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  • I just watched The Dresser this evening, having only seen it once before, about a dozen years ago.

    It's not a "big" movie, and doesn't try to make a big splash, but my God, the brilliance of the two leads leaves me just about speechless. Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay are nothing less than amazing in this movie.

    The Dresser is the story of Sir, an aging Shakespearean actor (Finney), and his dresser Norman (Courtenay), sort of a valet, putting on a production of King Lear during the blitz of London in World War II. These are two men, each dependent upon the other: Sir is almost helpless without the aid of Norman to cajole, wheedle, and bully him into getting onstage for his 227th performance of Lear. And Norman lives his life vicariously through Sir; without Sir to need him, he is nothing, or thinks he is, anyway.

    This is a character-driven film; the plot is secondary to the interaction of the characters, and as such, it requires actors of the highest caliber to bring it to life. Finney, only 47 years old, is completely believable as a very old, very sick, petulant, bullying, but brilliant stage actor. He hisses and fumes at his fellow actors even when they're taking their bows! And Courtenay is no less convincing as the mincing dresser, who must sometimes act more as a mother than as a valet to his elderly employer. Employer is really the wrong term to use, though. For although, technically their relationship is that of employer and employee, most of the time Sir and Norman act like nothing so much as an old married couple.

    Yes, there are others in the cast of this movie, but there is no question that the true stars are Finney, Courtenay, and the marvelous script by Ronald Harwood. That is not to say that there aren't other fine performances, most notably Eileen Atkins as the long-suffering stage manager Madge. There is a wonderful scene where Sir and Madge talk about old desires, old regrets, and what might have been.

    Although it doesn't get talked about these days, it is worth remembering that The Dresser was nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Actor nominations for both Finney and Courtenay, Best Picture, Best Director (Peter Yates), and Best Adapted Screenplay.

    I had remembered this as being a good movie, but I wasn't prepared to be as completely mesmerized as I was from beginning to end. If you want to see an example of what great acting is all about, and be hugely entertained all the while, then I encourage you to see The Dresser.
  • "The Dresser" is a small but absolutely wonderful film, brilliantly acted by Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay. How in the world this tiny film attracted enough attention to garner five major Academy Award nominations back in 1983 is a mystery to me, but it's nice to know the Academy can be guilty of a display of good taste every once in a while (of course, they gave the award that year to "Terms of Endearment"-- after all, they don't want to be accused of showing TOO much taste).

    Albert Finney is a drunken Shakespearean actor in a production of "King Lear"; Tom Courtenay is the man who works double time behind the scenes to keep this actor in front of the footlights. It's both hilarious and piteous to see Courtenay's character showering Finney's with attention and affection, only to see his efforts utterly unappreciated and dismissed, even up to the very bitter end. Finney and Courtenay work wonders together, and though Finney gets the showiest moments (he does get to recite Shakespeare after all), Courtenay is the heart and soul of the film.

    Grade: A
  • Warning: Spoilers
    If ever there was a year and a film where two actors should have shared an Oscar, this is the one. Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay are as co-dependent on each other for their performances as their characters are on each other in this film.

    It's fitting that the backdrop for the film is a performance of King Lear, since there are elements of the play that are happening in the characters lives. One of the subtle things about this film that make it so good. While, of course, there is no dividing of a kingdom among three sons, there is a man slowly, then rapidly, descending into madness. In both cases, that madness is often amusing to we the audience. There is the Fool, who never leaves his King's side. Digging deeper, you could say that there is a great man who is forced to live among the rabble, who does not get the respect he deserves. And like Lear, maybe a sort of realization, understanding and acceptance in the end that gives him peace before his demise.

    Lear aside, what this film is really about is the relationship between two men, each of whom is dependent on the other. I wouldn't have thought it possible for Albert Finney to give a character more depth than he did the detective in Murder on the Orient Express, but he does it here. Courtenay is every bit Finney's thespian equal. Both roles required Finney and Courtenay to walk a very thin line that teeters dangerously close to "over the top". Both of the characters are outrageous and animated, and the actors easily could have gone overboard, but walked the line beautifully.

