Anyone reveling in his patriarchal venality on HBO’s “Succession” should treat yourself to Brian Cox’s “Thespian in Winter…and Depends” turn in “The Carer,” a tirade of bellowing, blustering delights from the Shakespearean who has played many a villain when Hollywood comes calling.
Yes, it’s a thin comedy, practically a knock-off of the stage play turned screen hit “The Dresser,” only with a home health-care nurse as the Great Actor’s Last Audience. But Cox is one hammy hunk of fun, first scene to last.
Sir Michael Gifford is another of those tyros curdled into tyrants in their dotage whom the Brits so adore. He’s played everything, spent decades doing Shakespeare and everything else for the Royal This and the BBC that. And now he has Parkinson’s and requires in-home care in his ancient manor “pile.”
Of course, the testy, imperious blowhard wants no such thing. His barely-tolerates-him-daughter (Emilia Fox) is ready to send this new candidate home before she’s even met the brute. But Dorottya (Coco König) of the unpronounceable name and Hungarian acting background charms her just enough to get an overnight “trial.”
As she’s been picked for the job by Sir Michael’s doting driver and former theater “dresser” (veteran character actor Karl Johnson), perhaps she’ll work out after all.
Dorottya has trouble with English and Englishisms. She wants to call him “Sir Gifford,” and she introduces herself as his “career.”
“Just my luck” he grouses, getting the joke in that malapropism.
He wants to say she looks like someone he used to know, which as he’s never worked with Debra Winger means he has to think on it (König is a dead ringer for Winger), and no, she can’t answer him in kind.
“I’m too FAMOUS to look like anyone. Other people look like me, if they’re lucky.”
Being an actress, she knows his work and even saw him on tour on the stage. She’s thrilled to be in a house decorated in photos of his great roles and posters of his most famous productions. As if that isn’t enough, he’s inclined to look at his old performances (generously sampled) on video.
He lets himself be charmed, and she finds herself trying her tentative English out when he insists she play Guildenstern to his Hamlet, or what have you. No, he won’t be her teacher, not when she has to clean his bottom thanks to the progress of his illness.
“You have to RESPECT your teacher,” and that’s out, he figures.
So he introduces her as Romanian or Polish or whatever insult suits his fancy, and she takes it.
She copies his expressions and fields his Bard bantering, “all that Shakespeare bollocks,” with a fan’s knowledge, if not a lot of obvious skill.
Cox has some warm moments with Anna Chancellor as his long-adoring/long-suffering housekeeper/cook, and Johnson. His turn as Gifford veers between Lear’s fury and Falstaff’s sentimentality.
“Alzheimer’s really should be the province of the young. They have nothing to remember.”
This Hungarian co-production suffers from imbalance between the leads, with Cox so much larger than life that König, who went on to play a no-speaking-lines orderly in the all-star bomb “Assassin’s Creed,” was hopelessly overmatched. But she’s plucky and convincingly under-awed, and that’ll have to do.
But even taking that into account, and the film’s “awards banquet” cliche of a finale, “The Carer” is still good for plenty of laughs thanks to this cuddly-scary and incontinent bear that Cox could play in his sleep, especially since he wouldn’t hear of that because he’s plainly having a lot of fun as he does.
MPA Rating: unrated, profanity, scatological humor, drinking, smoking
Cast: Brian Box, Coco König, Anna Chancellor, Emilia Fox and Karl Johnson
Credits: Directed by János Edelényi, script by Gilbert Adair, János Edelényi. |A Corinth Films release on Film Movement Plus.
Running time: 1:28