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Following scriptwriter Julian Fellowes's Academy Award for Gosford Park
(2001), and its commercial success with a recreation of 1930s Britain,
he was able to initiate the third film version of Piccadilly Jim. In
itself, this was no small achievement, for the last P.G. Wodehouse
movie on the English big screen had been The Girl on the Boat forty
The Piccadilly Jim that finally emerged from Fellowes's screenplay was an interpretation deeply at odds with Wodehouse humor, the result of the selection of a director, John McKay, who was mismatched with the story. Unlike Robert Altman's direction of Gosford Park, McKay found the concept of a period setting distracting and labored to undercut it in every way. McKay sought to avoid the world of Wodehouse television adaptations and their country-house weekends. In its stead, McKay asserts an equivalence between the 1930s, the 1960s, and the world of 2004, as all one and the same.
McKay noted, "I think P.G. Wodehouse inhabits a parallel universe to the period he is writing about, so we should find a parallel universe to suit this Piccadilly Jim. We thus decided we would make up our own 'thirties'...." Every bit of decor looks less like the ostensible 1930s setting than one of the decade's science fiction visions of the world as it would shortly become. The designs attempt to evoke the satires of the sterile stylization of modernism in films by Jacques Tati or Stanley Kubrick. However, McKay has no real vision of his own; instead Piccadilly Jim is chock-a-block modern with anachronisms and absurd inventions. McKay's defiantly iconoclastic visuals are incongruous, their lack of internal coherence constantly preventing viewers from immersing themselves in the world of the story. Equally at odds with any narrative unity is the singing of modern songs and the presence of 21st century retro automobiles.
Costumes and make up are particularly outlandish, especially unbelievable coiffures that spike, thrust, or droop to one side. The romantic leads vary scene by scene from Jim in an enormous fur coat and scarf, to Ann in modern boots, to Jim and Ann in contemporary nightclub dress with resonances to 1970s disco.
In attempting to modernize Wodehouse, McKay lacks any conception of what has made the author successful. The opening sequence provides a sharp comparison of the divergent approach between the film versions of Piccadilly Jim in 1936 and 2004. In the former, Bayliss wakens Jim from a late night to discover he is asleep with his feet on the pillow where his head ought to be. Such a tasteful indicator of insouciance from the 1930s is beyond the sensibility of 2004; in this version Bayliss finds Jim in bed with three scantily clad floozies. Nothing could have been farther from the harmless spirit of Wodehouse, even when he portrays marital mores and infidelity in such theatrical adaptations as Candle-Light.
The Piccadilly Jim of 2004 is a true wastrel, a womanizer, brawler, and drunkard who is deeply unsympathetic. Robert Montgomery, the Piccadilly Jim of 1936, might have played such a character in a likable manner, but instead of the classical Hollywood stars who could so perfectly embody Wodehouse characters, 2004 offers the modern Sam Rockwell. His performance lacks charm or charisma; he plays the role as standard issue "bad boy." Of course, according to contemporary romantic formula, this must be the secret wish of Ann, whose characterization is altered substantially. Instead of Nesta writing thrillers, as in the novel, it is Ann who composes them, incorporating criminal brutality that reflects her own volatile, slightly disturbed nature. Jim compares her speech to that of Sam Spade, and her devotion to murder is portrayed as the direct result of Jim's scathing review of the book of her poetry. Yet her first impression upon meeting Jim (she does not know his true identity until the end) is that he is too much of a "Mr. Nice Guy," lacking the dangerous edge for which she yearns. Frances O'Connor plays much of the role in varying tones of hysteria, and frequent, rather obvious dubbing reveal an actress having understandable difficulty with her role.
