More Grand English Acting of a Kind No Longer to be Encountered
It may not be one of Shaw's greatest plays, and the story may require more knowledge of English politics, protocols and traditions than the average American can muster, but as with most Shaw plays, it gives grand opportunities for its players to strut their stuff, so to speak. The only cast member who was, or became, a truly top flight star is Helen Mirren, but that is not to say that there is any member of that cast who doesn't rise to, or possibly even exceed, her level of excellence. Prunella Scales is wonderful as the Queen, but not more wonderful that Beryl Reid and (especially) Joyce Grant as King Magnus's two female cabinet ministers. Mirren is delightful, but somewhat unbelievable, but only because the role of the King's mistress is totally unbelievable to begin with. Peter Barkworth (who, in the Trump Era, could definitely play Lindsey Graham) is really quite dynamic as the wiliest of prime ministers, and Bill Fraser, in the best thing I have ever seen from him, is almost too perfect as Boanerges, the template for so many of Shaw's up-by-the-bootstraps Socialist-Everyman characters. The star role, though, remains that of King Magnus, and Nigel Davenport plays him just perfectly, even though I often get the impression that he is letting acting technique take over for any true feeling about the words he is uttering. But for a delightful wallow in the field of English Upper Class Acting, this TV version of THE APPLE CART is hard to beat. I would also call attention to director Cedric Messina's decision to film Magnus's great speech to the assembled ministers near the end of the first act as one long, long tracking shot. It starts with a full frontal view of the King, follows him, sometimes closely and other times at a distance, as he very slowly walks about the room behind the ministers to his left, stops in the middle for some very nice close-up work, proceeds to slowly walk behind the ministers to his right all the way back to his 'throne', where he still speaks for a bit, with the camera ending up behind him and taking in all of the ministers in rapt attention to his every word, and ALL of this on one immensely long camera shot that might have made Hitchcock green with envy. it must run ten minutes, and one has to wonder if Davenport was able to do it all in one take, or if it had to be done over and over. Anyway, despite the play's occasional dead spots (I thought the entire long scene between the King and his mistress could have been cut out, but then we wouldn't have seen the quite young and lovely Mirren) and somewhat more occasional indecipherability, this is well worth watching. The acting alone rates it an 8.
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