    SPOILER...The final scenes of The Dresser are among the best I've ever seen. Courtenay reads the litany of people who "Sir" thanks in his memoir, and realizes his name isn't there. Before it fully registers with him that maybe he hasn't played such an important role in Sir's life after all, Sir passes away. Then, all in a moment, Norman comes to the sinking and horrible conclusion that he may have wasted the best years of his life for nothing, since all he cares about is Sir's mutual love, respect and gratitude. As Madge watches on, we pretty much know that she feels the same way about Sir, but long ago accepted what Norman is just now finding out. The film concludes with two time elapsed shots of Norman clinging to Sir's corpse, not wanting to let go and fully face the truth. These moments are built up to throughout the film, and deliver a payoff that is unsurpassed in most every film.

    The Dresser is as good a character study as you'll ever see because the characters (TWO of them, not just one) are so fascinating, and the performances so brilliant. The result is one of the best films ever made, and unfortunately, very unknown, despite all the Oscar nominations.
  • 'The Dresser' is one of those films which are so perfect you really struggle to find something not to like about them. Written by Ronald Harwood (himself a former dresser to the legendary Donald Wolfit), it sparkles with energy and true love of life behind the footlights.

    As 'Sir', the overbearing actor and main focus of the play, Albert Finney is a joy to watch - whether complaining about the lack of a storm during the 'blow, winds ...' bit of 'King Lear' or chatting to his faithful stage manager, Madge (Eileen Atkins, good as ever) about the old times. As Norman, his camp dresser, Tom Courtenay gives a fabulous performance, wiggling around at the beck and call of 'Lear', collecting a bottle to go at the pub, or bitchily disparaging the former Fool, Mr Davenport-Scott (often mentioned, but never seen!).

    In an engaging support cast, there's Edward Fox as Oxenby (a typical arrogant second lead), Zena Walker as her Ladyship, Lockwood West as the replacement Fool, and many others.

    This film has great energy, bringing with it some of the greasepaint of its stage origins, it is true, but being so well-acted you don't notice. Very well done indeed.
  • This is a movie that deserves another look--if you haven't seen it for a while, or a first look--if you were too young when it came out (1983). Based on a play by the same name, it is the story of an older actor who heads a touring Shakespearean repertory company in England during World War II. It deals with his stress of trying to perform a Shakespeare each night while facing problems such as bombed theaters and a company made up of older or physically handicapped actors--the young, able bodied ones being taken for military service. It also deals with his relationship with various members of his company, especially with his dresser. So far it all sounds rather dull but nothing could be further from the truth. While tragic overall, the story is told with a lot of humor and emotions run high throughout. The two male leads both received Oscar nominations for best actor and deservedly so. I strongly recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys human drama, theater--especially Shakespeare, or who has ever worked backstage in any capacity. The backstage goings-on make up another facet of the movie that will be fascinating to most viewers.
  • What more can you ask for? A great screenplay based on one of the finest plays of the latter half of the 20th century, two fine emotional performances by Courtney and Finney, a realistic vision of war time london, a great supporting cast. This film takes you on an emotional rollercoaster through humour, sadness, loss and fulfillment. if you are in the theatre it is even more effective. This is a true 10 on the rating scale !
  • Eloquent performances from Finney and Courtney propel this film adaptation of the Ronald Harwood play about a reclusive old actor barely able to make it on stage and his mother-hen valet. It's a true story of friendship and comradeship. Both performers are brilliant in every scene. Bravo!
  • A fantastic cinema experience. I really enjoyed seeing this truly magnificent film in the theater when it came out. There is nothing to add, except that is a terrible shame that sir Albert Finney still isn't accepted by the AMPAS (American Academy). After roles in such films as Tom Jones, Murder on the Orient Express, Under the Volcano (to name only few - for these he was nominated for the Oscar), The Dresser is arguably his highlight, yet...

    I know, Oscars are just a popularity contest, but if Americans like British actors and actresses ("and the Oscar goes to" Jeremy Irons, Daniel Day-Lewis, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Glenda Jackson etc. - and they all deserved the award!), why they always left Sir Finney with empty hands?

    On the other hand, they gave it to John Wayne and Marisa Tomei (in My Cousin Vinny). I don't know, should I laugh or cry?

    If you have seen the two leads in The Dresser you won't forget what is the art of acting. Watch this film and enjoy! I recommend it to everyone who loves art.

    I give 9/10 for this excellent film (1 point missing for non-cinematic material, after all it is "just" a filmed stage play).