The greatest error is in eliminating the sincerity of the remorse Jim must feel. In the novel, love changes him, and only later does Jim realize why Ann hates the man she never met: he penned a vicious review of her book of poetry. This theme was retained, according to surviving plot synopses, in the original, now-lost faithful 1919 movie of Piccadilly Jim, with Owen Moore in the title role. The 1936 film of Piccadilly Jim had Jim pen cartoon parodies of the Pett family in retribution for their condescending treatment of his father, before Jim knew Ann was their relative. The 2004 version makes an alteration that ruins the credibility of Jim's transformation. The columns under the byline "Piccadilly Jim" were penned by a ghost writer, meaning that Jim never did actually wrong Ann. To compensate, he need do no more than punch the real writer in the nose. Without the need for contrition, Rockwell etches a Jim incapable of remorse, rendering the central conflict meaningless. All that remains is a playboy who has found an equally wild girl.
If a 21st century movie adaptation of Wodehouse requires actors like Rockwell who need to be introduced in bed with three women, there is indeed little place for Wodehouse in theatrical feature films. 1930s behavior is not the same as the present, and having Ann arrange for assignations with Jim, or making him give a goodbye kiss to Bayliss, masquerading as his father, only seem crass. Perhaps it is best for Wodehouse to remain on television, where he need only appeal to narrower, more literary audiences, comfortable with the flavor of another, more distant era.
I really had fun watching this movie. More like a play put in a film
9few location, great dialogs, situation and imbroglio comedy) but wait
what a beautiful set design, the cast is great, the plot is
vaudeville's but hey what do you aspect of a movie called: Picadily
Jim! You will laugh, maybe not all the time, but the movie is construct
on a good tempo and should entertain you. I really like those
independent movies, not trying to create a new world but just trying to
give us good time without taking us for granted.
Enjoy for what it is: a great moment of laugh, smiles and intelligence.
Thank you for the film
I have seen this twice, but I had not realised that it was a PG Wodehouse story, which would perhaps have made it bizarre. However, in my ignorance, I loved the clashing of modern music and wicked thievery of modern images into the 1930s. Loved the cast - I had not seen either of the two romantic leads before, but the supporting cast was a sea of faces well-known and well-loved. Perhaps it went on a teensy bit, but I thought it was well done, a thoroughly enjoyable whizz of a movie. It is entertainment you know, not a contender for a Nobel Peace Prize. Wodehouse was always meant to be fun, and this certainly fits the bill. Bouquets to the household staff for their instant sterilisation of the mansion in the opening scenes. Wonderful, wonderful Geoffrey Palmer, Brenda Blethyn and Tom Wilkinson .. indeed a good couple of hours all told.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Warning, here there be spoilers.
Wodehouse is notoriously difficult to film. The usual reason given for this is that Wodehouse is a literary writer and half the fun is his wordplay. But Wodehouse wrote Byzantine plots that do not translate well to a medium where simplicity is the key to understanding.
Take impostors, for instance. Wodehouse loved what we today would call Identity Theft. He had characters staying in other people's houses under false identities all the time. The plot of "Picadilly Jim" is so involved and convoluted one character is staying in another person's home disguised as himself, and he begs a man who knows him not to reveal his true identity.
On top of all this, Wodehouse's fans know his books too well for short-cut liberties to be taken blithely. When one films Wodehouse, one takes one's life in one's hands, as in an aerialist act performed without a net.
This production started well by choosing a little-known Wodehouse novel, written before his "Golden Age" classics. The Jeeves and Blandings Castle sagas were only just poking their little heads out of their shells when PICADILLY JIM (the novel) was written.
It's a little known book, and not a very important one in the Wodehouse oeuvre. And they give it to you fast and slick. Like the "Airplane" movies, if you don't laugh at one thing, they keep throwing Wodehouse at you until they tickle your funny bone somewhere.
For Wodehouse purists, the adaptation sticks close to the books. Where the script deviates from Wodehouse writ, most of it is justifiable and a lot of new material is funny. And why not? It was scripted by Julian Fellowes, who, as an actor, played many a character that might have tumbled right out of Wodehouse.
Sam Rockwell ("The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", "Midsummer Night's Dream"), tackling the part of the eponymous Jim, is one of those actors who seem born to play Wodehouse at some point. I'm glad he's playing a minor Wodehouse star.
