Not Only But Always (2004 TV Movie)
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Hilarious, disturbing and genuinely moving.
The performance from Rhys Ifans is one of the greatest ever given to celluloid and should clean up at the awards. At times it is difficult to remember that I was watching a drama and not a documentary - so credible is Ifans. I have never seen an actor give as convincing a performance where I actually believed I was watching Peter Cook rather than an actor playing him.
Likewise, Aidan McCardle is also very strong as Dudley Moore.
Terry Johnston's script and direction blends light and shade and is always imaginative.
An absolute gem of a movie.
10 out of 10
The emphasis is (however) firmly on Peter Cook, even though it is primarily about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's relationship. The lack of focus on Dudley Moore, is my only serious criticism of the piece. You only really experience Dudley through Peter Cook, yet the film is set up to imply that it is balanced between the both of them.
I have know idea how true it is, but like all the best biopics, it is utterly convincing and compelling viewing. Arguably Peter Cook invented 'alternative comedy' and this film supports this view, and all his personality flaws as well as his genius.
I would liked to know better how Dudley and Peter met, and how Dudley entered the 'business', this is very glossed over; in fact the film doesn't really go into Dudley's equally long list of flaws, which would have been fun, instead the film gives us a strange mixture of 'noble Dudley' mixed with extremely 'shallow Dudley'. However, (as a Peter Cook fan) I was still very satisfied with the result.
This film contains extreme language used in quite nasty ways, in quite large quantities. I have no problem with this, but if you do, you won't like it!
One of those films that you wish wasn't on Channel 4 with commercial breaks, it seems to disrupt the flow.
I remember Peter Cook from my youth and I thought it uncanny how Ifans reproduced the frustrated genius of the man. As for the production as a whole, it was a very insightful look into how Cook had difficulty coping with Moore's success away from him, and his own problems with matching his earlier career later on in life. (Personally I think he was extremely bright, but was handicapped by idleness.)
Now, I've seen a number of films that have featured Ifans. Perhaps I have been unlucky and only caught the bad ones, but this has to be the first I've seen him in that I've enjoyed. The films incidentally were: Love, Honour and Obey (where he was quite good as a bad-tempered gangster, but the film itself was pretty dire), Twin Town (awful), 51st State (a nightmare) and Notting Hill (sugary nonsense where Ifans was playing a sort of "Uncle Tom" slob of a Welshman to Hugh Grant's sophisticated Englishman - why does scriptwriter Richard "Blackadder" Curtis laugh at the Welsh so much?).
But until last night, the best thing I've seen Ifans in was on stage - in Accidental Death of an Anarchist (admittedly Dario Fo's play is one that an actor can have a lot of fun with) at the Donmar Warehouse a few years ago. Hopefully, he will be more discerning choosing his parts in future. If he does then I reckon he could be a future Guinness (but please don't get involved with Star Wars).
Although it may be hard to ascertain how close Geoffrey Rush came to playing the real Peter Sellers, the man away from the cameras. Rush gave an almost out of body performance by nailing down the many varied characters that Sellers brought to life, and by doing so, found himself walking away with Emmy and Golden Globe awards for Best Actor. As spectacular as Rush's performance was, I believe the performance from Rhys Ifans as Peter Cook may even be better. Not only does Ifans capture perfectly the comic delivery, voice and manner of Cook's many characters, but he is also able to convey the inarticulate voice of desperation that troubled Cook in his later years.
If there's any fault to be found in this film, besides the quick work that almost every biopic seems to share, is that the "Not Only" part of the title, that of Dudley Moore, gets such short shrift. Although Dudley Moore is portrayed as a very sympathetic character to the cruel bully that Peter Cook could be, I can't help but feel that Moore comes off as pathetic, not quite sympathetic. I wonder if Dudley in real life wasn't closer to the man who could tell Cook to f*ck off when being picked on by Cook and not the little man who wanders in and out of Cook's life, cursing under his breath. Dudley was a massive talent and a great performer, just not a performer on the level of Cook, who could easily improvise a surrealistic comic situation or deal in 10-minute monologues. I guess I may never know.