    Note: My rating criteria is much stricter than the one on IMDb (10 only for the Cinematic masterpiece that should/could last forever).
  • Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay are brilliant as Sir and his Dresser. Of course the play is brilliant to begin with and nothing can compare with the immediacy and collegiality of theatre, and I think you listen better in theatre; but on the screen we become more intimate, we're 'up-close' more than we are in the theatre, we witness subtle changes in expression, we "see" better as well as listen. Both the play and the movie are wondrous: moving, intelligent, illuminating--of the backstage story of the company, of historical context, of the two main characters, and of the parallel characters in "Lear" itself. If you cannot get to see it in a theatre (I don't imagine it's produced much these days) then, please, do yourself a favor, and get the video.
  • What happens backstage is always true drama. And often pure comedy. Such is the case of The Dresser, a film about an effeminate wardrobe man who is devoted to the deteriorating lead of the acting troupe he travels with. The film takes place in one night about a particularly difficult performance of William Shakespeare's King Lear. Albert Finney plays Sir, the lead role of the performance. He is in no condition to perform such a difficult role, yet he perseveres anyways with the help of his Dresser, Norman (Tom Courtenay). The two powerful leads are the highlight of this beautiful film.

    The Dresser is what acting is all about. It is an intriguing blend of film acting and stage acting. Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay give exquisite and robust performances. Their conflicting personalities make them a delightful pair to watch interact. The acting in this film has the kind of prowess and impact of a stage performance with its loud and exaggerated movements. This kind of acting only works in certain settings, and The Dresser is a perfect example of where it not only works but is very necessary. It allows for a detachment from reality, drawing one into the theatrical world, something which stands out in such a unique and perplexing way.

    Peter Yates directs this film with precise and aesthetically glamorous grandeur. It is a grand film that doesn't go too far out of line and never gets lost in itself. Yates directs with a keen eye for subtle detail and sparkling brilliance. The film is written with the same kind of subdued wit and beauty, making the film fit together nicely. The dialouge is great and the actors who deliver it bring so much life to the characters and script that it makes for a brilliant expose of the acting world.

    The Dresser is a great film that accomplishes beauty and immersion without an immaculate setting. The film is subtly fantastic. Definitely check this one out.
  • This film has its detractors, and Courtney's fey dresser may offend some folks (who, frankly, need a good smack upside the head) -- but the film is top notch in every way: engaging, poignant, relevant. Finney, naturally, is larger than life. Courtney makes an ideal foil. I thought the performances to be terribly strong in both leads, and Courtney's character provides plenty of dark humor. The period is well captured, the supporting cast well chosen. This is to be seen and savored like a fine cordial. I only wish it were out on DVD already...(*sigh*)...
  • Based on Harwood's successful play of 1980, THE DRESSER details the relationship between "Sir" (Albert Finney), an actor/manager of the old school and Norman, his dresser (Tom Courtenay).

    Set largely in and around the streets of Bradford, Yorkshire, Peter Yates' film offers a vivid recreation of performing Shakespeare during an air-raid, when the actors had to announce to the audience that they would continue the play, despite the risk of being hit by a stray bomb. To a man and a woman, the audience stay put to enjoy "Sir" playing King Lear; this was precisely what happened in most theaters. Yates captures the cramped backstage conditions in a Victorian theater (part of the No.1 touring circuit); the dressing- rooms shared by most of "Sir"'s company, and the cramped wings where the actors waited for their entrances and exits, while the backstage staff (such as they were) had to provide the sound-effects using primitive materials such as a kettledrum, a wind-machine and a thunder sheet. With little or no real opportunity to purchase new things, the company have to make do and mend: for example, purchasing cornflour to use as impromptu make-up for their Shakespearean repertoire.

    Based partly on the experiences of Donald Wolfit - who was not a 'ham' actor (as some reviewers have suggested), but a performer of the old school - THE DRESSER shows "Sir's" dedication to continue touring, despite being manifestly unable to do so. Tormented by the ghosts of actors past, he believes that he can no longer give of his best; the only way he can be patched up to go onstage is through Norman's continual promptings. Finney captures the monstrous egotism of the man - who can be downright cruel to his fellow-actors yet in the next moment behave like a baby needing comfort from his carers. "Sir's" acting-style can best be described as full-on, complete with extravagant gestures and meaningful pauses. It might seem exaggerated to modern viewers, but to wartime audiences in England his productions provided much-needed respite from the strains of having to survive. The production design (by Stephen Grimes) owes a lot to Wolfit's inspiration; "Sir's" costume as Lear, and the settings are both based on the designs used in the actor/manager's stage production, which played from 1943 to 1953.

