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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

a little bit of David Tennant: ‘Bright Young Things’

Oh man, do I love this movie. It’s so good, and so chock full of a slew of bright young British actors — Michael Sheen, Emily Mortimer, Stephen Campbell Moore, Fenella Woolgar, James McAvoy — that I always forget that David Tennant is in it until he suddenly shows up and starts behaving in a generally disagreeable way. If his character in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is actively evil, then here he’s merely icky and repulsive… but seeing as this is a dramedy of social mores and manners, that makes him very much the villain indeed. I like that about Tennant, that he takes on unpleasant characters with such relish, like Ginger Littlejohn here, and doesn’t always feel the need to make them likeable.

It’s easy to see how that could have been the impulse, to make Ginger more likeable, with 2003’s Bright Young Things, because Stephen Fry — making his directorial debut, adapting the Evelyn Waugh novel, Vile Bodies — has such sympathy for all his characters, a gaggle of bored aristocrats in 1930s London. They’re almost all hopelessly shallow, but Fry’s approach to them is not: they may not entirely deserve his sympathy, but they get it nonetheless. Fry recognizes that their confusion and general messed-up-ed-ness is as much as product of their time as it is their own fault, and anyway, the upcoming War will be a right smack in the face to them all.

But in this deep — and funny! — movie about shallow people and the culture that created them, Tennant’s Ginger is unrelentingly horrid, if in a mild, upper-class-twit kind of way. He’s the kind of man who sees women as a commodity, prizes to be won from other men, though he pretends that overt discussion of women as prizes revolts him. He’s the kind of imbecile who says things like: “I mean, look here. Dammit. Do you see what I mean?” — his conversation is completely content-free. He sports what one character calls a “vulgar mustache” that makes him look “like a debt collector”… and even when he reveals the vain reason he wears a mustache, we want to laugh at him, even though it’s no more and no less pathetic and petty and indicative of normal human weakness than the foibles of every other character here. It’s as if Tennant goes out of his way here to ensure that we see Ginger as a weasel.

Look: Poor Emily Mortimer can’t bear to be kissed by him

he’s that gross.

If one quick hit could describe Bright Young Things, I’d call it “poignant satire.” Except there’s nothing poignant about Tennant’s Ginger. He’s the character we love to hate here.

Geek alert: Here’s Tennant with Mark Gatiss, who’d show up later in one of Tennant’s Doctor Who episodes:

Not suitable for:

• anyone with a phobia of vulgar facial hair

David Tennant checklist:

• Scottish accent: no
• big hair: no
• ginger hair: yes
• nudity: no
• sex: no
• do you want to have sex with him: no
• alcohol/drugs/smoking: yes
• snazzy automobile that all the chicks dig: yes

[part of my “summer of David Tennant and ‘Hamlet’” series]

MPAA: rated R for some drug use

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
boyfriends | talent buzz
  • I saw Bright Young Things earlier this year, and it struck me that, casting-wise, it’s an awful lot like American Graffiti. There are a huge number of British actors who were pretty much unknown at the time, but have since gone on to varying degrees of fame and fortune.

    Speaking of Dr. Who geekiness, you know about 1996’s Jude, don’t you?

    Ooops, just did a search and found you discussed it when I was at Worldcon.

    Yeah, the movie is depressing, but Eccleston and Winslet are both pretty amazing.

  • Oh, my gosh, I watched this over and over and only stopped because it was time to return it to Netflix and get on with my life. Ginger was laughable. He was so unlikeable, so unspeakably vapidly English that I couldn’t get enough of him. And the “dammit” scene had me in stitches. Watched it over and over and then had to call my husband in to watch it. You just know he didn’t have to be coached to play it that way; he is so overwhelmingly talented. Kudos to Stephen Fry who seems to be magical in every production I’ve seen him act in. …still laughing over Jeeves and Wooster (“tee dee hee dee hee dee hee, Sir.”) I just love Tennant with all my heart, no matter what he’s in (with the exception of Secret Smile. My crush could not extend that far.)

  • Joanne

    I had completely forgotten Tennant was in this! Mind you, having looked at the pictures, it’s probably not surprising …

    Of course the other DW reference is that Fenella Woolgar got the job as Agatha Christie because DT recommended her, having worked with her in this. Good recommendation too, she was excellent (in both this film, and “The Unicorn and the Wasp”).

  • Paul Hayesl

    Stephen Fry does a story about how one of the crewmembers on the film was overheard to ask why Tennant kept putting on a Scottish accent between takes.

  • Weimlady

    Fenella Woolgar’s character ended up marrying David’s character in He Knew He Was Right, so they have additional history of working together. (Oops, do I need to worry about spoilers for Trollope? If so, sorry!)

  • Dawn

    For all I love Stephen Fry, James McAvoy et al I just could not get into this film at all when it came out – and even when it was on TV again over here in the UK recently… I tried, really I did, but it just wasn’t for me. And no – it doesn’t have anything to do with DT playing a slimeball (with a moustache) – I just find it hard work. It’s OK but that’s about it for me. Funny thing was they had a DT short on afterwards which I caught by accident (with Ray Winstone – set in a multistory car park – title escapes me for the moment!) which lightened my mood:) I’d watch Secret Smile over it anyday (and have, twice, very recently!!!)

  • Paul Hayesl

    I couldn’t be doing with “Secret Smile”. I thought it was one of the most ridiculous things I had ever seen.

  • Dawn

    I didn’t say I loved “Secret Smile” – just saying that I preferred it in comparison to the film! My personal opinion that’s all…

    The BBC here seems to be planning a David Tennant Lovefest. Starting Saturday they are showing “Takin’ Over The Asylum” eps 1 and 2 and then Tuesday “The Chatterley Affair” – all on BBC4. No doubt warming us up for “Einstein and Eddison” coming soon. I’m not complaining – obviously…

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