Script Review: ARTHUR

A sneaky look at Peter Baynham's script for the 2011 remake of Arthur, starring Russell Brand.

Synopsis: Arthur is a happy drunk with no pretensions at any ambition. He is also the heir to a vast fortune which he is told will only be his if he marries Susan. He does not love Susan, but she will make something of him the family expects. Arthur proposes but then meets a girl with no money who he could easily fall in love with. Based on:Dudley Moore's 1981 classicWritten by: Peter Baynham (Borat, Bruno) Starring: Russell BrandDirected by: ? Info: Draft dated 16/10/09 - (118 pages) Status: Movie should film sometime 2010.
Can anyone tell me how anyone came to the conclusion that the best man to fill Dudley Moore€™s elegant shoes for the role of Arthur in a new adaptation of Steve Gordon€™s 1981 classic was Russell Brand? On a simple comparison of achievements, Moore is out of Brand€™s world, a comic genius whose art was defined best by a subtlety that made his relationship with Peter Cook so perfect, and his frequent steps onto the bluer side of comedy all the more affecting. Brand on the other hand, is tabloid bait- a professional bounder of sorts who pops up on panel shows or in a few film cameos here and there, and is generally more famous for who he is doing, rather than who he is playing. And he is the man charged with this relatively mammoth task. And it is a mammoth task: Arthur is a one-man-show, with a lot of screen time for its chief player, and nowhere to hide. Don€™t get me wrong, I€™m a fan of Brand€™s particular brand of humour, and enjoyed it as far back as the days when he was riddled with heroin, and found no greater pleasure than in bamboozling clearly drug-ravaged post-festivities party-goers for MTV with luxurious philosophy and general japery. And his stand-up is perfectly self-aware, and genius, and peppered with the kind of delicious anecdotes that Keith Richards would likely blush at. I genuinely want him to succeed.

Russell Brand

But is he an actor? Will his talent and his predilection for shunning authority in the most spectacular ways translate to that format? Reading his autobiography is like treading through a painful, but hilarious record of professional impudence that defies belief in places. What is abundantly clear is that Brand works best when he is not forced to suffer the constraints of normalcy or (God-forbid) linear authority- he is a wildcard of the highest magnitude, and I wonder at the naturalness of a progression into rigidly scripted work. On past examples- namely St Trinians and Forgetting Sarah Marshall- Brand loses something of his charm within these restrictions, and though both characters are effectively just versions of Brand€™s own character (which would be better named a caricature were it not so obviously natural) he is not at his best by a long stride. I can sort of understand the link of Brand to Arthur as a character- both are rogues, charming and harmless, though capable of great malevolence through ignorance of other people€™s different sensibilities, and chiefly both carry the sparkle of eternal youth in their eyes that make their transgressions infinitely forgivable. And, as I say, I would be more than happy to think the new Arthur with Brand as its star will be a success.

Dudley Moore as Arthur

Who€™s to say that 2011€™s Arthur wont do for Brand what 1981€™s did for Dudley Moore- propelling him from successful British comic talent to a proper Hollywood property? Fingers crossed it wont go the same way as the recent remakes of classic British films- though it happily doesn€™t count Sir Michael Caine among its players who seems somewhat of a bad omen in such circumstances€ So, with that in mind, I thought it compelling to have a sneaky look at Peter Baynham€™s script for the adaptation, and offer my review of what Brand and co will have to work with. I assure you that I€™ll try to keep the spoilers to an absolute minimum, but sometimes content is a natural part of a review. The start isn€™t all that promising- a childish visual joke involving some brass bull€™s testicles is a touch needless, even if Arthur is supposed to be a screwball comedy. The early dialogue- particularly Arthur€™s own lines feel like they have been written not only with Brand in mind, but also with the already established image of Brand that his fans are familiar with though even for that purpose they are a little obvious.

Gielgud & Moore in Arthur

Now, I€™m all for progression and transformation for progression€™s sake, but Hobson is a male role- in the original it won SirJohn Gielgud an Oscar for Best Supporting actor for God€™s sake- and for me, the decision to redraw the butler as a woman is like drawing a cock on the Mona Lisa. No amount of gender-tinged banter will make me forgive it either. And, in the same vein as some other modern remakes, Arthur suffers from the same fascination with modern pop culture references that are intended to emphasise just how much more self-consciously modern the film is (in an always misguided attempt at highlighting its intertextuality) but which will ironically mean in five years time that this new version will feel more dated than the original. There are iPhones, and CSI and mentions of Perez Hilton that are unnecessary anchors to the modern day, and which will work against the film in the end. Elsewhere there's a later attempt, in a tacky 99 Cent store to create a quaint idea of datedness (Ricky Martin'sLiving La Vida Loca and Right Said Fred play in the background) that is supposed to be sympomatic of the store's own impenetrable universe, untouched by modernity or other outside influence. Ironically, this "joke" pinpoints exactly what is wrong with the perpetual attempts to be as hip and uber-modern as an iPod advert: the film itself will become exactly like the 99 Cent store, full of quickly outdated wonders- an emporium of the no longer fashionable, like Patrick Bateman's product name-dropping and Genesis monologuing in American Psycho, but without the cutting, precise post-modernist comment.

