Monday, 24 May 2010

Happy Birthday, Kristin Scott Thomas!

Kristin Scott Thomas in Petites Coupures (2003)...

Flicking through the IMDB in preparation for this article - which will be an unabashed swoon, I forewarn you - I came across an upsetting discovery. Despite making her mark in three different film industries, being nominated for BAFTA's, César's and an Oscar, and winning the hearts of audiences worldwide across a decade-spanning career, half of Kristin Scott Thomas' filmography is still unavailable in the UK. I've scoured dusty attics, charity shops, Ebay and more in a fruitless attempt to unearth even a derelict VHS of her earliest work, when she primarily worked in French language features. Writing an article which celebrates her distinctive career becomes much harder for this fact, and so this piece has changed considerably from my original intention. Rather than re-establishing praise for the likes of Four Weddings And A Funeral (Newell, 1994) and The English Patient (Minghella, 1996; for which she recieved that Oscar nom) I've decided to point you in the direction of a few performances that may have slipped you by. They won't necessarily be her best films, but they're most certainly worth the effort for her magnificent turns. So, without further ado...

1.) Under The Cherry Moon (Prince, 1986)

The number of times I've been laughed out of a room for proclaiming my love of Under The Cherry Moon is now too embarrassing to list, but I stand strong that it's Prince's finest cinematic achievement - an opulent, indulgent romance which recalls (Fellini, 1963) as much as it does Purple Rain (Magnoli, 1984). What's startling about Thomas' performance here - which is her feature debut - is the confidence with which she tackles the role of Mary, on paper a toffee-nosed, upper-class brat, and imbues her with wit and warmth. The plot finds a smooth-talker by the name of Christopher (Prince) attempting to woo this uptight socialite before she inherits $50 million from her father, but naturally he ends up falling for her. The gorgeous photography really allows the actress to shine (really, she's never looked better), but she also nails one of her best monologues toward the film's end;

"For 21 years now I've listened to you and father tell me what to do.
You've painted a picture of a perfect world and you've framed it
with hypocrisy, stubbornness and lies. And you've hung it on a
trust fund I can't get until I marry a man I don't even love. Doesn't it
matter to you and Daddy what I want? Mother, look at me.
I am your painting."

2.) Petites Coupures (Pascal Bonitzer, 2003)

An offbeat little dramedy, this largely unknown picture finds Thomas on bright comedic form, playing against the wonderful Daniel Auteuil. The film's main arc follows a few days in the life of a womanizing French journalist, Bruno (Auteuil), as he travels cross-country to deliver a letter to his uncle's wife's lover, but the highlight is of course Thomas, playing the eccentric Béatrice. She's a timid and nervous soul, outwardly sad and possibly a little bit crazy. But unlike many indie features these are not qualities which are exploited for kook's sake - these characters are deeply flawed and, despite their willingness to hurt each other, are revealed as delicate and confused beings. Béatrice has married the wrong man, and filled with self doubt she is looking for a way out. On the surface it's a simple film (some shallow comments about communism feel misplaced), but the characters are well drawn, and allow two enviably talented performers to inhabit them. Thomas is totally believable playing a woman adrift in her own whimsical (albeit painful) ocean, and once again walks away as the highlight of an already underrated film.

3.) Chromophobia (Martha Fiennes, 2005)

One thing I love about Thomas is her unfaltering ability to rise above the material she's in, and in the case of Martha Fiennes pompous London mosaic, there's much rising to be done. A cold browse through its director's phone book, Chromophobia is a deeply misjudged snoozefest which, outside of this stunning supporting turn, isn't at all worth recommending. And yet, at its centre the film does have brittle socialite Iona (Thomas), whose sleek black haircut perfectly reflects her character - one which won her numerous plaudits with the same critics who (rightly) panned the film. Iona's house is bathed in sterile white, and its claustrophobic rooms are as choking for her as they are for us. Its glass surfaces have made her self-conscious - she panics about her looks and body, slowly crumbing before her husband's uncaring eyes. A monolith with a repressed heart, Iona is the embodiment of a middle-aged woman's fears, but it's to Thomas' credit that she finds such a powerful emotional hook in such a tired, clichéd screenplay.

4.) I've Loved You So Long (Philippe Claudel, 2008)

Maddeningly snubbed by the Academy (seemingly for the crime of speaking in French), Thomas delivered her finest performance to date in the searing grief drama I've Loved You So Long. She plays Juliette Fontaine, a woman struggling to readjust to society after being released for prison. The reason for her 15 years spent incarcerated are initially undisclosed, but the frosty reception by her sister hints toward something disturbing. Thomas performance is quiet and fragile, beautifully observed by debutant Claudel, whose tale of mystery is riveting from first frame to last. Rather than playing the role for melodrama, Thomas finds in Juliette a repressed sadness, and proceeds to single out every vital emotion, playing them through weary, soulful eyes. A private woman, introduced by the lighting of a cigarette, we enter Juliette's world without prejudice. By the reactions of those around her feelings of unease slip into our subconscious, and Thomas possesses the impossible quality of foreseeing them, convincing us that by one touch of a human hand, she might break. It's a stunningly layered performance, and one I urge you to track down.

The birthday of one of our finest actresses is, without doubt, a cause for celebration. Hopefully this article will have encouraged you to seek out more of her work, and to see you out I've selected a short film by the late, great Anthony Minghella - Play (2000), based on the production by Samuel Beckett.


  1. First, thank you for posting this for all of us KST fans to read, agree and enjoy.

    I have recently attempted to acquire as many KST films as possible and in my search, I have found many enjoyable films. And a few that have become immediately favorites:

    Body & Soul (a six part television mini-series) that is available on a two-disc set. This was a fantastic series from beginning to end. In this series Kristin plays a nun who because of the death of her brother has to leave the convent. The only thing that could have made this series better... another six episodes.

    Arsene Lupin:
    I have to admit prior to this movie, I've never heard of this Arsene Lupin character. This film was based upon that popular European character. Obviously the only reason why I even sought out this film is because of Kristin. Not taking Kristin into account, I still found this movie quite interesting with it's dark undertones and slick sequences. But, I did purchase this film because of Kristin and I would definitely say - for any KST fan, this is a must see. She is not so nice here and plays the part to the hilt.

    An Unforgettable Summer:
    This is an odd film and I am at a loss even to find words to describe it or how I felt about it. The one thing I can say is that whatever emotion Kristin's character is going through, you go through it with her.

    I am still trying to get through Chromophobia, I tried twice and failed both times. This film is a tragic mess.

    Can't wait until In Your Hands is released, it looks like a good one.

  2. I think that role in a film body and soul - one of her best