A Merry War

on August 28, 1998 by Susan Green
Adapted from George Orwell's 1936 novel with the same tongue-twister of a title, "Keep the Aspidistra Flying" examines the class struggle that ensues when an aspiring poet turns his back on the bourgeois institutions that keep him, at best, just one step ahead of abject poverty. Guess which set of values proves triumphant.
A wonderfully inventive actor who tackled similar issues in 1989 as the pimple-cream promotional wizard of Bruce Robinson's "How to Get Ahead in Advertising," Richard E. Grant portrays another wage slave toiling at an even earlier British version of Madison Avenue. His character, Gordon Comstock, works at a London agency in an era-the mid-'30s-still marked by worldwide economic depression. When not reluctantly writing ads for cleaning products and hair lotions, he scribbles verses that are then rejected by literary publications.
Gordon's level-headed sweetheart, Rosemary (Helena Bonham Carter), is a graphic artist at the same company. She does her best to stick with him as he descends through society's lower depths in an effort to find true freedom from the tyranny of money. After performing in so many period costume dramas, Carter gets a chance to play a relatively modern working woman, and it's a refreshing change. Moreover, Rosemary is much less neurotic than some of the Merchant-Ivory roles that the actress has assumed.
Director Robert Bierman, who gave "Vampire's Kiss" a harrowing intensity in 1988, skillfully balances the humor and sorrow of Gordon's predicament, which is a timeless, universal dilemma. The film's rich look, even while depicting destitution, is provided by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens and art director Phillip Robinson. Orwell's social commentary presents the aspidistra as a popular house plant symbolizing the very respectability that Gordon loathes. This witty, wistful movie keeps it not only flying but soaring. Starring Richard E. Grant, Helena Bonham Carter, Harriet Walter and Julian Wadham. Directed by Robert Bierman. Written by Alan Olater. Produced by Peter Shaw. A First Look release. Drama. Running time: 100 min
Tags: Richard E. Grant, Helena Bonham Carter, Harriet Walter, Julian Wadham. Directed by Robert Bierman, Alan Olater, Peter Shaw, First Look, Drama

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