“You always do the decent thing”
Noel Langley might be best known for being one of the screenwriters for The Wizard of Oz but his work as an author and playwright stretched over several decades and in 2006, an adaptation of his novel There’s A Porpoise Close Behind Us was released with the title These Foolish Things, both adapted and directed by Julia Taylor-Stanley. It’s a perfectly passable 1930s romp, set in the world of the theatre as the dark shadows of war gather (but not too closely) and a struggling young playwright goes about trying to get his play and his girlfriend on the London stage. What is oddly notable about it is the heavyweight Hollywood legends that have somehow gotten roped into the whole shebang – Anjelica Huston, Lauren Bacall, Terence Stamp…none of whom are in a major role.
Instead it proves to be something of a Brit flick. Floppily handsome David Leon plays playwright Robin who offers Diana a place in his lodgings as she moves to London to follow in her actress mother’s footsteps but finds herself overwhelmed by the demands of the theatre world. As she steadies herself, she finds both allies – Julia McKenzie’s compassionate landlady, Andrew Lincoln’s helpful Christopher – and enemies – her own nefarious cousin Garstin, Leo Bill in full-on sneering mode, and Mark Umbers’ sexually voracious and unfussy Douglas. With Huston’s glamorous patron of the arts Lottie Osgood in the middle of them all, the play edges ever closer to production, but at no small cost to everyone concerned.
If one doesn’t take it too seriously, and one really shouldn’t, then it is a gently amusing piece. Umbers is huge amounts of fun as the manipulative Douglas, perfectly happy to screw Lottie to get the financing sorted whilst his eye is on the main prize of bedding Robin, willing to seduce him drunk or sober to get his end away. Bill is strong as ever in his default caddish mode and Huston swishes and purrs delightfully as the spoiled Lottie. But there’s too much of a blandness at the heart of the film. Zoë Tapper just doesn’t convey enough charisma to convince as an actress who is meant to blow everyone away with her skill or indeed make us care about her romantic dilemma, as a self-indulgent twist sees her falling ever closer to Andrew Lincoln’s Christopher, a painfully earnest chap who again lacks any serious character. It is not a love triangle that possessed any sharp corners that’s for sure.
Terence Stamp is good value for money as Lottie’s long-suffering but devoted butler Baker and there’s fun cameos from Graham Seed, Haydn Gwynne and Jamie Glover. But one is left questioning how on earth Lauren Bacall got involved in such a project for such a minor role with little to contribute to the film as a whole – it’s distracting and not in a good way. The Cheltenham locations are lovely though as is Ian Lynn’s period perfect score – I really loved Clare Teal’s final song. So it is definitely something of a mixed bag – I can’t say I’d recommend you went out of way to catch this film but if it came on the TV, I don’t think you’d turn it over.