    As Norman, Tom Courtenay is a protean figure - at once solicitous, angry, kind, vain, jealous and loyal. His entire life revolves around "Sir"; however much he might object to his employer's behavior. At the end he is bereft, as Sir passes away, and Norman wrings his hands and wails "What am I going to do?" Like the loyal stage-manager Madge (Eileen Atkins), he has been working in this touring company for a long time with no real thanks; and the fact that his name has been omitted from Sir's dedication in the opening paragraph of his (unfinished) autobiography proves especially galling for the Dresser. On the other hand, both Norman and Madge emphasize the strong sense of loyalty that dominated the old touring companies; despite meager salaries, poor living-conditions and indifferent treatment from their employer, they refused to do anything else, in the belief they were part of "one big happy family."

    The casting of minor roles in THE DRESSER has been carefully thought out. Lockwood West makes an endearing Geoffrey, an elderly actor pitchforked into playing the role of Lear's Fool, although manifestly unsuited to the role. His equally elderly colleague Horace Brown is played by Llewellyn Rees, whose previous employment included a spell as Donald Wolfit's company manager in the early Fifties. Edward Fox turns in a malicious performance as Oxenby, a lame actor with a barely-suppressed hatred for Sir's authority.

    Although three decades old, THE DRESSER remains a highly entertaining piece, as well as being a valuable recreation of an important moment in British theatrical history which remains comparatively neglected by scholars.
  • dan-158323 August 2007
    Warning: Spoilers
    What is worth mentioning that is omitted in the other reviews I have read here, is the subtext of how the law shaped the lives and behaviour of gays in the era portrayed in the film. While Courtenay's character is evidently gay, he is not the only one: the often talked about Mr. Davenport-Scott is the other, and the reason that he is never seen, the reason alluded to that he has disappeared seems to be that he has been detained by the police for homosexual activity - a criminal offense in England at the time.

    We can read under the surface that this recent event has unsettled Norman, Courtenay's character: and we can also see in a passing remark by Oxenby, the Edward Fox character, the quick renunciation of any connection to such a person when the law is involved: the fear of association affects many of the characters, and is part of the portrait the film paints of a time and the people who inhabit it. The abandonment of Courtenay at the end by Sir has been anticipated all the way through, if this subtext is included: it also makes sense of both the otherwise inexplicable omission of his Dresser from the list of those he gives thanks to. The flamboyance combined with the fear of exposure produces the combination of yearning and fear that Courtenay has to 'step into the footlights', as he does when he makes the announcement about the imminent air raids, a scene that would otherwise be gratuitous, but that is both a symbolic and literal depiction of the man's inner torment.

    So while the drama is of the decline of Finney's Sir, a great deal of the tragedy of the film and play comes from the 'fatal flaw' of Courtenay's gayness, and makes this a film about him, as the title suggests.

    The art direction, pacing and cinematic style of this film seem to come from another time, more distant than the eighties and, in some ways, even than the second world war. The implicit portrait of a society still clinging to an older moral order, and the sympathy of the character racked and ruined by the cruelties of that order, of necessity trapped in the enclosed world of the theatre; and the knowledge we have of how much of it all would be swept away after the war makes this film all the more poignant, for all its flaws.
  • lasttimeisaw30 May 2012
    Adapted by a 1981 Broadway sensation, its film counterpart is a hidden treasure of its time (although it achieved 5 nominations in the Oscar including BEST PICTURE, BEST DIRECTOR, BEST ACTORX2 and BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY) but has been rarely mentioned and seen by a younger generation, I have no idea of its existence until recently. I feel kind of cherished to have a chance to watch this UK production since the play-in-a-play structure generally is my cup of tea.

    Then it proves that this is an exceedingly diverting film from the late director Peter Yates even though the quintessence of pleasure may lie in Finney and Courtenay's crack two-hander, which is beyond any thespian methods, two utterly gallant performances brilliantly deliver every tiny little nuance and never descend into a stasis of tedious affectation. Theatrical adaption has always been an impeccable showcase for actors. A copybook triumph from both Finney and Courtney. The King Lear play in the film proffers a tour-de-force stage for Finney's expertise and his overpowering sway is both intimidating and entertaining; as for Courtenay, whose character molding even merits more pluck due to the self-challenging devoutness. Which one I prefer, after some contemplative thinking, despite of Finney's pretty fierce endeavor, I will choose Courtenay, a lesser known actor but achieves a more startling reverberation.

