David Lister: The Week in Arts

Reject your Oscar nomination, Rachel
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There are murmurs in the film industry about Rachel Weisz receiving an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress in The Constant Gardener. Thank goodness for that. I was beginning to wonder if I was alone in thinking it completely ludicrous. Nothing against the excellent Ms Weisz or her equally excellent performance in the film. But supporting actress? If she wasn't the leading lady, who was?

If logic wasn't already turned on its head, the comment from movie's producers Focus Features turned the illogical into the surreal. She is a supporting actress, they say, because she dies halfway through. "Because she only ends up in half of it," they say, "there is a strong argument that she has in fact got a supporting role."

Well, go see your own film, guys. She actually dies at the beginning, but as the film is told in a sequence of flashbacks, she is there for most of it, a constant presence in The Constant Gardener.

This best supporting category is a can of worms, not just in films. A few years back Julian Glover was nominated for best supporting actor at the Olivier Awards for his role of Henry IV in Henry IV Part I. Another actor in the production, the superb David Bradley, joked with me at the time that it was rather odd Henry IV being a supporting actor in the play that bears his name. Funnily enough, the current Olivier nominations again have Henry IV nominated for Henry IV Part I and again in the supporting actor category. And the actor playing the king? None other than David Bradley.

What is a supporting performance? What, come to that, is a lead performance? Also in the current Olivier nominations, both Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer in Mary Stuart are nominated in the lead actress category. Can a play technically have two leading actresses? This is difficult territory. But classing either Ms McTeer or Ms Walter as support may have made for even more difficult territory. Actually, in the case of Henry IV Part I, I would agree that the king can be classed a supporting role. But if we were told that it was in fact the lead role and Falstaff and Prince Hal were supporting roles, I very much doubt that anyone would bat an eyelid.

With films, if the case of Ms Weisz is patently absurd, then so are the Oscar nomination categories for Brokeback Mountain - on both sides of the Atlantic. Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger had equally important roles when I saw the movie. But, for both the Oscars and the Baftas, Ledger is nominated for leading actor and Gyllenhaal for supporting actor. If I were Jake Gyllenhaal, I'd feel both chuffed and resentful.

And guess what: Rachel Weisz, a best supporting actress nominee for the Oscars, is nominated by the Bafta judges for best actress in a leading role. Funny how your performance changes size as it crosses the ocean.

What does it all mean? I'm not sure I can make sense of it; but in the case of the Oscars it's hard not to have a sneaking suspicion that studios lobby for their stars for the category in which they think they have the best chance of winning, whatever the logic.

Perhaps the way to make things clearer is for studios to say in the extensive production notes they issue on a film's release who is the lead and who are the supports. That would then be set in stone.

In the short term, there is another solution. The talented and articulate Rachel Weisz could add inimitable courage to her other virtues. She could say: "I am the leading lady in this film, and not a supporting role. To suggest otherwise is an insult. I reject this nomination."

Dancing around reality

A little-noticed piece of casting by the Royal Ballet will give heart to both dancers and actresses around the world. For a couple of performances this summer, the exquisite Sylvie Guillem (pictured) will dance for the company. This in itself is a bit of a surprise as dance critics have been saying for some time that she would be unlikely to dance any more classical roles as she moves into her 40s. But the biggest surprise is the role itself. Miss Guillem, who turns 41 later this month, is playing Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.

There can't have been many forty-somethings who have portrayed Juliet on stage, in dance, opera or the Shakespeare play. Miss Guillem's Romeo will certainly be something of a toy boy. Even her nurse who scolds her, not to mention her mother and father, might well be younger than she is in real life. But who cares? One of the greatest and most charismatic dancers of all time will be back on the Royal Ballet stage. I'm certainly content to suspend my disbelief - about 30 years of disbelief.

* I recently noted that the chairman of the Arts Council of Wales had effectively been sacked. The departing chairman said that the action threatened the arm's length principle between government and the arts. I wondered if the Arts Council of England was beginning to feel nervous.

This week I wonder if it is feeling even more nervous. The Scottish Arts council has just been abolished. No departure of a chairman there; the whole shebang is to be relieved of its duties of funding national companies north of the border. The Government will have more power, as will local authorities. One of the advocates for more local authority power is Bridget McConnell, Glasgow's culture supremo, who is married to Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell.

First Wales, now Scotland. Yes, if I were on the Arts Council of England, I'd be feeling pretty worried.