Towards the end of Archie, a new four-part ITV drama about the life of Cary Grant, the actor (played at this point by Jason Isaacs) muses: “Leave the past where it belongs. If you’re not careful, it becomes a trap.” Still, the series suggests that even at the height of his Hollywood fame, Grant never really forgot his disadvantaged Bristol origins as a boy named Archibald Leach.

Archie does not offer a linear depiction of Grant’s life, but rather moves continuously between his humble beginnings in England and his later Hollywood success. A particular focus is on the period in the early 1960s when he pursued, married and divorced young film star Dyan Cannon, who was 33 years his junior.

Trailer for Archie.

The remarkable change in Grant’s fortunes is highlighted by details in color and setting. The Bristol sequences are dominated by dull browns and greens, while the scenes set in California glow in red, orange and yellow. The narrow backyard of Archie Leach’s childhood home flows into the expansive garden of Cary Grant’s Los Angeles mansion, which features a swimming pool.

But the fluid structure of the drama suggests that there was no final break for Grant with his past. Young Archie, who bore memories of material and emotional deprivation in England, remained with him even as Grant led a glamorous alternative life in the United States.

light and darkness

Archie’s portrayal of classic Hollywood is at times more superficial than forceful. While we see Grant’s rebranding by a studio that believes his first name, Archie Leach, “isn’t enough,” we rarely observe the workings of the publicity machine that cemented his star image.

Glimpses rather than thick evidence are provided of the “pin-ups, public appearances, studio handouts” and media interviews that were central to the emergence of a mid-century movie star.

However, Archie still represents a notable addition to the category of movie star biographies. In demystifying its charismatic subject, it respects genre norms: remember how stars appeared in films like Chaplin (1992) and The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” (2004) should be treated openly. But what makes this series special is that it shows the discomfort of a Hollywood icon who is usually seen as the epitome of calm demeanor.

Isaacs as Cary Grant with Laura Aikman as Dyan Cannon. Courtesy of ITV

Film historian David Thomson argues that Grant’s screen presence was more complex than is often assumed. It could be “attractive and unattractive at the same time” and radiate both “light” and “dark”. This sense of Grant’s duality, the coexistence of sun and shadow, runs through Archie.

But the series doesn’t look for the many sides of Grant in his film appearances. Aside from showing him, for example, with Mae West in She Done Him Wrong (1934) or with Audrey Hepburn in Charade (1963), Archie generally stays away from Hollywood studios.

Still, Isaacs’ great performance as the older Grant has his charm juxtaposed with his cruelty. In particular, the portrayal of his relationship with Cannon (Laura Aikman) shows that Grant increasingly displays controlling behavior.

The women in Grant’s life

The biopic is one of the least generous film genres – it focuses attention on one individual and deprives others who come into its orbit of oxygen. But Archie deviates from the norm and tells the stories of others other than Grant.

Cultural historian Michael Newton notes that stars in classic Hollywood rarely exist “as individuals.” Instead, they pair up and live in the “connectedness realm.” He thinks of film duos like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Archie is not interested in exploring film partnerships: Katharine Hepburn, with whom Grant made four films, is missing here. As compensation, however, two important women in Grant’s off-screen life are brought into focus: Cannon and his mother Elsie Leach (Harriet Walter).

Isaacs as Grant and Harriet Walter as his mother Elsie Leach. Courtesy of ITV

The audience is discouraged from sharing Elsie’s scathing assessment of Cannon as “a fluttery little thing” without “substance.” Instead, Cannon’s spirited performance is one of pain and vulnerability and career ambition. To a modest extent, the series becomes both her biopic and that of Grant.

Grant’s relationship with his mother is also shown extensively on screen – although their dynamic is portrayed as troubling. Elsie was locked in a mental institution by her husband after the death of Grant’s young brother and spent 20 years there. Home movie-style footage of her dancing with Grant as an older woman could show romantic partners. When Grant tells her he’s marrying Cannon, she sounds like another potential suitor when she insists, “I can make you happy.”

It would be wrong to overstate Archie’s darkness. Like its subject, the series is light-hearted and creates light-hearted fun – and the mood brightens late when Grant becomes a mother for the first time. Nevertheless, in its darker sequences, the series impressively shows the high price that Archie paid to become Cary Grant.

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Source : theconversation.com

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