mean, they
were one of the producers. It seems to me they would have wanted this gem to
be seen in all of it's amazing glory. It was still very good...*but* it
could have been sooo much better. Damn! Still, I'm proud that America got to
see the ever lovely and talented Mr James Frain in a role tailor made for
him...and Rea, Bonneville, and McCormack were wonderous as well.
Character-driven with a carefully-constructed plot, Howard Davies'
tautly-directed "Armadillo" is top quality television, more satisfying
than any theatrical movie in recent months, including "Road to
Perdition." William Boyd's script, about an insurance adjuster who
is not what he seems while he tries to puzzle out a claim that is
something other than what it purports to be, draws in the viewer
from the moment the film opens with James Frain walking
through the charred structure he's investigating. Frain is perfect for
the role--vulnerable, expressive, sympathetic. His developing
romance with Catherine McCormick is fully realized. Hugh
Bonneville somehow empathetically portrays one of the most vile
characters in memory, and Stephen Rea amuses with his over-the-top characterization of the insurance adjuster's enigmatic
and bombastic boss. Beautifully photographed, the camera
follows the adjuster as he pries into the mysteries of the claim
he's investigating and captures the tension between the two
lovers. At three hours it's a bit long, but I watched it twice. And I'll
probably take another look.
"Armadillo" is one of those rarities in which the screen version of an
excellent novel actually lives up to the original text. This is no doubt due
to the fact that William Boyd adapted the script from his own novel of the
same name and that Boyd is also no stranger to script writing, having penned
"Chaplin", "A Good Man in Africa" and "The Trench".
The cast is first class, a who's who of film and television, with standout performances from James Frain, Stephen Rea and Trevor Peacock (also excellent in another great TV show "The Underworld"). The plot, far from being cliched or contrived, is actually quite complex, with a mix of dodgy geezers including shady loss adjusters, even shadier insurance companies, cowboy builders, Romanian gipsies and a half-mad juggler who's convinced his wife is cheating on him.
The photography is impressive with some good shots of London which appears dark and intimidating but also sparkling with affluence.
"Armadillo" shows just how good British television can be with the right material and a good cast - in other words someone showing a bit of imagination and ambition rather than pitching yet another boring hospital or detective series.
One would thing that in co-producing this movie with the BBC, the A&E
network might have made some advance preparation for commercial
interruptions. But they didn't. The result is a disaster, and I
that anyone interested in "Armadillo" avoid the television presentation
wait for the movie's inevitable home release.
From what I could tell amid the myriad interruptions and missing scenes (A&E showed scenes in the promos that weren't shown in the film), this is a complicated tale of identity. It's one man's journey to discover his true self.
Frain gives what might turn out to be a very good performance, but I really couldn't tell. A&E so savagely butchered this movie (which I understand got good external reviews) that there's no point in discussing it further.
I'm going to wait for the DVD. You should too.
Beautifully acted, written, and filmed
Thanks to a friend in Ireland, who converted the video for me (I'm in the
US, and can't use PAL format) I was able to see this magnificient BBC/A&E
production. It is reportedly to show on A&E in the spring of 2002...but, I
just couldn't wait that long.
I'm a *major* Frain fan, so I was looking forward to this with great anticipation. And, thankfully, my anticipations were not disturbed ;) Mr Frain fits the part of Lorimer Black perfectly. No one else could have played the part, imo. I read a description of Lorimer in the novel...and it is an exact physical image of Frain. It's as if it were written with him in mind.
Lorimer/Milo, Mr. Hogg, Flavia, the Blocj clan, Rintoul, Sir Simon, Torquil, and a load of other colorful characters are brought to vivid life in this very enjoyable production. Not only is James Frain superb...but Ms. McCormack, Mr. Rea, and Mr. Bonneville are perfection in their roles.
All the cast was great...the writing excellent, and the filming made me want to move to London. It looks beautiful! Very stylishly shot.
My fave scenes are when Lorimer goes to visit his family and gives some new shoes to his little niece, and the scene where he's telling her about their family history...and when he becomes mesmerized by Flavia's image in a TV ad, all the scenes of him visiting his Dad (so sad and tender) , all scenes with Frain and Rea (they're great together), the first kiss between Flavia and Lorimer (very sexy in it's eagerness at the excitement and promise of new love. You don't need hot and steamy sex scenes to have a sexy film. Flavia and Lorimer share just two kisses, but they're so sensual that it's all you need. More would have ruined the effect.) The sleep clinic scenes are funny, and heart breaking. I love the bull dog bit--too funny...very cute. And, the helmut incident is hilarious! Oh, heck, I just adore the whole enchilada.
"Armadillo" is very unique, intriguing, funny, and a bit heart wrenching at moments. It's a joy to watch...but, you'll have to pay attention, as the insurance fraud part of the plot is quite complex.
Oh, I should add that the sound track is simply beautiful.
