|The actor:||Ralph Fiennes|
|The character:||Laurence Laurentz|
|The film:||Hail, Caesar!|
|The quote:||“Would that it were so simple.”|
I tried to look up Ralph Fiennes’s ancestry, but after about two minutes my eyes started crossing and I gave up. Basically, the dude is descended from nobility going back several hundred years, and his work of the past decade has pulled at least one of his received pronunciation or his instantly identifiable Britishness for effect.
That goes for the blockbuster work, like his appearance in The King’s Man and even his voice acting as Alfred in the Lego Batman movies. His recent work as M in the last two Daniel Craig James Bond movies also solidifies him as a quintessentially English figure. He’s picking up in the footsteps of Judi Dench, one of about a dozen working actors who’s even more British than Fiennes. Bernard Lee, who originated the part on screen, was a stalwart of Carol Reed and Basil Dearden films; Robert Brown, who picked it up, was one of those classically invisible British character actors for years until he nabbed that part. The snooty propriety of Chef’s Table-pretentious dining suits him in The Menu even if the movie itself is quite terrible; the snooty propriety of pre-World War II-pretentious lodging suits him in The Grand Budapest Hotel and is no small part of the reason that movie is as good as it is. Fiennes is currently filling a role that I imagine Benedict Cumberbatch is only about ten years away from filling himself: maybe not your favorite actor, nor the actor you’d choose to headline a great movie, but men with immaculately British voices who sound like they’re singing “Jerusalem” even when they’re doing prosaic exposition.
This is a long way of saying that it’s not just that Ralph Fiennes is perfectly cast as Laurence Laurentz, who is desperately trying to get the hick kid Hobie Doyle to perform a line that no one at home on the range would ever say. Out there they’d say “If only” or “Gee, I wish I could.” In this polite little farce that Hobie has been cast in, the phrase is, “Would that it were so simple.” No, Fiennes is not merely perfectly cast, but I cannot hear that line in anyone’s voice but his. I read the line before I watched the movie and I heard it in his voice anyway. The garnish on this reading, like a lemon twist on a martini or a shaving of truffle, is that for Laurence Laurentz the six-word phrase is really only five. “It were” turns into a new word, “ehtwer.” Would that ehtwer so simple, a more smoother and more beautiful phrase than the one written out. It puts it into a meter that Descartes would have been proud of: I think, therefore iamb.
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