Thankfully, the misogynist in me can be appeased with the gender-swapping at least by sort of pretending that Hobson remains a man, and the dialogue between Arthur and the butler-type is enjoyable, and largely very funny:

Arthur, in expensive baggy yoga pants and collarless shirt, is doing self-invented yoga to Indian €˜meditation€™ music.

ARTHUR I give you €˜Sideways farting spider€™.

Hobson is sitting, exasperated, going through various expenditures.

HOBSON Arthur, you have to stop giving money away! . ARTHUR I€™m a philanthropist.

HOBSON With the emphasis on the €˜pissed€™. Really, what is it about unearned wealth that brings out such idiocy in those who have it and those who want it? The way you€™re going, you€™ll have spent your inheritance before you€™ve inherited it.

ARTHUR (shifts to new pose) €˜Eagle pointing at lesbian.€™

And from there, things actually do get better- the new Arthur character is very much another version of Brand€™s own famous alter-ego character and the slipper very much fits. You can see this immature man-child being portrayed by no one else, thanks to the seamless writing, and some of the character€™s speech is effortlessly Brand-esque, marrying naughtiness with a certain eccentricity:

VIVIENNE Susan is 33 this year. Her egg inventory has dropped by 23% since you met her. You risk having no sons, or worse, some pea-brained hunchback who hugs everyone!

ARTHUR Great! I like hugs! And some of them are really good at math. (heading to the door) You know the €˜Frog and Toad€™ books?


ARTHUR Of course you don€™t. Hobson read them to me while you were off riding horses over stripey poles. They€™re about fun and friendship, not how many unspasticated tadpoles I can squirt up a rich girl.

Surprisingly nimble banter, peppered with hilarious and fairly unexpected profanity is always the best approach for comedy - especially comedy with an ostensibly British flavour, which hopefully the new Arthur aspires to retain in some way. And as for the other things it retains- there are the infamous lines still in there like Arthur's assurances about poets and alcoholics, and the music is rumoured to be making an appearance in some guise or another (probably recorded by modern musicians- but hopefully not tortured too much) - it looks as if Arthur will be just faithful enough without being an unnecessary scene-for-scene remake. One thing- I'm a big fan of swearing in the right context, when it is explosive and profoundly affecting, but I have a slight problem with the casual use of the word "cunt" in mainstream cinema, especially in a comedy that aims more towards an air of cheekiness than outright disgust, because of its everlasting severity. For me, it's one of those Anglo-Saxon words that just doesnt lose its power no matter how many times I hear it, and to include it in this light-punching comedy to try and add weight to the caddishness of Brand's Arthur is ill-measured and cheap, and the word sticks out like a sweary elephant in the room. Worse still, the script has more than one use of the contracted profanity "mo-fo", rather than the more crude "motherfucker", which seems absurd with a "cunt" wandering around unrestrained. This wild swing in tone isnt exactly unprecedented though- the high-flying date scene over the Hudson River that turns quickly from quirky humour, including the appearance of a junkie robber, to over-the-top violence, when said junkie produces a knife and slashes both Arthur's hand and his date's ear is another example of Peter Baynham's apparent lack of filter and consequent inability to judge the tone of his own script. Overall, the plot is a good one, though it feels very familiar even when you try to ignore the original Arthuras it is fundamentally just the age-old tale of a man torn between love/happiness and power/money/misery while pressurised by external forces who woul have him make the wrong (i.e. less enriching) choice. The familiar character models are all here, the bungling hero who will ultimately make the right choice (Arthur), the personified bad choice (his rich fiancee Susan) and her slightly malevolent exponent (Arthur's mother Vivienne), the personified good choice (Naomi) and the ultimate guiding light who will offer Arthur the key to his revelation (Hobson), and there is a certain pleasure to recognising them all for the functions they play.

Russel Brand

Brand's Arthur is engaging on the page, and you can imagine that his style will cement this odd likeability, and that he will bring enough of himself to the role to make the difficult prospect of believing Arthur's heart is as good as the film requires a little easier to deal with. And despite my reservations above, Hobson might well work as a female character because she is written well enough to transcend the change; I will however reserve judgement until I see the character develop before my eyes. The other major players, particularly Naomi are written with the perfect amount of vim to make sure Arthur wont be allowed to boss the screen himself for 100 minutes or so, and it is a measure of clever writing that there are jokes at Arthur's expense throughout. Final analysis? Arthur is not a bad offering, and one that will work perfectly as a vehicle for Brand to truly express his "creative" side: whether Hollywood and the rest of the world will welcome him to their breast quite as readily after it is released as Britain has done despite his misdemeanours is a different question entirely. Particular highlights that I am genuinely looking forward to seeing translated onto screen include the highly choreographed Phil Collins flavoured scene where Arthur tries to get Naomi back after their relationship endures duress (I wont offer specific spoilers), and the shtick-heavy scene between Arthur, his prospective father-in-law and a scale statue of Jesus.

Dudley Moore and Russell Brand


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