"Armadillo" is an absolutely top-notch film with a complex, absorbing
and brilliant performances. On American tv (with commercials) the movie
clocks in at three hours, but you will definitely not be bored. James
plays Lorimar Black, a successful young loss adjuster at a posh London
insurance firm. He has a sleep disorder and is living something of a
life, but that is the least of his problems compared to what develops in
This movie has many plot lines going on, but is always lucid and compelling, thanks to a fine screenplay adapted by the author of the original novel. The stand-out performance is the chameleonic James Frain, who is so natural he never seems to be acting at all. Stephen Rea is hysterical (in both senses of the word) as Frain's paranoid boss. The only bit that didn't quite work for me was Lorimar's romantic obsession with Catherine McCormack's character, Flavia. McCormack is luminous as ever, so we understand why Lorimar would be attracted to her, but she is so bitchy and manipulative with him, Lorimar's passionate pursuit seems slightly masochistic.
I didn't know what I was getting into with Armadillo. I'd seen the odd trailer, perhaps doctored by A&E to make it look like science-fiction; I knew nothing of the book; I suspected it might even be a TV series. My first ray of hope came when I heard Frain's voice; my second when he got out of the right side of his motor car; and from then on I was hooked. I still didn't know if it was a series or not, and so when the one hour mark approached, I looked at the clock and wondered if this was it, if there would be a quick denouement. But it went happily on, into a second hour, and as that hour neared its end I wondered the same thing again. Still I was not sure that this was not at least some kind of TV pilot, yet when we entered hour three I was fairly sure I was watching something of quality, marred only by the kind of butchering a colony channel like A&E could be guilty of. I was so in the dark that I didn't even recognise the main characters for a while (ok, Fox was relatively easy); then it suddenly went up for me who Hogg was, and Flavia looked familiar, but I couldn't place her either - it was just a good movie, and undoubtedly would have been better if it hadn't been butchered by a colonial channel hell-bent on selling laundry detergent at four o'clock in the morning. For me, one of its best features was how it was totally unpredictable: you really didn't know where the whole thing was going; another was Catherine - she was so delicious - and perhaps a bit 'picky' as others have suggested - but I just kept hanging on the 'get the girl' scenes, and for me the ending was quite yummy, although it didn't offer the same kind of exposure found in, for example, Tailor of Panama. Do see this gem, but try to get a copy sent over from England, or better yet, move to England. Oh - you'll find a good interview with Frain about the movie at the BBC site - just search for 'Armadillo'.
I first have to thank a previous poster, teri_2, who recommended those
interested in seeing Armadillo to first try and track down the version
that appeared on BBC1 as opposed to the heavily edited, hacked up
version that appeared on A&E.
Thank you so very, very much, teri_2.
I saw Armadillo on A&E and absolutely loved it. I contemplated buying it -- on A&E -- and then I saw teri_2's post.
I was able to track down a VHS copy of Armadillo as it was originally shown on BBC1 on ebay and I have to say, it is a far, far superior version.
The editing was seamless, not as choppy as the one shown on A&E, and actually flushed out the story and characters much, much more.
James Frain absolutely took my breath away. What a performance.
And the music -- if anyone can get a listing of the songs that were featured in the film please email me! Beautiful, absolutely stunningly beautiful.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Armadillo is not completely well put together, but it's confident,
original, and sort of blissful.
The hook, foundation and spine of the series is all the same thing -- the protagonist, Lorimer Black. He's played by James Frain, and, for all the Frain fans out there, Armadillo is the centre of Fraindom on earth.
Lorimer Black is a loss adjuster. He investigates insurance claims, which is boring. But the way in which he thrives at his job is not boring: he tailors himself for every client, adjusting his persona, clothes, hair and accent. This puts him in a bit of an identity crisis, which stems from his big secret: he's actually a Transnistrian gypsy who's changed his Moldovan name to fit in.
We have three endless hours with Lorimer Black, and that's OK. He's handsome and sleepy and we want to take care of him (in many ways). The problem is, he feels far too good for the world of the story. He's an everyman but he knows his Shakespeare, he's stylishly rich but deeply generous, he's very successful but touchingly humble, he's the only one in the world who doesn't smoke, he puts his phone in a holder when he's driving, he has a unique taste in music, and he claims to have a "violent temper" but the only time this is shown is when he's defending the honour of a passing woman. In fact, he's astoundingly patient even when he's trying to get some sleep after being mugged and his friend wakes him up at 2AM by prodding his wound and prattling about how much money he made that day.
Lorimer Black is a diamond of a character, but James Frain makes him realistic with a powerful talent that puts all others to shame.
Out of sheer gratitude for Frain's participation, Armadillo should dote on him...
... but the beautiful thing is, it DOES dote on him.
You know when you love James Frain (yes you do) and you're watching something with him in it and you go "for God's sake, I don't care about whoever the hell that is or whatever the hell they have to say -- get out the way so I can see James Frain". In Armadillo you get as far as "for G --" before the camera obligingly cuts to our suave but wolfish object of affection.
