Monday, March 02, 2009

The Curious Case of the White Queen

Benjamin Button isn't the only fictional character that was aging in reverse last year. We first heard that Anne Hathaway was cast as The White Queen in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland in October. It exhibited the usual flurry of excitement (big star joins other stars in high profile project) but few mentioned that the elusive character just lopped off a few decades of living.

The White Queen is nearly aways portrayed as an old woman. Maureen Stapleton was 58 when she played her,Penelope Wilton 52, Carol Channing "jam tomorrow, jam yesterday" 64, Eva Le Gallienne was 56. Nanette Fabray and Louise Fazenda were the youngest I could find, at 46 and 38 respectively, when they donned the crown in 1966 and 1933. Anne Hathaway will only be 27 when the movie arrives.

Anne's incongruous youth for this role first occurred to me this week when Anne wore bridal white to the Oscars and was obviously the youngest of the Best Actress nominees. We haven't yet seen a photo of Hathaway in Colleen Atwood* designed Queen garb but shouldn't one be forthcoming soon? So far we've seen Johnny Depp in Mad Hatter wear and we've seen our Alice (Mia Wasikowska) who, at 18 years of age, is older than Alice generally is. How much reimagining is Burton doing? We hope a lot or else why another trip through the looking glass? Like Robin Hood (discussed yesterday) there are dozens of film and television version of this tale already available. Unless you have a fresh take**, avoid.

Perhaps Hathaway only has a cameo. The White Queen is an elusive character in the Wonderland mythology. She appears only in Through the Looking Glass. She speeds away quickly from danger and sometimes she's altogether more invisible than the Cheshire Cat. Note that she doesn't appear at all in many adaptations of the Alice tale. By contrast, her sister The Red Queen (played by Helena Bonham-Carter this time) also known as "The Queen of Hearts" is always present, accounted for and ready for heads to roll. I have it on good authority that her favorite Tim Burton is Sleepy Hollow.

*Colleen Atwood is not listed as Alice's costume designer on IMDB but no one is. I'm assuming that she's the one, given her 7 previous collaborations with Burton.
** If you've never seen Dreamchild (1985) and are interested in the Lewis Carrol books, I urge you to do so. It's a really creepy biopic'ish take on Alice in Wonderland with a sensational performance by Coral Browne (Mrs. Vincent Price) as Alice all grown up.


John T said...

The Queen of Hearts actually isn't the same character as the Red Queen-they are different characters. The Queen of Hearts is far more foul-tempered than the Red Queen.

Brian Darr said...

Has anyone else seen that 1933 Alice in Wonderland, which is basically a parade of cameos by Paramount's stable of stars and character actors? I must admit I don't really remember Louise Fazenda as the youngest-ever White Queen (up till now), but I'll never forget Cary Grant in a Mock Turtle costume, Ned Sparks as the Caterpillar, or W.C. Fields nearly unrecognizable (if it weren't for his voice) as Humpty Dumpty.


I MUST see this Brian. Cary Grant as Turtle. that would be unreal.

Anonymous said...

Seconding what John T said. Having been in the play and having read numerous takes on it, Red Queen and Queen of Hearts are different charcters (one based on chess, the other on a deck of cards)