1. St. Martin’s Lane (1938, set in London) and Once (2006, set in Dublin).
Paired because of themes: Busking and making it in the arts.
Vivien Leigh is here a year before Gone with the Wind as the poor, feisty, petulant, manipulative, and selfish dancer, Liberty. With her own British accent in this one, no southern drawl. Perhaps someone saw this “rags-to-riches London musical” and decided she had the perfect energy for Scarlett O’Hara. Liberty hooks up with street performer Charles Laughton’s Charlie to get off the streets and be part of his act. Laughton is absolutely astonishingly good in every way. St. Martin’s Lane is apparently a street in “seedy Westminster,” London. Look for the young and barely recognizable Rex Harrison as the impresario who takes Liberty to stardom, perhaps foreshadowing his My Fair Lady persona as Professor Higgins. Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If,” always a favorite of my mother’s, is featured.
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream and not make dreams your master;
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them, “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And, which is more, you’ll be a man, my son!
Once feels a little more serious because of the movie’s slice-of-life almost documentary feel. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are believable and charming as the down-and-out musicians who find each other. With the exception of Leigh, you feel for all the likeable buskers in both movies and want them to succeed. I really don’t like the Liberty or O’Hara characters, nor do I want them to succeed. Sorry, Mom.
2. Brief Encounter (1945, set in London) and Staying On (1980, set in Pankot, India).
Paired because both movies feature Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson.
Howard and Johnson are at their charming and sparkly best in Brief Encounter as Dr. Alec Harvey and Laura Jesson, lonely people married to others who meet in a train station and begin a shy relationship. They’re Tusker and Lucy Smalley, an elderly married couple, grumpy and irritable, in Staying On. Remarkable performances in both movies, made all the more brave because of the 35 years of actual aging the actors do in between. “Staying on” refers to British people staying in India after Indian independence. The supporting Indian actors are fabulous.
3. The Young Victoria (2009) and Mrs. Brown (1997)
Paired because they both portray Queen Victoria
Emily Blunt is radiant as the future Queen Victoria who comes of age and falls in love with Albert of Saxony. This movie won an Oscar for costumes and makeup, though the exuberance of the young actors is also wonderful to watch. Albert died of typhoid when he was only 42, and Mrs. Brown picks up where the widowed Victoria is completely depressed with grief. Judy Dench is the mourning queen, and Billy Connolly is John Brown, the Highlander security man hired by the family to revive her spirits. Wonderful to watch these two vets make sparks fly as mismatched adversaries and then friends. And maybe more, according to some of the horrified family, who watch Mr. Brown get more and more informally tender with the queen, whom they call “Mrs. Brown” behind her back.
4. Out of Africa (1985, set in Kenya) and White Material (2009, in French, set in an unnamed African country)
Paired because they’re both about young white women on African coffee plantations
Out of Africa shows us grand panoramas, is gorgeously shot, and gives us romance and Victrolas. White Material grinds viewers down with the horror of a civil war and the death throes of an entitled French colonial family struggling to hang on to their enterprise.”White material” is the rebel radio station DJ’s slang for white people. Isabelle Huppert’s Maria is unadorned and fierce in White Material, a blunt and harried version of Meryl Streep’s well-coifed and elegantly spoken Karen.