The rest of the cast is fine, with Tom Wilkinson, another Wodehouse natural, as a standout. Geoffrey Palmer has a good turn as a Wodehouse butler. Frances O'Connor is a trifle too neurotic for a Wodehouse female (the younger Wodehouse women are usually more together than the men, though they become unhinged with age). Her neurosis is firmly grounded in the book; the script flowered out the character flaw out to make her role more interesting. And it makes a darn good scene when Jim finally discovers what's driving this wacky chick.
What is most criticized about this production is its clash of '30s and modern style. And sometimes, not even modern. It's more like Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL than anything human.
Yet the source novel itself is a good example of why this is not a bad policy. PICADILLY JIM came out in 1918. What was going on in 1918? Show of hands. That's right, World War One. Only a few years earlier, the steamship "Lusitania" was sunk by German U-boats. Yet in the book, there is no mention of the war that had been foremost on people's minds for years. Clubs and restaurants in London are populated by young men who are not shell-shocked or otherwise scarred from battle. They are the vapid but well-educated scions of the nobility who had been cannon fodder in the trenches for four years. Characters hop on steamships and go from New York to London and back to New York with no thought or mention of U-boats, mines, or other hazards to shipping.
Therefore, nearly one hundred years after this novel was first written, it does not seem bound to its time. Oh, the idea of traveling to England by steamship may be passé, but readers are not bogged down by the time-specific angst that makes so many "lost generation" novelists unpalatable today. Apart from a few mentions (such as in the novel QUICK SERVICE) no World War One intrudes into Wodehouse. Later on, though Wodehouse was in a German interment camp, England does not endure World War Two and his characters experience neither shortages nor bombings.
Nevertheless, though his characters seem stuck in their Edwardian pleasaunces, they do travel through time and keep up with certain new developments. Updating the book to the thirties made a lot of sense, but throwing in modern styles, while jolting in a Brazilian sort of way, also is not unWodehouse.
Warning: some unWodehouse things do appear, so strap in and be ready for them.
For an even more astute version of Wodehouse, see "Heavy Weather" with Peter O'Toole and Samuel West.
Actors tend to place their trust in directors, even old stalwarts such
as Mr Palmer, Ms Blethyn and Mr Wilkinson. Once the point has been
missed by the producers/director, although in this case I don't think
the point was ever sighted, the production must run its collision
course with disaster, and not even such fine actors as were employed to
give it life, could save Piccadilly Jim .
PG Wodehouse was a successful writer who knew the value of the suspension of disbelief, and was able to deliver the theatrical creation of a world which, although highly unlikely, with a cleverly constructed set of plausibilities, would, and did, pass as the truth.
Theatre has many natural enemies. Because it is not the truth, but the appearance of truth, theatre has many tricks and falsehoods in its infrastructure, and these are all susceptible to betrayal in drama, but in comedy they are especially vulnerable. The absolute death sentence on comedy, is to "mug" (pull faces) to attempt to be funny, or to overstate a quirk or characteristic.
In Piccadilly Jim, the director breaks all the rules of good comedy by allowing, not only "mugging," and (keep it in) play funny work, but a whole swatch of clashes to occur. Modern dress, modern language, caricature rather than character, a mysterious failure at irregular intervals to use film language, and the erratic use of tempo, which often stifles its own dialogue.
Many a great opera singer has come unstuck via the technicalities of a so called simple folk song. Perhaps this film came likewise unstuck, by its creators missing the hidden vortex within the supposed simplicity of the original story.
Thankfully I didn't venture into a cinema to see this film, just bought the DVD and got what I could for it by re-selling on ebay. The start of the film with a Morgan sports car stuck in a tree should have warned me how bad this would become. The car was a very new Morgan, so the 1930's setting was blown immediately. I did try very hard to like this film, but despite some excellent British actors who normally turn in a very reliable performance, this was not their finest hour. It should be viewed as a reminder that writers like Julian Fellowes can, on occasions, work well below par and that normally excellent actors can attach themselves to a real turkey.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
PICCADILLY JIM is one of my favorite Wodehouse books. It's a non-series
novel with the concomitant flaws of early Wodehouse. But the story has
Wodehouse's most masterly "impostor" plot where a young man is
introduced as a guest into a private home masquerading ... as himself.