    Among the supporting roles, Eileen Atkins is managing to steal some flare from two leading players, she is so underrated and should be ranked alongside Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, among the most venerated names inside the so-called UK Dame coterie.

    The film has set up a perfect mode for the contemporary play-goes-film trend, within some minimal usage of settings, the impact has been magnified in an index level to be seen by a much larger audience. The screenplay is the keystone here, that's why they're emerging in an inexhaustible tide which verifies that theatrical play is an endless fodder-provider for both awards-craving production companies and thespians.
  • tedg31 May 2004
    Warning: Spoilers
    Spoilers herein.

    `King Lear' is one of the richest literary experiences in the world. Among its several threads is the examination of madness and sight and how witchcraft plays in this. As with all Shakespeare, actors have to focus on a reduction of this richness, usually caterwauling into storms.

    So it is very hard to have an acceptable presentation of Lear, and nearly impossible in film. The actors just get in the way because they have some limited concerns. So here we have a very clever accommodation; to make a film about just that sort of actor/Lear problem - a sort of metaLear.

    On that ground alone, this is worth watching, its basing on what we see and what we know of madness that lies below our stumbles through life, placing Shakespeare himself as the source of the witchcraft.

    Cast this way, the two leads CAN overact. That's the point. Cheap exaggerations is what it is all about, and identity based on those deviations.

    Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Sir" has played Lear over 200 times,but tonight he can't remember his opening lines.Sitting at the mirror,his eyes reflect the King's madness. His dresser prompts him gently,mouthing the words.There is an air of desperation about both these men.The great actor knowing his powers are slipping away,his valet cum major domo cum conscience cum surrogate wife - aware of his boss's decline into madness and knowing he is powerless to do more than ease his passing. "The Dresser" is really a love story between the two.Over the years they have become mutually dependent on one another to the extent that neither can conceive a future without the other. Set during the second world war,it concerns the fortunes of a frankly second - rate touring Shakespearean Company comprising an equal number of has - beens and wannabes led by "Sir", a theatrical knight of what might kindly be called "The Old School".Whatever part he is playing he grabs centre - stage and bellows out over the footlights,bullying his audience into applause.But,somewhere inside him,buried most of the time deep beneath the ham he regularly dishes out,there still remains an occasional glitter of his earlier greatness.It is to catch a glimpse of this that his audiences fervently hope for. Mr A.Finney very cleverly concentrates on the ham,often to the point of caricature,and,just when you are ready to dismiss his performance as mere hyperbole and bluster he will produce a moment of exquisite subtlety and vulnerability that makes you realise that a great actor is playing a great actor. The same goes for Mr T.Courtenay.It's easy to write off his portrayal

    of Norman as an exercise in stereotyping.Here we have a middle - aged effeminate rather than camp theatrical dresser sashaying his way through life,enjoying the company of "The Girls" and loving the wicked Insider gossip rife in "The Theatre".There were - and I strongly suspect still are - many men just like Norman in The Profession.Infinitely kind and patient,knowing more about the plays than many of the actors,they run backstage with wisdom and affection.I believe the vast majority of them would hoot with approving laughter at Mr Courtenay's portrait. I saw "The Dresser" on the London stage where,against the perceived wisdom,Mr Courtenay's "Norman" was rather more subdued than in the movie."Sir" was played by the great Mr Freddie Jones to huge acclaim from the audience.It was a memorable performance that overshadowed Mr Courtenay's,reducing him rather to an "also - ran" as opposed to an actor on level - billing.The idea that "Sir" and "Norman" might be almost incomplete without each other went right out of the window. "Norman" was reduced to being his puppet,which I'm not sure was what Ronald Harwood intended,but made for breathtaking theatre. Messrs Finney and Courtenay redress the balance in the movie,restoring equality to the relationship. Both men have come a long way since their early appearances in the British "New Wave" pictures when they became the darlings of the vaguely Leftish,"middle - class and ashamed of it" movement.When the British cinema virtually committed Hari - kiri in the 1970s they quietly concentrated on the theatre apart from a few roles to keep the wolf from the door.With the renaissance of more substantial movies,they re - appeared,blinking in the unaccustomed bright light.

