Sunday, 5 July 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1989: John Hurt in Scandal

John Hurt did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Stephen Ward in Scandal.

Scandal is an intriguing though somewhat flawed film detailing the inside of a sex scandal that rocked the British political world in the 60's.

This actually is just a bit of atypical role for John Hurt whose face scraggly face often gets him cast as a more retiring sort of man. Well Hurt's certainly great in those roles though this offers just even more of a glimpse into the man's considerable talent as an actor. Hurt plays Stephen Ward an osteopath by profession, but what he clearly really lives for is the night life. Stephen acts as basically the man who organizes all the sexual parties and liaisons for the upper crusts in the British conservative government in power at the time. We first are introduced to Stephen when he finds a new woman to be part of his scene. That being a showgirl Christine Keeler (Joanne Whalley). Hurt is quite brilliant in his creation of the style of Stephen Ward. The fact that he's a bit of skeevy old man is just part of it. Hurt does not hide this in his performance, but instead very effectively embraces it as he always depicts Ward taking probably far too much pleasure some of the most questionable aspects of his hidden little world.

What's great though is Hurt does not make Ward as off putting as he could have easily been, even though he keeps the character's nature quite prevalent at all times. Hurt manages something special in that he does make Ward above else quite a character. There is a charm of sort he brings in Ward's personal style as Hurt always plays him in the early scenes as a man kinda overjoyed with just the idea of living his life the way he wants. There's nothing sinister in the way Hurt portrays this there's in fact an abundance of warmth about him. Hurt makes it absolutely convincing that Ward could get the young ladies to be his agents of sorts because he creates this powerful personality simply through just how easy going Ward is towards things. It never seems like a big deal for the women to do what he suggests because Hurt realizes the way Ward has a way with the women. When he suggests that they spend to time with one of the powerful men he knows, Hurt brings such a considerable elegance to Stephen basically telling them that they should have sex with them.

Of course Ward is not just in on it simply to be in on the life, although that's probably should be his only reason. He also develops his own ideas of the sort of power that he has gained from his somewhat dubious position as the man who finds women for powerful men. He also takes some tasks from MI5 to try to derive information through these liaisons. Hurt is great in the scenes where Stephen discusses this with Christine because well he does not exactly show Stephen taking this in the right way. Hurt portrays Stephen in these scenes as being almost a little boy who's getting in on the spy game, and gets to play James Bond for his very own. The sort of excitement Hurt exudes as Stephen asks for the information so well realizes the sort of silly man that Ward is. His life is just a party and the spy work just becomes yet another part of that party. He never gets anything useful out of this anyways but Hurt's so good at showing how much joy Stephen gets out of this little world he thinks he has ownership of, and ownership he will not want in the near future.

I do think one of the flaws of the film though is Hurt is a tad underused since the film takes the approach of basically hitting each beat of the scandal's timeline. This makes it so Ward's only appearances are needed to hit these points, and it would not have hurt the film to have given just some more scenes throughout. This unfortunately requires more from Hurt than it should in the last act when Ward is put on trial basically as a scapegoat for the government. This feels a bit rushed for two reasons mainly. The first being the film wants us to have more out of Ward's relationship with Christine than the film managed to provide. I mean we definitely got something thanks to Hurt, but I think the film expects a little too much from just the few scenes they had together. The second being this rushes Hurt to portray Ward fall into despair due to the betrayal of everyone around. It's is understandable, but even as a rushed fall into despair it still feels a bit rushed. Hurt to his credit though does not falter and does manage to be fairly moving by removing the life from such a lively fellow. He's especially good in one scene where he has to describe one of his parties and slowly loses his cheekiness as it becomes clear not everyone thinks the way he does. I really just think there should have been more of it, since really you can never have too much John Hurt. Even when the film falters a bit John Hurt does not. He's engaging every second he's on screen, creating quite the compelling depiction of Stephen Ward, and when the worst part of a performance is there's not enough of it, that's a very good performance.


Calvin Law said...

I can abide with a 4.5 :)

Calvin Law said...

Thoughts and ratings on the rest of the cast? I really liked the film personally though I agree it's flawed.

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, what's your ratings and thoughts on the cast of True Romance?

Anonymous said...

Are Thurman, Tilly, Wiest and Mirren all 4s (for their 1994 supporting performances in your line-up)? Also, you've already given your thoughts on Wiest and Thurman, but could you give your thoughts on the other two too?

Calvin Law said...

Interesting question for everyone, have you ever bumped a performance up after changing from Supporting to Lead? For me:

Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction (4.5 to a 5, for some reason I like him a lot more as a lead to his own story than a supporting character to others)
Terrence Stamp in Billy Budd (4 to a 4.5)

luke higham said...

Louis: Your Female Lead/Supporting Top 5s for 1987, 1988 and 1989 with ratings.

luke higham said...

Louis: For '85, you forgot about Mia Farrow in The Purple Rose Of Cairo.

luke higham said...

Calvin: No, unfortunately.

luke higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on Jurassic World, Kingsman and Furious 7.

Anonymous said...

Louis and guys, have you seen Maps To The Stars and Clouds of Sils Maria? If yes, what are your ratings for their main characters?

Wasikowska - 5
Moore - 4.5
Williams - 4
Cusack - 3.5
Pattinson - 2.5/3

Binoche - 5 (very easy)
Stewart - 3.5
Moretz - 2

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous: I've only seen Maps to the Stars.
Wasikowska - 3.5 (she's very strong but I don't know I found her kind of shaky in the beginning. Otherwise she's very good)
Moore - 4.5 (as usual great)
Cusack - 2 (bland, boring and dull)
Williams - 2.5 (her descent into madness is rather poorly done for me)
Pattinson - 2.5 (good but nothing to do)

Calvin Law said...


