Sunday, August 08, 2010

Take Three: Rosamund Pike

Craig here. It's Sunday. It's Take Three time.

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?


Ishmael said...

She would have been completely wrong for Lizzy Bennet in my opinion. And I really don't think anyone came out of Doom with much credit.
But I do like her in general...

7Bis said...

Excellent post - Rosamund Pike is a gem. Give her ALL Knightley's roles is what I say! Even here in the UK I think Pike is undervalued, but I'm sure she's in it for the long-haul and still has plenty of surprises in store for us yet. I was blown away by her work in An Education - for me she even stole the film from Mulligan (perhaps only because of the Carey-hype). Pike is absolute proof of the rule that you need a seriously intelligent actress to pull off on-screen stupidity.

Lev Lewis said...

I actually saw her in a cafe last year at TIFF and it was pretty revelatory. You could just automatically tell she was somebody "different". Probably the most beautiful woman I've ever seen in real life and only for about 30 seconds.


i need to see more of her work obviously but loved her in AN EDUCATION as past posts verify.

Dan said...

She's a lovely actress. Attractive and talented.

Jason H. said...

I actually just re-watched An Education last night. She is so radiant in that movie, at times I wish it had been more about Helen than Jenny!

Jude said...

She's one of those actresses that I feel focuses on little details, so when you watch them in the background they're always doing something interesting. I believe there's a scene in "An Education" where Jenny becomes engaged, and when Jenny tells Rosamund, Rosamund's eyes immediately go to the ring.

Anonymous said...

Alright I'll just say it.

The combination of Rosamund Pike, Emma Thompson and Olivia Williams MADE An Education what it was. Take away them and you have a slightly overhyped lead performance in a very average film.

Scott Willison said...

No mention of her debut as a Bond Girl in Die Another Day? She was astonishingly beautiful and classy as Miranda Frost, and in my opinion overshadowed Halle Berry in the same film, bikini or no.

I saw her onstage in Hitchcock Blonde, and she was excellent there. As has been said she's very underrated, but I think that's due to her concentration on the theatre. She's building up a reputation rather than celebrity. If there were a just world, she would be getting the parts Keira Knightly is.


merseytart -- oh just world, where are you?!

confession: i haven't seen that Bond film. isn't that weird, given the Madonna thing.

Craig -- I'm glad you featured Pike. Yay. but hopefully there's still plenty of time for A list directors to realize how much she can deliver.

Jude -- so true.

Cara Gray said...

I agree with Dan, I think shes quite good, I loved an Education - she was also ok in Fracture.

/3rtfu11 said...


You chose “Doom” over “Die Another Day”! Why?

adri said...

"Surrogates" was fun, with both Rosamund Pike and Radha Mitchell as the female protagonists.

I first saw Rosamund Pike in the BBC version of Nancy Mitford's book(s) "Love in a Cold Climate". The endearing central character, played by Pike, is a quiet person surrounded by flamboyant relatives. When I next saw her in the Bond movie, I couldn't believe that chilly villainess was the same actress. I like her range, her beauty, and her intelligence.

And the scenes with Mr. Bingley and Jane were my favorites in Pride and Prejudice.

Mr. Centaur said...

Great choice Craig. Good to see some attention for those original and interesting performers who, for whatever reason, keep flying under the radar (Pike is still young though!)


Mr Centaur -- i have dreams about you!

adri -- you're reminding me that i have been really bad about diving into Pike's career. MUST set aside day to watch a few of these movies.

Advo said...

I loved her already in "Die Another Day". I thought she was magnificent, and absolutely ice-cold. By far better than Halle Berry's overrated stint as a Bond girl. I only wish she could have been up against Daniel Craig instead, that would have helped her career more.

I don't think she's a better fit as Elizabeth Bennett, because she was absolutely perfectly cast as Jane. It was just a shame that they didn't allow for more screen-time for the character. Keira was okay as Elizabeth, but no where near Jennifer Ehle.

She was gorgeous in "Fracture", but the movie dedicated minimal focus on her - it was all about Ryan and Anthony.

I still haven't gotten around to watch "An Education" yet but it's on my must watch list for Rosamund alone. I definitely think her moment is coming - and I have more respect for actors like Daniel Craig who builds up an resume and range before they hit mainstream anyway.

Craig Bloomfield said...

/3rtfu11 - I did write more about DAD/her as a Bong Girl but the piece was getting too long and it didn't fit in as well as the Doom stuff, so I snipped it. And I wanted to mention Doom alongside P&P (films in same year etc).