    "The Dresser" marked their return,still fizzing with energy and talent, shouting to the world at large "We're still here".It's not a big movie but is assuredly a great one.
  • This is one of my three all-time favorite movies. My only quibble is that the director, Peter Yates, had too many cuts showing the actors individually instead of together as a scene, but the performances were so great I forgive him.

    Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay are absolutely marvelous; brilliant. The script is great, giving a very good picture of life in the theatre during World War II (and, therefore, what it was like in the 30s as well). Lots of great, subtle touches, lots of broad, overplayed strokes, all of it perfectly done. Scene after scene just blows me away, and then there's the heartbreaking climax.
  • The many other comments about the film say it all - just like to add that we showed it last week to around 30 at our Community Cinema, and it got an overall average score of 8.6. We'd 100% recommend it, then, for today's audiences, especially if they can see it on a real cinema screen, and can talk about it with others afterwards, as our audience did.

    The sheer power of the acting performances by the whole troupe was incredible and quite spellbinding. Of course, Finney and Courtenay were truly the stars. but everybody was thoroughly well cast. For our afternoon audience, the majority of whom are "senior citizens", the fact that the plot could be followed with such ease because of the clarity of speech and the wonderful non-techy use of camera and sound was a great influence

    How delightful, many said, to see a really great film that's British: still not dated twenty years on: not full filled with blood & guts: not confusing because of bob-about-all-over-the-place camera shots, and back and forth through time story lines: no seedy sex scenes. Such views were even uttered by some who were younger.
  • Anyone who appreciates fine acting and ringing dialogue will love

    this film. Taken from Ronald 'Taking Sides' Harwood, it's a funny

    and ultimately excoriating analysis of a relationship between two

    very 'actorly' types. Albert Finney is sublime as the despotic

    Shakespearean actor who barely notices the world war raging

    around him, so intent is he on the crumbling fortunes of his theatre

    company and his own psychological and emotional breakdown.

    Tom Courtenay is matchless as Norman, the 'Dresser' of the title,

    whose apparent devotion turns out to be anything but selfless.

    Really a must see.
  • This is a tremendous adaption of Ronald Harwood's play. The two leads are as hammy as a spam factory, but having witnessed Sir Donald Wolfitt( or Chewitt,scenery, that is)on whom the thing's based trying, unsuccessfully, to tone it down for the cameras in Room At The Top Finney and Courtney are understated by comparison. "Sir" as Finney's character is referred to is an unbearable egotist and tyrant; you wonder why the rest of the company put up with him but you stop wondering when he stills the whole house with his hauntingly visceral"Never, Never, Never" in the last scene of the play. Not only the audience cry but the first violin and even performance-hardened stage hands in the wings who have seen the play a hundred times. Although primarily theatre bound the exteriors of war time England are wonderfully evoked. But the lasting greatness of this piece is that it imparts the magic that an hour or two of theatre can create to spellbind an audience and the life long thrall in which "the boards" hold the players
  • zetes2 May 2010
    Acting with a capital A is the name of the game here, but of course that can be a lot of fun sometimes. Albert Finney plays an aging, senile Shakespearian actor during the Luftwaffe bombings of England of WWII. He clearly doesn't have much left in him and is nearly insane, but, man, when he goes on stage, he can play any part you ask him to the fullest. His dresser, that is the person who assists him in getting ready for the performances, is played by Tom Courtenay, a pretty obviously homosexual man with theatrical tendencies of his own, though he couldn't actually bare to go out on stage (he makes an announcement at one point to the audience and can barely speak over his stage fright). Without Courtenay, Finney wouldn't get anywhere. He is, as they say, the man behind the curtain. Most of the film takes place on a night that Finney's Shakespearian company is performing King Lear. Most of the best stuff in the film, in my opinion, takes place before the actual play starts, with Courtenay trying to coax Finney into getting ready while the rest of his company worries that he won't possibly be able to make it out on stage. And the end of the film, after the play, is quite brilliant, as well. The actual play part is really well done, too. Most of the film's actions take place off the side of the stage, where Courtenay watches and sometimes helps with sound effects. Both Finney and Courtenay are brilliant (I've often said that I'm not a fan of Finney, but he's brilliant here) and both were nominated for Oscars (and lost to Robert Duvall, deservedly). The film is both funny and emotionally moving. Ronald Harwood's screenplay, based on his own play, is brilliant, and Peter Yates' direction is wonderfully subtle. The film itself was nominated for Best Picture, and it seems to be the most forgotten of the five from 1983. It deserves to be remembered.
  • I really admired the fabulous job of acting displayed by Tom Courtenay in this film but story- wise, this wasn't an entertaining two hours for me. I mean, who wants to watch a senile old man (played by Albert Finney) rant and rave for two hours? Not me.