Wasikowska - 4.5
Moore - 4.5
Williams - 4
Cusack - 2
Pattinson - 3

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin: I liked the film as well, but it's a good film and I think it had the potential to be a great one.

Whalley - 4(I like her performance but I do think the writing behind her character undercuts her a bit as her whole revelation of the scandal to the press is so quickly done. Whalley though I think does well in creating sense of the woman who basically does sex for favors, but is adamant about not being a prostitute. She brings a certain grace about her character yet with always a rather painful desperation at the same time. There's a naivety and an earthiness that effectively shows the strange position that Keeler inhabits)

Fonda - 4(Fonda is good by showing a woman in the same situation who probably is aware of a position all the more. Fonda does this well by being very straight forward with her character's earthiness without any conflicting styles which fits Mandy Rice-Davies famous quote rather well)

McKellen - 3(He's good at portraying the proper British politician but really does not get much to do.)


Slater - 2(Really find Slater rather poor in this performance. Mainly because his whole performance does not make any sense. He starts out as the excited comic nerd, but then plays the part like he's become some wacky criminal. The transition is given no sense by Slater, and he ends up becoming very unlikable)

Arquette - 2(I've said it before I just tend not to care for her performances, and this one is no different. In fact True Romance is very odd in that I think both leads are pretty charmless and the film is saved almost entirely by the virtue of the supporting cast)

Hopper - 4(Hopper brings a great deal of warmth in his few scenes. He establishes the father son relationship quite well in just a couple scenes. Of course he also contributes greatly into making the Sicilian scene the best scene in the film. He's nicely humorous in the scene but also quite heartbreaking as he portrays the desperation of a man who knows that's he's going to die)

Oldman - 4(A memorable almost one scene wonder as Oldman is quite menacing as we as oddly fascinating in his portrayal of a white guy attempting very hard to be Rastafarian.)

Walken - 4(Walken brings the right amount of intimidation and style in his gangster routine. His interactions with Hopper are just great, particularly his smile seething with anger at the end)

Rubinek - 3.5(Rubinek is quite enjoyable in his early scenes as the sleazy film producer. He's particularly funny in his last scene in his portrayal of his disbelief about just how intense his security is then his instant switch to rage when he realizes the betrayal he's suffered)

Gandolfini - 4(Although I have some problems with the way the scene is done direction wise Gandolfini cannot be faulted for his single scene. His little rumination on the act of killing is quite chilling and he is yet another character that probably would have provided a more interesting film than the leads we have.)

Pitt - 3.5(Pitt is hilarious as his one note of being stoned. I especially love his interaction scene with Gandolfini)

Louis Morgan said...


Mirren - (A good reactive performance as she expresses the outright confusion and difficultly the queen is having with her husband's insanity, while not having many scenes where she gets to outright say much of anything)

Tilly - (One of the best uses of her voice imaginable really as she's so enjoyably obnoxious and ditzy here)




1. Holly Hunter - Broadcast News
2. Holly Hunter - Raising Arizona
3. Cher - Moonstruck
4. Glen Close - Fatal Attraction
5. Robin Wright - The Princess Bride

Supporting Actress:

1. Faye Dunaway - Barfly - 4.5
2. Olympia Dukakis - Moonstruck
3. Kathy Baker - Street Smart - 4
4. Joan Chen - The Last Emperor
5. Carol Kane - The Princess Bride - 3.5



1. Glenn Close - Dangerous Liaisons
2. Susan Sarandon - Bull Durham
3. Christine Lahti - Running on Empty - 4
4. Jamie Lee Curtis - A Fish Called Wanda - 4
5. Sarah Pickering - Little Dorrit - 4

Supporting Actress:

1. Joan Greenwood - Little Dorrit - 4.5
2. Maria Aitken - A Fish Called Wanda - 4.5
3. Catherine O'Hara - Beetlejuice - 4
4. Kathleen Turner - Who Framed Roger Rabbit - 4
5. Frances McDormand - Mississippi Burning - 4



1. Jessica Tandy - Driving Miss Daisy
2. Andie MacDowell - Sex, Lies, and Videotape
3. Michelle Pfeiffer - The Fabulous Baker Boys
4. Joanne Whalley - Scandal
5. Kathleen Turner - The War of the Roses - 4

Supporting Actress:

1. Brenda Fricker - My Left Foot
2. Laura San Giacomo - Sex, Lies, and Videotape
3. Bridget Fonda - Scandal
4. Angelica Huston - Crimes and Misdemeanors - 4
5. Lea Thompson - Back to the Future Part II

Supporting Actress:

Jurassic World - (Technically speaking it is not very good. The writing has more than a few questionable elements in it. I mean the divorce subplot is quite forced, the whole kids aspect is far more forced than it was in the original (I mean I never knew an Aunt was expected so much), the romance is also tacked on. The bad guys plan could not be dumber, and that whole aspect did not work. Having said all that I still enjoyed because it managed to be fun, particularly that final fight no matter how ludicrous it truly was)

Kingsmen - (Eh adapting Mark Millar is always problematic. There's going to be much too juvenile of a tone and it always will be extremely derivative. Having said that the action scenes are well done, it flows well, there's certainly some memorable moments, and although there are groaners some of the jokes are also quite funny)

Furious 7 - (The story here is particularly disjointed, although understandably so. The thing is though that's not the point of this film not by a cent. It's all about the action which like the sixth one is quite enjoyable as its done with such absurdity yet such earnestness. Just like the sixth one it provides just enough of a human element for the majority of the film, although I'd say this one does take it to another level with that final monologue)


Haven't seen either.