The only moment I felt the urge to cringe was when the actor playing Blake Edwards says to the camera, "Hi, I'm Blake Edwards". Really? Was it necessary to take the time to introduce Blake Edwards? Couldn't we just see a reenacted scene from 10? We'll get the idea. Anyway
This film is very moving at times even though it is quickly paced. It also breaks away from conventional film making by knocking down the third wall. In this case the narrative is handled by Pete 'N' Dud. They casually make remarks about the extras and green screens and at times these characters are used as ghosts within scenes. This film making technique seems to be all the rage as it was the same technique used in the Peter Sellers biopic. Nevertheless I found it to be inventive in its own right, and incredibly touching.
This is the kind of movie you watch once and then scour the movie rental shelves looking for Bedazzled or The Wrong Box.
All in all . a good evening.
Clark Richards 8/10.
But where the movie is a brilliant achievement, is in describing the lifelong collaboration and love/hate relationship between the two main characters. This is portrayed with subtlety and compassion, and with such attention to the hurt feelings (and pride) of the protagonists, as it was a very well narrated love story. If you have ever had a very intense and mercurial creative or sentimental involvement with someone else, you will comprehend the struggles of Cook and Moore. In this sense, NOBA is definitely a better and more enjoyable movie than your average biopic.
Two queries: Why didn't they give him blue contact lenses when one of Cook's most striking features was his very beautiful blue eyes.
Secondly, why didn't they mention the film he made after Bedazzled? It wasn't a popular success which may have contributed to his sense of malaise as Dudley rose to the top.
And a possible goof: Wendy claims she wasn't invited to the funeral (seen off by the fierce wife #3). But there she is in the church. Just a bit of dramatic telescoping or insufficient research?
As a re-imaginer of popular culture and the relationships within it, writer/director Terry Johnson is a past master. His central conceit of having the monochrome Dagenham philosophers Pete 'n' Dud watch a colour film about Cook and Moore's lives is inspired, particularly as Pete points out the post-modern methods being used to his chip-gobbling midget mate.
(By the way, if you think I'm hung up about Dud/McArdle's height, you wait 'til you hear what Pete/Ifans has to say about it.)
All the essential moments, particularly of the 60s, are highlighted here - Beyond The Fringe, David Frost, Eleanor Bron, Not Only But Also, etc. - and checked off. Yet still there's a sense of something missing, and it's not just the fact that the script highlights Cook over Moore.
At heart, rather like the middle of a doughnut, there is nothing of substance here. Certainly nothing that you couldn't have learnt from the brilliant documentary "At A Slight Angle To The Universe". Instead, what you have is Cook as a reptilian philanderer blessed with genius and Moore as a hectoring fishwife (the old "comedy duo as marriage" cliché is well and truly overplayed here) who also happens to be a trouper.
Where is the joie de vivre and charm that Cook and Moore both possessed as well as the self-pity and alcoholism that this film would have us wallow in? Despite some clever lines (and curiously rewritten classic sketches), Johnson seems to be more interested in what tore the two men apart rather than what brought, and kept, them together in the first place.
That said, the church choir singing "Goodbye-ee" will live with me forever.
In between, Stars were real talents that burnt brightly and radiated electromagnetic energy. Miller was Renaissance man, Bennett the new literato, Cook debunker-in-chief and Frost the entrepreneur of a new Britain in a way that oddly pre-parodies New Labour as if Cook had written the ending. And Dud was Pete's mate.
As for America, who knows why Beyond the Fringe worked there: we learn nothing from this piece.
In fact we learn nothing much to form the setting I describe, which I think is what makes this film eery and sad, a portrait of a fading person rather than his timeless talent. Like all such men, Cook's contribution to the canon of British culture is more than the sordid banality of his flawed life, except in the realisation that such works have always demanded the time and pressure at the typewriter that breaks all but the most powerful personal bonds. Or that to be this much of a funny djinn maybe you do have to be vapid on the inside. Above all, I think the production should have followed Cook's own monochrome observation and started at the end. Sad lives that end chronologically in bathos, as most do, do not mean sad work. Vapid? Yes, Dud, I am a man who reads his reviews with the Thesaurus beside me. But I only fleetingly reveal my lack of relationship with my parents even to you.