If you want an explanation, see this movie and all will be made clear.
The cast is excellent. Sam Rockwell enters the Wodehouse world with surprising aplomb as Jimmy. Tom Wilkinson is superb as his father, an ex-pat American married to a woman (improbably) trying to buy him a title; but he misses baseball so much he sails home pretending to be a butler. Rockwell and Wilkinson have a tremendous rapport. Meanwhile, the real butler (Geoffrey Palmer) is assumed to be Rockwell's father by Francis O'Connor as the love interest. All clear? No? Good!
The movie remains strangely loyal to Wodehouse's convoluted story, tinkering with it here and there for clarity. It's played up to the hilt, but none of the actors (even Hugh Bonneville, the worst offender as a German spy never quite goes over the top--though given the setting of the movie and the time the book was written it's never clear whether he's working for the Nazis or the Kaiser in trying to steal a new secret bomb formula, a little thing Wodehouse threw in just for added confusion).
The problem most people have with this flick is the problem I feared I might have. And it's a perfectly valid criticism. Read on.
While this Wodehouse is thankfully set in the 1930s (actually, PICCADILLY JIM was written a lot earlier, but we'll let that pass) it is a thirties that never existed except in the beautifully deranged minds of the designers. It's an alternative-history thirties, done in steampunk style. These thirties were never as they were (certainly no one seems to feel there's a depression on) but as they should have been were they more like the twenty-first century.
For instance, the London nightclub Jimmy (Rockwell) goes to meet Ann (O'Connor) is playing ersatz swing music, far too booming to be real swing, and is sung by a singer with WAY too much decolletage for the period, but it works. They throw in just enough of the real thirties to make you buy the weird hairdos and clothes and far-outrageous Decco sets.
The trick is not to take any of it seriously. It's a feast for the eyes. Sit back and enjoy it--at least the story is mostly straight.
The worst result in this bastardized mix certain moral attitudes. The best of Wodehouse was free of post-Freudian angst. Even couples seeking engagement were not driven by sexual hankerings. Therefore, it is shocking when sexual activity is implied (which it is early on, but not so much later on). This is a liberty with the text I personally disliked, but is less unseemly with this bizarre 1930s/2000s blend.
MAJOR SPOILER: As some reviewers have pointed out, the actual butchery of Wodehouse is a single change in the plot. And it's not a small alteration. Jimmy (Rockwell) was "Piccadilly Jim" who wrote little pieces for the paper. As in Wodehouse, Jimmy is now sacked and someone else is writing the "Piccadilly Jim" column. In the book, Jimmy wrote a bad review of a younger Ann's self-published book of romantic verse (in squishy leather). Any Wodehouse fan can tell you the attitude toward verse published in squishy leather. In the book, Jimmy wrote the review. In the movie, his successor is the real culprit, writing under the "Piccadilly Jim" brand name. But if Jimmy tells Ann who he's not just pretending to be Jimmy but he actually is Jimmy, she is less likely to marry him and more likely to kill him.
And that's not the very worst. This is: Whoever wrote the review, Jimmy or his successor, the book and movie handle the situation in diametrically opposite ways. Wodehouse can be awfully, and hilariously, callous in his treatment of children and minor poets. But the movie treats the issue in more of a touchy-feely twenty-first century way that removes its fangs. Shame.
Nevertheless, Jimmy's discovery of "his" reviews is very funny. And the movie's treatment of Ann is beautiful. Because of that review, Ann abandoned poetry and started writing crime novels noted for their violence. All written, no doubt, with "Piccadilly Jim" in mind. Though this treatment of Ann is hardly canonical, it's a lovely touch, and I like this neurotic and dangerous, hard-drinking, crime-writing Ann a whole lot better than Wodehouse's heroine of a century ago.
