A far from faultless royal appointment in The Audience, but Helen Mirren is still majestic

Plus: Stoker restores one's faith in film and the National Gallery's Barocci exhibition has a masterpiece that really nails it

Share
Related Topics

Reading one of the reviews of Helen Mirren's performance in The
Audience
, Peter Morgan's tableau vivant
about the relationship
between the Queen and some of the 12 Prime Ministers who have come
and gone during her reign, I was particularly struck by one word –
"faultless". It seemed an odd word to use, not because Mirren
wasn't good in the role, but because faultless was precisely what
she wasn't. Possibly the critic in question didn't go on the same
night as I did. But if he did then this looked like an interesting
example of regal aura. Because what was notable on the first night
was that Mirren was still a bit rocky on some of her lines. There
were a few uncharacteristic stumbles, the odd moment when there was
a little rattle to the rhythm as she struggled not to derail
entirely.

Perhaps, I thought, her performance was "faultless" in the same way that the Queen's complexion is always described as "flawless". That is, it's not strictly true (to be faultless and flawless is not to be human) but it's a way for a loyal subject to pay obeisance.

That critic may, perfectly legitimately, have thought that the odd stumble over a word or two was irrelevant to the larger picture. But such things are never irrelevant to the audience, or to the performers themselves, I would have thought. By coincidence, I noticed that James McAvoy had touched on the subject in an interview about his critically admired performance as Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios. He'd caught himself saying the same line twice, he confessed, "and I went 'Oh dear this is a bad moment for me'."

Rather touchingly, he then added that he thought the audience "didn't quite notice", which was reminiscent of Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques, insisting that the viewers probably wouldn't spot that she'd arrived on set carrying a completely imaginary tea tray. I have news for Mr McAvoy. The audience will have noticed but they will have been as eager as you were to pretend that it didn't happen.

That's because these are always moments that strike a deep anxiety into us. On paper you might think that we've nothing to lose, being hidden in the darkness of the auditorium. Or that what we've got to lose is purely a matter of value for money, a contractual failure to deliver (rather literally). But the truth is that they illuminate the peculiar intimacy between a performer and his or her audience and the odd way that the possibility of a fall is what makes the theatrical experience work. It's jarring, of course, to find your suspended disbelief thumping to floor. At one moment, Mirren is Her Majesty; at the very next, she's a famous person pretending to be Her Majesty and caught, moreover, at a moment when the pretence has been exposed.

What we feel for her as an actress (and audiences are never less than sympathetic) intersects with what we're supposed to be feeling for the character she's playing and it can take some time to restore normal service. It's not just the performer who has to get it "back on track", as McAvoy put it. It's us too.

Maybe "faultless" was right after all though. Because there's an odd quality to these stumbles, when they come from seriously good performers, which only enhances the pleasure of everything around them. A mediocre actor can't afford the luxury, because every stammer or hesitation only confirms the sense of a failing endeavour. But with a good actor it simply highlights what's usually invisible – the fact that you have been hypnotised into forgetting the artifice.

Like a beauty spot on a perfectly proportioned face, it isn't a blemish that makes appreciation impossible. It's one that emphasises and magnifies it. The only problem is pedantry, which won't allow the term through. Perfectly flawed, perhaps. That gets a bit closer to it.

Stoker restores one's faith in film

A while ago Ian McEwan wrote about his occasional losses of faith in fiction which, in his case, were generally cured by an encounter with excellence. It happens in other art forms too. You can go along for weeks in the theatre or the cinema not really emotionally stirred by it until suddenly you're reminded why it can thrill. It has happened twice to me recently – once when watching Ron Cook utter the word "Kean" in Trelawny of the Wells, and several times while watching Stoker (above), Park Chan-wook's psychological thriller. I can recommend either to those of enervated aesthetic sensibilities looking for a restorative pick-me-up.

A masterpiece that really nails it

Details can matter a great deal in art too. If I'm honest, I wasn't hugely moved by the National Gallery's Barocci exhibition, fine though it is as an example of the curator's art. The paintings are just too pious for me. One thing did punch through though, with an almost physical impact. It's in the foreground to an altarpiece depicting the Entombment of Christ, and it consists of the tools that have been used to get him down, alongside some bloody nails and the crown of thorns. I must have seen hundreds of Depositions over the years, given the popularity of this subject, but I don't think I've ever seen one that so forcefully confronts you with the horror involved in getting Christ off the cross. Where would you find a leverage to get the nails out again?

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Queen Elizabeth II with members of the Order of Merit  

Either the Queen thinks that only one in 24 Britons are women, or her Order of Merit is appallingly backward

Janet Street-Porter
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...