I can't decide whether it's a flaw of the film. Surely you have to have been there to feel what it means? And surely that doesn't include the magnificent Ifans and McArdle, which makes our surrogate comics' contribution all the more stunning: they hadn't left the nursery long before Bo Derek gave Dud back the ego Pete had wrung from him. But I do wonder if "...but Always" in itself makes Cook accessible to a new generation, and perhaps that's a shame: it would have been easy enough to sew in two or three complete sketches so that we can gauge for ourselves how it works, after all the *writing* at least stands timeless, even if the performances and the man are gone.
As it is, we just had repeated, diminishing echos of MacMillan and the one-legged man, echos that mean something only to those who were there for big bang. Whilst this can make good art it also loses most of the potential audience and is therefore by definition elitist.
Speaking of elitist, Peter Cook was clearly as haughty and arrogant as any, but the Cook portrayed here is a snob of the worst kind to boot, and sneers at Moore and Bennett for being mere Grammar School boys, or is any ammunition acceptable? Well, lack of legs is, so perhaps none of it is as alternative as we might imagine. The Private Eye of Ingrams, Rushton and buddies, into which Cook fitted so deliciously, was only too willing to admit that, satirists or not, the new generation Establishment was merely reinventing itself, irreverent but irrevolute, and irrelevant if wildly entertaining.
Overall, this one could just run. Just because it tantalises, presents an image for the curious, leaves unanswered questions about the man's work for a new generation, portrays a dazzling spectacle of a person nearly in view, perhaps it will invite new interest in his writing and performance. Or perhaps there's nothing there but the ghost of a time long gone, by a savage critic also gone.
For those not aware, Not Only But Always details the comedy duo of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, who might well have invented comedy itself with the subsequent influence they had. The film takes the viewer on a journey from their first meeting to Cook's death, spanning the length of their comedic partnership.
Certainly relying primarily on its characters, Not Only But Always gives an objective portrayal of the highs and lows of their tumultuous pairing. The relationship between Cook and Moore is accurately shown as desperate, frustrated, anger-ridden and brilliant, the uglier sides of the story never avoided. Their alternations between teary eyed laughs and teary eyed screams provide an excellent portrayal of this infamously difficult couple. Both leading actors do a fantastic job in creating this fascinating and heartbreaking dynamic, the irritating pitfalls of Cook's personality splendidly relived by Rhys Ifans. It is impossible not to sympathize with both characters in their respective plights; laugh at the audacious brilliance of Cook's one-liners; and wet oneself in delight at the hilarious exchanges between the two. The story is informative and entertaining, mixing well the real life recorded incidents with the filmmaker's perceptions of the likely conversations and incidents occurring behind closed doors.
A faithful and compelling biopic, Not Only But Always moves a little too fast at times, its storyline feeling rushed at points. In spite of this, the combination of hilarity and difficulty in watching these men tear each other apart provides us with an unmissable viewing experience which will hopefully lead all who see it to fall in love with the work of these two great men.
Those who can recall the first release of the infamous 'Derek and Clive' cassettes, will particularly enjoy that content in the story. Who can remember anyone, who on first introduction to these two character's didn't laugh, sometimes to the point of near unconsciousness at Cook's monotone, seemingly 'ad lib' delivery, eventually forcing Dud to breaking point and uncontrollable waves of laughter.
Strange now, at this distance, how it's Cook's less public persona that is probably the most memorable of the two. It's worth remembering however, that the screenplay is based upon his autobiography, so at times the presentation tends to reflect that input
Dudley's bright candle, nonetheless did give a lovely light whilst it shone, be it all too briefly.
The whole thing is so well done, that at times I thought I'd travelled back in time. I'd never heard of Ifans, before this performance but await other appearances with positive anticipation.