Today: Rosamund Pike
Take One: An(ti) Education?
Earlier this year two great 1960s booze-soaked lushes missed out on Supporting Actress Oscar nods: Julianne Moore's Charley in A Single Man and Pike's Helen in An Education (2009). I'd personally have slotted both in the running had I sole ownership of the voting ballots. Similarly with her performance in The Libertine (see below) Pike sneaks in and very nearly scoops the film out of the hands of her co-stars. But, as with Moore, maybe her screen time wasn't quite enough to grab the Academy's full attention. No matter - Pike was the freshest and most lively presence in the film, Oscar nom or no.
Helen comes on like a Bright Young Thing - albeit dimly lit - full of the joys of life. But she wasn't all just boozy bewilderment though. She had some chirpy advice for novice It-girl Jenny (Carey Mulligan), which she dispensed through the fog of gin and the haze of cigarette smoke in the bars and boudoirs of swinging-‘60s London.
Party girl: Pike disses dictionary-loving debutante Jenny in An Education
She’s the current It-Girl of her group, so feels lightly threatened when new upstart Jenny enters their social orbit. But she’s oh-so polite with her perky put-downs. She’s flippant with Jenny because she knows her role as the in-thing of the group could very well be usurped. But she becomes her friend and confidant regardless, offering to take her shopping in Chelsea and introduces her to the wider social circle; she was Jenny’s role model in all things Chic and Now. Both girls are relatively privileged, but Helen is from the school-of-life-experience, the flip side to Jenny’s education-seeking debutante. She’s older and more versed in the particulars of partying and all things cultured, and she wards off life’s troubles with just the right amount of savoir-faire. It’s a nicely balanced, note-perfect performance (appearing sophisticated and dim at the same time can’t be easy) and Pike shines each time she’s on screen.
She don't need no education: Pike as Helen in An Education
Take Two: Sex, drugs and dribbling
I’m not sure in what kind of light people hold up Laurence Dunmore’s The Libertine (2004) as it rarely receives mention these days (especially for a Johnny Depp film). It was a serio-comic one-off, an artful period piece - imagine Peter Greenaway directing astride a whoopee cushion - about infamously louche rake and poet John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (Depp); he’s being courted by King Charles II (John Malkovich) to write a be-all-and-end-all play for him. But as Rochester's reputation attests, and history dictates, it was frolicking naked actors, oversize phalluses and nose-eroding syphilis that were the order of the day.
Pike played Rochester’s long-suffering wife, Elizabeth Malet - and between John’s infatuation with actress Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton) and all his whoring and orgies, suffer long and hard she does. But she remained quite the loyal companion to the end - though she chose her moment wisely to out-deprave the much-depraved Rochester.
Picture-perfect by the picture window: Pike in The Libertine
Pike valiantly holds her own amongst strong thespian company; she's brilliant casting in the role. She’s the hidden gem of the film and gives a cracking performance in its most unassuming and least (initially) noticeable part. Malet is prim, vain and oh-so-comely; a picture-perfect thing of 17th-Century beauty; the very essence of a regal wife. Pike nails her scenes with apt restraint. But what surprises - in a late scene, when both Malet and Rochester have reached an absolute personal and social nadir - is how she convincingly reconfigures her performance to show how Malet sinks a level or seven when she denigrates the degenerate Earl with just a flagon of wine and a baleful spike in her heart.
Pike providing solid 17th Century support in The Libertine
She matches Depp’s outré outbursts word for word, swigging booze manfully, and letting it drool down her face as she vents abuse at him. She gets a literal taste of his hedonism - and spits it back at him tenfold. Pike showed Malet was a force to be reckoned with: push a lady like her too far and social standing goes flying out the window. This intense scene, balanced with her earlier moments of serene, ladylike composure, made for a compelling, no-holds-barred performance. Pike proved she was much more than just a Bond girl here.
Take Three: Pike, the game player
But it’s not all Doom and gloom with Pike. A year later she teleported to Mars to find out what went wrong with some genetically-dubious human-mutant-hybrid shenanigans in Andrzej Bartkowiak’s 2005 film of the much-loved computer game. So ok, maybe it was a bit gloomy - she was called Dr. Samantha Grimm after all. But compared with chasing a syphilitic, silver-nosed Johnny Depp around 17th-Century England, sparring with space monsters was a breeze. Anyway, Doom has all to do with military superhumans, mutant devils and Grunts. Or SuperhumanMutantMilitaryGrunts. Or something. Either way, the red planet is not the only Rock Pike has to contend with: thick-necked actor-wrestler Dwayne Johnson joins the mission and adds a spoke in the works.
Mars or Johnson? Pike ponders which Rock to escape from first in Doom
As far as Pike’s performance goes, she gives it the exact amount of gusto required. It ain’t Shakespeare; but Pike knows this. She’s a game player - and how well she thesps is indicated by how frequently she stares at The Rock to seemingly determine just how different or not he actually looks after he’s turned into a SuperMutantMilitaryGrunt. And she did get to say, “10% of the human genome is still unmapped. Some say it's the genetic blueprint for the soul,” with a straight face and make it sound like everyone’s lives depended on it.
But the great thing about Pike’s part in Doom is that she’s not one to sniff at a daft sci-fi flick here and there (see Surrogates for further proof); she’s not above the occasional fun genre role. And I love her all the more for it. She gives the likes of Doom, Surrogates and Fracture as much actorly attention as she does Pride & Prejudice. In fact, I always thought Pike and Keira Knightley should’ve swapped P&P roles; Pike was a better fit for Lizzie Bennett in my view.
Here comes the science bit: Grimm times for Pike in Doom
Knightley got the sole acting Oscar nod in that film: an unfair neglect of Pike’s wonderful support, especially as both Emma Thompson (lead) and Kate Winslet (supporting) got nominations for that earlier Austen adaptation, Sense and Sensibility. Priding one actress over another with prejudice? Maybe. But some rising stars get awards adulation more than others - though I do hope that Pike gets raised to the heights Winslet and co. have been privy to for many a year at some future point.
But there’s one trick Hollywood really missed! One role that’s a perfect match for Pike’s equal opps dabbling in all things both literary and genre-based: she’d have been perfect casting for Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. For the love of mutant Austen, why was she not considered for the role?