"Why are we looking at the back of some -- OH THERE HE IS". "Who cares about this crowd of random p -- OH THERE HE IS". "We're watching the other end of the phone call, this is b -- OH THERE HE IS". "This is just an establishing shot, where -- OH THERE HE IS". "W -- OH THERE HE IS".
The camera itself is a James Frain fan, and it's not the only one. Literally half a dozen times an episode Lorimer Black is admired, often physically; even the blurb on the back of the VHS box croons that he's handsome.
And despite all this, the only woman he wants is a bragging, chain smoking, bafflingly ignorant adulterer whose name sounds like an expensive yogurt. Here's a statement for the fic writers: Lorimer Black is unshippable.
His relationship with the yogurt, played by Catherine McCormack, is completely unsatisfying. I think the writer is a bit of a prude, and the character of the yogurt is inexplicably indifferent towards Lorimer. When, in Frain's trademark sultry drawl, Lorimer admits "you do know I'm passionately in love with you", the yogurt's reaction is "good night, whatever your name is". Even at the very end, when they semi end up together, she coolly adds that she doesn't know how long it will last. Yeah, THAT'S the grand finale.
Lorimer Black doesn't belong in the grimy little world of beans and chips and over-acting. He belongs on the BBC, certainly, but not in Armadillo. He should have replaced Sam Tyler in Life on Mars, or Mickey Bricks in Hustle. Somewhere to have his character nurtured for a dozen episodes or more, and where he can be enjoyed in full HD, in a world where there's proper lighting and sharp, crisp plots and real tie-ups. They should have spent some real money on this character.
As for Armadillo independent of Lorimer Black, I stand by my judgement that it's a confident and blissful show; it's funny, too, in a tone reminiscent of Jimmy McGovern, and has some moments so original that I've never seen the like. The plot was confusing because it was a lot of exposition and the script was floppy. Everything they needed for their tale of corruption was there, but it wasn't really let out. For instance, at one point a character explains insurance by saying - "life will always come up with a nasty surprise". That should've been the tagline.
Simply put, Armadillo is not a strong enough context for its own protagonist. But without Armadillo, we wouldn't have James Frain's Lorimer Black. Hence, 10 out of 10.
I read some comments about an abbreviated version and was fortunate to get a VHS of the BBC original. Not having seen the shortened copy, I don't think I will want to. When the BBC get it right, one can find gems like this production. A cast of little-known actors and all the better for it. Stephen Rea, so often portraying IRA terrorists, is a revelation playing against character. His Hogg is perfect - a kooky, paranoid nutcase. He plays the employer of Lorimer Black, the central character, with an over the top performance. Hugh Bonneville is the quintessence of the chinless wonder who manages to elicit sympathy whilst he abuses almost everybody with whom he come in touch. The social asides are caught perfectly and the gypsy family that Lorimer conceals from his smart associates is sympathetically portrayed, without resorting to pastiche. I wouldn't attempt to write a synopsis of this clever story. William Boyd is one of the best writers about today and Armadillo is one of his best novels. So often a great story is destroyed by directors who want to put their own stamp on the film - or Hollywood moguls who insist on miscasting. One has only to think of Andy McDowell in "4 Weddings" or Bruce Willis - as an Englishman - in "Bonfire of the Vanities". Or the absurdity of casting Michael Caine to reprise the role of David Niven (Bedtime Story) in the boring remake ("Dirty Rotten Bores") as a gentleman. Not so here. William Boyd wrote the screenplay and keeps exactly to his novel; and the BBC were wise enough to stay on the sidelines. For anyone wanting to see great cinema, look no further. At 3 hours, it might seem long (it went out on air in 3 one hour installments). But I never felt that it could benefit from cutting. It is riveting and reminds me of another great TV production (now on DVD) "A Very British Coup", which also ran for almost three hours. Compared with some of the pap that has been offered as cinema in recent years, this is an oasis in the wilderness. Maybe Boyd would now tackle "Any Human Heart" and, even better, "Restless". I could see Kristin Scott-Thomas up there as Eva. Question is when. One quibble. The music score drowns a lot of key dialogue. I am unsure if Boyd sanctioned this, but it is a common fault in the UK (particularly the comedies of the 1950s, where Stanley Black was used to emphasise a doorbell!) &, more pertinently, in films from the USA - where a deafening soundtrack seems to be mandatory. Or the prats who think that a voice over adds to our enjoyment of the Laurel & Hardy silent films. Watch "When Comedy Was King" - and cringe - as Hollywood wrecks your enjoyment of L+H in "Big Business". One has only to watch films from Europe to notice the effects of footsteps; a gasp or laughter. An orgasm does not need the Mantovani orchestra to tell us it might be exciting. That apart, I have just watched Armadillo again and it is truly a knock-out - and the music is totally unnecessary. The actors and the screenplay say it all. Thank you William Boyd. I am now going to fish out my hardback edition and read you again.
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