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Posts Tagged ‘Bright Young Things’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 9th October 2003:

Actor, comedian, novelist, writer, and film director – yes, these are all words that I have just typed. Also, by a weird coincidence, jobs appearing on the CV of the formidable polymath Stephen Fry, whose debut as writer/director has just been released.

Bright Young Things, based on Evelyn Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies, is an examination of the celebrity-obsessed metropolitan culture of 1930s London. Recently in the UK we’ve grown accustomed to people like Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Victoria Hervey basically becoming famous for going to high-profile parties, but this isn’t an exclusively modern phenomenon and Fry’s film is about the forebears of today’s It girls and boys.

Stephen Campbell Moore plays Adam, a posh but penniless young man who aspires to be a writer. He and his friends are part of 1930s London’s party scene, going from one bash to another in search of new and greater thrills. But reality can only be fended off for so long and if he’s to marry his fiancée, Nina (the estimable Emily Mortimer), he needs to get his hands on some good hard cash.

For most of its length Bright Young Things has a slightly rambling, picaresque structure, the different situations all loosely linked by Adam’s increasingly urgent efforts to find some money – whether by tracking down a drunken Major (Jim Broadbent) he’s inadvertently given thirty thousand pounds to, or by becoming a gossip columnist for ogre-ish newspaper proprietor Lord Monomark (Dan Aykroyd). The film switches quite effectively from comedy to drama and back again, with the script subtly but steadily making its points about the intoxicating superficiality of this kind of celebrity culture and its ultimate nihilism.

Members of the cast really fall into two camps – young, relative unknowns who play the main roles, and much better known names and faces providing cameos. And both groups give equally good performances – James McAvoy is particularly good amongst the newcomers, while Peter O’Toole (radiating manic vigour) is probably the standout in a hugely distinguished supporting cast that includes Julia Mackenzie, Simon Callow, John Mills, Jim Carter, Stockard Channing, Sam Kisgart [a then-current running gag referring to my inability to recognise anagrams of Mark Gatiss’s name – A] and Richard E Grant.

The film is handsomely mounted and Fry shows some promise as a director, particularly in the closing stages as the story grows darker and more poignant. But somehow the closing, Second World War-set section, doesn’t ring true (a necessary alteration to Waugh, who was writing in the late 1920s) and quite what the final message of the film is is obscured by the way it concentrates on Adam and Nina’s romance at the expense of nearly everything else. But Bright Young Things remains a classy piece of work, and an impressive debut for Fry.

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