Directed by Janos Edelenyi
Starring Brian Cox, Coco Konig, Emilia Fox, Anna Chancellor
Released on 5th August 2016
For all its literary references, there’s one in The Carer that’s constantly there but goes unspoken. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” And it’s essentially what this small British/Hungarian production is all about – that, and living life to the full for as long as possible.
At the centre is Sir Michael (Brian Cox), a distinguished former actor now suffering from a form of Parkinson’s, living on his country estate and needing a carer. Another one, because his demands and his cantankerous attitude have alienated a long line of them. His daughter employs the young Hungarian Dorottya (Coco Konig) but, inevitably, he gives her a hard time, yet her fearless attitude and ability to quote Shakespeare start to win him over. And when he’s going to be given a prestigious lifetime achievement award, his daughter assumes that he’s not well enough to attend. But Sir Michael has other ideas.
Inspired by director Janos Edelenyi’s own father, it’s shot through with echoes of the theatre. There’s Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser, with the curmudgeonly aging actor who alienates just about everybody. In fact, his one-time dresser still works for him, but now as his chauffeur, gardener and general handyman.
And there’s the whole King Lear motif. Sir Michael frequently quotes from the play and it’s mentioned regularly as his most successful performance. And he’s surrounded by three women. Two are much the same age. One is Sophia, his daughter (Emilia Fox), who is frequently exasperated by her father’s unreasonable, contrary and sometimes contradictory behaviour. The other is Minnie (Anna Chancellor), his one-time lover, now his devoted housekeeper. Then in comes the younger one, Dorottya. Not that the older ones conspire against her to their own advantage, but they do come to the conclusion that she’s a bad influence and sack her. And, of course, there’s all the quotations from the play that fall from Sir Michael’s lips: all his performances as the tragic king are permanently etched in his brain.
Although he’s wealthy enough to afford a personal carer, that doesn’t remove the indignities that go with getting older. They’re there for everybody to see: he has to wear “nappies”, he soils himself and Dorottya has to clean him up, he falls over in the rose bushes and can’t get up without help. Cox’s performance dominates the film, giving us a man who is in turns aggravating, touching and with both warmth and charm. His speech at the awards ceremony is a piece of theatre in its own right, his last public performance and he delivers it with aplomb.
And that speech is essentially is the end of the film. It doesn’t really need the little postscripts about the main characters because our main concern is what happens to Sir Michael and we know what that is, eventually. The final photographs and captions are just a wee bit too soft centred.
The Carer is very much an actor’s film: it’s about one and stars one of Britain’s best, together with a member of one of our acting dynasties. Fans of the theatre will no doubt love it, but it doesn’t shy away from showing us some of the realities underneath the greasepaint and apparent glamour.
The Carer is released in cinemas on Friday, 5th August and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 4th August.