Michael Coveney: Maggie blip at the BFI while Bendy signs on for Soho
The BFI's season of Maggie Smith films got off to a faltering start this week
In all my dealings over the years with the British Film Institute - researching, writing, occasionally presenting filmmakers and curating seasons - I've never had anything but a rich and rewarding time. The BFI is one of the greatest of our cultural institutions, and every moviegoer in the land, not just London, has reason to be grateful to them.
So it was bizarrely funny that the season of Maggie Smith films I've curated as she approaches her big birthday later this month should have opened on Tuesday night with a movie she's not even in. Some hapless backroom boffin - no names, no pack drill, no-one's to blame, really, easily done, etc - picked out the wrong version of For Services Rendered (a 1980 television version instead of the 1959 one in which Maggie plays the youngest of three sisters in Somerset Maugham's bitter 1932 anti-war comedy).
The BFI will re-schedule the screening for some time in January. BFI television programmer Marcus Prince is, of course, mortified, and has taken immediate steps to ensure that this unfortunate - and virtually unprecedented - error cannot be repeated. The trouble was that the 1980 version had been erroneously labelled up as 1959, and the running time of both versions is exactly the same; only difference, apart from the cast, is that 1959 is in black and white, 1980 in colour.
The irony is that the 1980 For Services Rendered is the National's 1979 production, directed by Michael Rudman, re-directed for television by Jeremy Summers, but with Rudman's entire cast, which includes Lesley Sands, Jean Anderson, John Quayle, Phyllida Law, Ian Hogg and Elizabeth Romilly (whatever happened to her?) in Maggie's role. Actually, I wouldn't have minded seeing this had I been in the audience on Tuesday night instead of enduring Hope (more like "Despair") at the Royal Court. Disgruntled BFI patrons were re-funded, all the same.
Georgina trips the light fantastic
I've belatedly caught up with Georgina Brown's lively account last month in the Mail on Sunday's Event magazine of how she tripped on as an extra in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Savoy. This was presumably a publicity stunt in an attempt to prop up ailing box office figures at the one West End musical that really doesn't deserve to be struggling.
Georgina did it for fun, of course, and because she was invited by the management (her show was on 23 October) but my information is that the BO figures haven't improved one iota. Nor did they, I fear, when the former Sunday Telegraph critic Tim Walker - he's been "let go" and there are no plans to replace him - pranced about as a matelot during a performance of Top Hat at the Aldwych. For that show - a mediocre, provincial affair and a non-stylish travesty of the movie - Tim had wanted to award ten stars instead of his allotted maximum of five.
This might serve as a warning to other critics expressing too much enthusiasm: you're likely to end up in the show and, shortly afterwards, lose your job. At least in Georgina's case, her enthusiasm was well founded and well judged. But the article still left a lot of unanswered questions: why had the brilliant Rufus Hound disappeared from the cast? What exactly did she think she was doing? Didn't she feel exploited? And why on earth did Georgina agree to be dressed in costumes from House of Fraser (£29) and Primark? Was she that cheap a date for ATG boss Howard Panter? Did she keep them (I do hope not)?
Still, her devoted sidekick on the Mail on Sunday, Robert Gore-Langton, was conveniently on hand to deliver a rave review in which he described her as "poised, elegant, fabulous." There are not many critics of whom that can be said. And Robert Lindsay, welcoming the "Sunday Mail's" critic to the stage, described her at curtain call as one of the family. He also said he never thought he'd share a stage with a critic. But he already has, with me, at a Q and A after his brilliant performance as Archie Rice in The Entertainer. I know my place, and it's sitting down with a pen and notepad.
Bendy and co in a huff about Jojo's
There was a letter in The Times yesterday bemoaning the closure, and planned demolition, of Madame Jojo's, the raunchy Soho nightclub which specialised in upmarket drag acts as well as Adam Ant and Adele. The implication of the letter was that this was another nail in the coffin of old Soho and that the seedy side of the neighbourhood generally was under serious threat from other developers.
And it was signed by Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul O'Grady, Eddie Izzard, Pete Townshend, Tracie Bennett, Phil Daniels, Janet Suzman, Kit Hesketh-Hervey and many others. The others included Stephen Fry, who is name-checked in Hope as a campaign supporter. The trouble with Stephen is that he supports anything and everything, bless.
But in this instance he's absolutely right, and I hope the closure of Jojo's doesn't signify anything more sinister than just that; and that Tim Arnold, the Soho Hobo, and his co-signatories, are granted their last wish of one final performance at the club. I think all the above-mentioned signatories should join in and dust down their party frocks; it's obviously another fun opportunity for Georgian Brown, too... but not in the Primark, dear.