David Lister: Mismatches – or inspired casting?

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The Independent Online

Usually at the end of the cultural week, it is a great performance that lingers in the mind. But this week there are two images that are playing in my head, and they keep playing there because they are so improbable.

The first is of Jay Jopling and Lily Allen cavorting in the Caribbean sun. The apparent romance between the highly talented, streetwise, 23-year-old singer and her dad's friend, the 45-year-old, wheeling, dealing, secretive, aristocratic éminence grise of the contemporary art world, has not yet moved from the gossip columns to the culture pages. But Lily has her long-awaited second album out next month. And I wonder if her moonlight conversations with the dealer behind Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin might figure in the lyrics. "When you talk of the room with the shark and the unmade bed in/You got no idea how you're doing my head in." Or something of that ilk. This romance has cultural possibilities.

The other image, which I have to say I find rather more disturbing, concerns John Lennon's Aunt Mimi. Via just a few degrees of separation, there is a route from Jay to Mimi. Jopling's recently divorced ex-wife, the celebrated artist Sam Taylor-Wood, is to direct a feature film, Nowhere Boy, about Lennon's teenage years. She spoke about it in a newspaper yesterday and said that she had cast Kristin Scott Thomas to play Mimi.

The film will also star Anne-Marie Duff as Lennon's mother Julia (who agreed to hand over her baby to Mimi) and the 18-year-old Aaron Johnson, who starred as the teenage heart-throb in Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, as John. Lennon's Aunt Mimi was, as readers of the various Beatles and Lennon biographies will know, a fairly cold fish. Kristin Scott Thomas can do cold fish. She has a presence on screen that is often strikingly glacial. And having met her once, I can confirm that the glacial quality can be present off screen, too.

But she is a statuesque beauty, with more than a hint of sexuality beneath the surface. Mimi was a 1950s matron, prim, strict and correct, but with the studied ordinariness that characterised the era. Philip Norman writes in his biography of Lennon that Mimi was like "a Dickens female, who seemed never to have known youthful passion or indiscretion". Great acting can, of course, overcome such apparent mismatches. When I read Bernard Schlink's book The Reader, I would have laughed if someone had said that the former concentration camp guard would be played on screen by the English rose Kate Winslet.

It is the nature of biopics that the actors involved are usually more attractive than the real-life figures. So it won't surprise me if Taylor-Wood and Scott Thomas together prove that an apparent mismatch can end up an inspired piece of casting. And a generation of movie-goers will think of John Lennon's aunt as a glacial, drop-dead-gorgeous figure, turning heads as she strolled with her nephew to Strawberry Field.

Who knows where these mismatches will lead? My hunch is that they will lead to a noteworthy film in one case, and a memorable song in the other. But even if they don't, they have provided striking images, which as the excellent photographer Sam Taylor-Wood will know, are bound to decorate a gallery one day.

Payoff fit for a princess

Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in the original Star Wars movie, has just published a highly entertaining autobiography, Wishful Drinking. She's not short of material, of course. She was the child of American stars Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher; her father ran off with Elizabeth Taylor; she suffered from alcoholism and depression; she wrote the novel Postcards from the Edge. That's not to mention learning the father of her daughter forgot to tell her he was gay, and waking up one day to find a friend dead beside her in bed.

She also was married for a time to Paul Simon. Those of us who occasionally put song lyrics in a newspaper and have to go through hours of negotiations to get permission or pay large sums of money, will not resist a smile at Miss Fisher printing her ex-husband's nice and not so nice lyrics about her. No, she proclaims, she has not asked for permission, but adds: "I didn't take any alimony from Paul. So try to think of this as you reading my alimony."

Seems a fair deal to me.

Don't get yourself in a twist ...

Cirque du Soleil proved thrilling and beautiful to watch on its latest visit to the UK this week. The finale of the show at the Royal Albert Hall features a troupe of 13 men and two women in a quick-fire display of tumbling, somersaults and dance in which the girls fly through the air in a sequence of terrifying leaps at lightning speed.

One of the girls happens to be the only Brit in the whole show, 19-year-old Scottish gymnast Julie Cameron. She told the Daily Record this week: "To be honest, I don't really think I am doing exactly what I would like to be doing in Cirque at the moment. I would love to do more of the contortion and balancing work that is more like the gymnastics I was trained for..."

It's a beguiling thought – thousands of people breathlessly watching Julie flying through the air, while she is looking at one of the other gymnasts and thinking indignantly: "I could do that!"

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