Take One: Upstairs 0 - Downstairs 1
Among the film's interviewing mini-plots, Elsie’s narrative was an intriguing red herring, a side dish. But then Gosford Park wasn’t really about the murder as much as it was about class. Watson had plenty.
Watson in Gosford Park
Altman’s film was packed wall-to-wall with high-level thesping and hidden somewhere in the pack was Watson effortlessly showing everybody up. Mirren was great, Smith very good, but Watson's was the most likeable, instinctive and vibrant turn. In Gosford Park Watson proves adept at making familiar type seem fresh and altogether vital. She’s always believable on screen. Mirren’s emotional resolution was Gosford Park’s sad closer, but Watson sent the film off on a more optimistic note.
Take Two: Staring death in the face
Watson in Red Dragon
Watson was spot on in the role offering no concession to cliché, no unnecessary dwelling on the “disability” aspect, no life-affirming monologues. Instead she provides solid, amiable character acting. Her final moments, wondering aloud to Edward Norton whether she “drew a freak”, are brief but minutely heartbreaking. Watson turned a shopworn character, twice mislabelled a victim, into a full-bodied person, coloring her in with nuanced detail. Reba wasn’t just a pitiable blind girl. She was refreshingly knowing, slightly cynical and believably vulnerable in ways we don’t normally see.
Take Three: Hard times, clean hands
Watson in The Proposition
Even though Martha was on the periphery of all the manly action, Hillcoat’s camera is still attentive to her. Through Watson’s beautifully underplayed performance we are granted access to her inner thoughts. When she overhears of her husband’s betrayal (concerning the flogging of a man believed to have raped and murdered her only friend), we not only witness her utter disbelief in cutaway, but the scene itself ends on her exhausted yet defiant stride out of her isolated house. Her blue-brown dress is at elegant odds to the expansive, harsh desert terrain she heads towards.
|Watson in the bath|
Watson's performance is a set of emotive actions finely woven together. Watch the way she inspects her water-withered hands in the bath as she talks of her grief, the way her deathly dream virtually obliterates her own waking perception of events, how her brittle defiance turns to resigned revulsion during the flogging scene and, in the brutal climax, her frozen terror. The reality of how hard a slog life was for Martha is etched all over Emily's face.
Three more key films for the taking: Breaking the Waves (1995), Hilary & Jackie (1998), Punchdrunk Love (2002)