Albert Finney received his third Oscar nomination for portraying Shakespearean actor Sir, and Tom Courtenay received his second Oscar nomination for portraying Norman the titular character in The Dresser.
The reason I put both of these performance together is because I find it difficult to talk about either of the two performances completely separately, as well as avoiding the especially important relationship between the two. I did not do this for Sleuth, Network, or Amadeus, because in Sleuth and Amadeus the two leads their relationship was divided very much by the concrete conflict of the characters, and Network the leads just do not interact really at all.
In the Dresser though the two men's relationship is a pivotal aspect of both characters. Neither of the two men could go on without the other. The two are deeply connected through their professional relationship which certianly is also very personal between the two as well. The Dresser finds his life through his work for Sir, and Sir basically could not function if it was not for the restless effort of his Dresser.
Both of these performance by these actors certianly, are most certianly and visibly acting. They are in fact the complete opposite style of Robert Duvall's performance from this year, but that does not make them bad, just a different style. Courtenay portrays Norman as a flamboyant man, but also in his own way withdrawn from others, well Finney portrays Sir as a loud, overwhelming man, who refuses not to be known.
Courtenay firstly is mostly good in his creation of the dresser Norman, as his mannerisms do not seem false to the character, but from time to time his physical mannerisms seem he perhaps did them one two many times since he also played the part on stage. Finney as Sir is also quite good, and portrays the outward command and theatricality of him well, and I did feel he did seem to channel, quite well, Donald Wolfit in a rather interesting fashion.
Their dynamic together is quite fascinating because their relationship. It is interesting in how Courtenay displays Norman method of keeping the show on its way as energetically as possible, always moving and urging, this is interestingly offset by the way Finney shows Sir's distinct commanding actions that keep the show on, I think this is best shown in an early scene where Courtenay shows Norman constant pleading at a train to wait for the actors to get on the train, but Finney displays instead instant command by making the train stop through only saying stop.
Both characters are rather troubled in their own particular ways which intersect, Finney's Sir is distraught and quite ill about his life, where Norman worries of his own purpose with the deterioration of Sir. Finney half is almost thankless in how much the part requires just for him to put the whole damaged nature of Sir on display. The film almost puts too much of Sir's pain in the film, but still Finney is quite effective, in his display of it, showing with it that Sir almost can never stop acting. Courtenay on the other hand more briefly shows Norman's pain, since he shows that Norman can't spend too long on his own problems since they are intertwined with those of Sir.
It is fascinating to see there relationship as they prepare once again for making King Lear. Finney displaying Sir's constant fear and pain, as he depends for any comfort he has with his dresser. Finney though also shows of Sir's ability to hide the pain and control it just enough by hiding through his acting, as well as through his domineering such as when he deals with the other actors. Courtenay though energetically moves, and support Sir, as Norman. He frankly never stops, always prodding and pushing, Courtenay puts the right push and energy, as well as always briefly showing his own pain whenever he has a chance.
Together they do display a fascinating relationship of co-dependence on one another, that leads to their final scene together. This scene is interesting because rather than coming together after their technical success, they instead drift different. Finney interestingly displays Sir's contentment with his ability and success in service of Shakespeare, but at the same time showing Sir has created his own world really almost ignoring Norman. Norman on the other hand seeks a little recognition trying to come closer, Courtenay shows an incredible earnestness in Norman for just to be noticed, than transitions perfectly from happiness when he thinks he has been to sadness when he quickly finds he has not been.
Both of their performances are connected but they both have a few scenes where they do stand out without the other. Finney displays it when talking to a young woman who wishes to act, Finney does well in showing Sir's odd interrogation, seduction almost, and than more of just finding out how easy she was to pick up is well and believably handled and is a standout. Courtenay though has a few more though such as when he himself goes on stage briefly, and Courtenay is incredibly good in displaying Norman difficulty to stand out in front of the crowd, than his his need of wanting to know if he was able at something he feared to do, showing his complete naivety of on stage, despite being a virtuoso back stage.
Both these performances overall are quite good and effective, but Courtenay's performance is perhaps helped by the fact that his character gets the final statement on the relationship of the two. His final speech is fascinating, and brilliantly portrayed by Courtenay, as he finally shows Norman's compete vulnerability, and how much Sir really did mean to him. This is not to slight Finney's performance at all since he does have perhaps the greater challenge, its hard to say whose performance is better, but I will say both are certianly achievements in their own right, and together quite special.