Overall, it's a very good adaptation, only occasionally skating around Wodehouse's tightly-wound plot. It hardly presents any sort of real living conditions of the period, but ... frankly, neither did Wodehouse himself. If you can stomach the weird sets and styles, you're in for a lot of laughs. Unlike a lot of Wodehouse adaptations (for instance, I was never sold on Stephen Fry's Jeeves), this one is fast moving and FUNNY. And what is generally overlooked is that, like Wodehouse at his best, it's joyful.
This is the fourth filmed version of P. G. Wodehouse's comic novel of the same name. It was filmed in 1919 (directed by Wesley Ruggles, younger brother of the actor Charlie Ruggles) and in 1936 (directed by Robert Z. Leonard and starring Robert Montgomery), both times under its correct title. It was next filmed under the title THE GIRL ON THE BOAT (1961), directed by Henry Kaplan, and featuring the famous comedian Norman Wisdom as well as Millicent Martin, Richard Briers, and others of note. And then for this production of 2005, they went back to the original title again. 'Piccadilly Jim' is a wild young man who is the main character, and should be played by somebody truly extraordinary. Unfortunately, here he is played by a somewhat colourless actor who is about as interesting as a crushed toadstool, Sam Rockwell. However, the other performers do their best to 'act around him' and cover up the vacuum of his performance with their own energetic, and often hysterical performances. Tom Wilkinson is a steadying factor, good dependable Tom who can never let anyone down, including his son in this film, played by the nonentity aforementioned. The script by Julian Fellowes, the approach, the director, the design, all conspire in unison to leave the true Edwardian Age behind and enter into an overt fantasy-Edwardian Age for younger audiences who never knew any real Edwardians and might not realize just how hilarious every word that Wodehouse ever wrote really was. For those of us who knew genuine Edwardians (not to mention not a few surviving ancient Victorians as well), the fun of Wodehouse is the way he mocks, taunts, and teases the authentic types of the period by depicting them as the most outrageous caricatures imaginable. And as everyone knows, a good caricature only works if it closely resembles its subject. This film does not closely resemble anything that ever really existed, and was not planned to do so. I personally prefer the Wodehouse adaptations which affectionately and outrageously distort the truth, as opposed to this approach, which is to forget satire altogether and invent a wholly new truth where it is comedy rather than satire that is really the aim. For authentic vintage Wodehouse, one should see the three successive TV series called WODEHOUSE PLAYHOUSE, starring the amazing John Alderton, from the 1970s. Here it must be said that the design, the costumes, the look, are all simply dazzling. Taken in its own right, and forgetting its origins, this film is a tour de force of over-the-top but certainly scintillating fantasy. It takes the word 'camp' and raises it to a higher power. It is also great fun. But it is strictly for non-Purists only. I suppose that makes me impure.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I wanted to see the movie based on the cast and the subject matter sounded interesting. Unfortunately, it doesn't live up to its potential. The family strife, double identities, and trying to outdo others in the family all were good, but nothing really went over the edge and amazed me. If it all could have been orchestrated a bit better, the ending would have been more effective. The child in the film is unlikable and they don't spend much time exploring that character. I think that character could add something to the film. When they were going for slapstick, they should have went all out and put the actors to the test. Unfortunately that part of it felt very constrained.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Yeesh! If you're expecting anything up to the standards of the "Jeeves
and Wooster" production standards, you're in for a real let down! Tom
Wilkinson was great, he always is, so it is too bad that he did not
have a bigger part, but otherwise the acting was unremarkable. I've
just never been much impressed by Sam Rockwell. Maybe that's just me.
Too much of this movie looked as though nobody was paying attention to what they were doing. The bloopers, apparently, were just ignored in post-production. The anachronisms were so glaring that they were a constant distraction. It was supposed to be 1930! The typewriters conspicuously dated from the 1950s up to the 1970s. And what was a Dodge Prowler, a limited production "hot rod" built between 1997 and 2002, doing in this film? I was waiting for someone to pull out a cellphone.
If there's NOTHING else on, watch it. I doubt that many will want to watch it again.
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