Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Dresser (1983) - ★★★★

Director: Peter Yates
Writers: Ronald Harwood (Screenplay)
Stars: Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay, Edward Fox, Eileen Atkins, Michael Gough

The Dresser is a film most memorable for its stunning performances. Each character has something interesting about them, whether they be a 'bugger' Dresser, a senile Shakespearian actor or a woman who has been in a one-sided love with the same man for 20 years. Yates could not have picked a better cast for this movie, which made it soar into an unforgettable film.

Although the movie is named The Dresser, it's really about a veteran Shakespearian actor, 'Sir', (Albert Finney) who is deteriorating into senility. His personal assistant, Norman (Tom Courtenay), looks after him by dressing and prepping him for each performance. On one particular performance of King Lear, Norman has his hands full trying to get the almost-insane actor on stage. All of this is happening during WWII London, where air-raids are a regular occurrence.

It's quite a funny movie, showing us the antics and difficulty of being an actor's assistant in that crazy time of war. Sir is a diva, a tyrant even. Mixed with his senile antics, he makes life extremely hard for Norman. I wondered why Norman puts up with the abuse and came up with a number of reasons.

Where else could Norman work? He's obviously a gay man who could never cover up his effeminate ways. He walks with a wiggle, he talks very femininely, and people didn't like that. In the world of actors, he could take solace in the fact that many of them were 'buggers' themselves, which is why that seems like the only place for him.

The other reason is that he idolizes Sir. He loves this man, faults and all. No matter how cruel he may be, The Dresser always sticks by him and tries to get him through the day. He wasn't in love with the man, he was his best friend. Leaving him would be like leaving his only friend in the world, which is why he puts up with the exhausting task of looking after him.

Albert Finney stole the show for the first hour and a half. All I can say is that if he ever did a rendition of Shakespeare on stage, I would pay big money to see that! It was masterful in every sense of the word. We saw the vulnerability and fear of a man that didn't want to go crazy. He knew he was losing his mind and it scared the hell out of him. It's Finney's greatest performance to date.

In the last fifteen minutes of the movie, Tom Courtenay gave one of the greatest monologues I've ever seen in my life. The emotion that poured out of this man has to be seen to be believed. At one point I even said "Sorry Finney, Courtenay should have the Lead Actor Oscar." I've cried the way Norman did at the end, but I could never force myself to cry like that. It's the kind of emotion that you must truly feel in order to express it. I don't know how Courtenay managed to give such a powerful performance, but it's up there with the best of the best.

The only drawback in my mind was that it ran a little bit too long. There were some scenes that could've been trimmed down or cut out. Other than that, The Dresser is a brilliant movie. It's one of those films that are made great by the performances alone. While everything else was good (particularly Albert Finney), it is Tom Courtenay's breathtaking performance that will stay in my mind forever.


  1. Good review. I watched this as part of working my way through the Oscar Best Picture nominees and I knew nothing about it before I pressed Play. I completely agree on the performances in this film and I also gave it four out of five stars. I have not reviewed it yet myself. Someday I am going to do a "backstage movies" category and I will include it then.

    1. Good. This film needs more exposure. Tom Courtenay's performance must be seen by more people. Thanks Chip :)