    I endured it, especially in the first hour which was brutal, to admire Courtenay's work and the nice cinematography in the early train scene. From that point, it was nothing but dressing room scenes (I'm told this was a much better play than film) with Courtney trying to calm down Finney. It gets better in the second half when we see why people put up with this obnoxious actor,. because he CAN act really well, as he demonstrates in this King Lear production staged during the WWII blitz on London.

    As I said, Courtney, playing the patient dresser, "Norman," to the aging star (Finney, who only is called "sir" in here) was terrific and many thought deserving of an Academy Award. I could understand him better, too, because Finney started yelling I couldn't understand a lot of what he said with his accent. That also hurt my enjoyment of the film.
  • selffamily22 April 2017
    I don't give tens easily, but this film just grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let go. Next morning and I'm still with them. Right, let's put something right - I see review after review talking about the Blitz in London. This is based in Yorkshire - nowhere near London, but still receiving bombs, right? The accents are different, the architecture is different and the whole point of the story is that it's a touring Shakespearian company, not based in London. They are taking the bard to those in the rest of the country who are also suffering. Really!! The cast is stellar, not a dud among them. The two leads, Finney and Courtney have long been among the gods in British Acting, since the 60s I believe, and can do no wrong. They fit their roles like handmade kid gloves. Contrary to one review, I didn't catch them 'acting' at all, I felt they lived and breathed every second, and any exaggeration was totally in keeping with the character. Devoted dressers are the stuff of legends in theatre lore, and Courtney's character captures that perfectly. Finney is the epitome of the Knight of the theatre and even his poor wife doesn't wait for him following the harrowing, nail- biting cliffhanger of a performance. The SM who has quietly yearned for him for 20 years is perfect. I'm not going to list names and credits, to me the film was beautiful and of a quality that we see all too rarely nowadays, as making a huge profit takes priority to fine, delicate and gripping acting.
  • Vincentiu17 February 2014
    one of great roles of Tom Courtenay. and a splendid performance of Albert Finney. a film about Shakespeare, theater, sacrifice, need of the other and circle of life. touching. and powerful. a play who, in this adaptation, seems be a kind of parable. because not only the acting is brilliant but the atmosphere soul. a world. like an iceberg. and nuances of sacrifice as only reality. a good film. and little more. because it has the rare gift not only impress but reflect hided places of each life. the actor. and the dresser. and a subtle touching fight. against yourself and against the other. that is all. so, it is not a bad idea to see it ! not only as old movie. but as a rare gem about the things who are really important.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Directed by Peter Yates and shot at Pinewood studios, THE DRESSER is an English drama from 1983 which picked up a quintet of Oscar nominations for Picture, Director, two Actors and Screenplay.

    The world of THE DRESSER is the drab world of touring theatre folk doing their best to keep Northern England's mind off the 1940s Blitz by occupying it with the Bard. Sir (a near unrecognisable Albert Finney) is about to embark on his 227th performance as King Lear in a career spent too long on the road and too often in character. The strain of feigning insanity for a living has resulted in the on-stage madness becoming a characteristic of his off-stage personality. Sir's homosexual dresser Norman (Tom Courtenay) is only concerned with getting the old ham ready and onto the stage and excludes most other members of the company from entering their dressing room domain.

    In the preliminary scenes, screenwriter Ronald Harwood does expand his own 1980 play beyond it's theatrical boundaries, especially in a sequence at a provincial railway station where Sir shouts a missed connecting train to a halt. Other than this, THE DRESSER is relentlessly a talking picture rather than a moving one (no bad thing). Here is the observance of theatrical behaviour, lives and ethics in a gloomy world a long way from the glamour of London's West End. Sir is is a haunted thespian who has been reduced to "old men, cripples and nancy boys" for his company. Finney's performance is one of unnerving agony, with a face suggesting a man who is near physical and mental collapse. He's backed up by some wonderful theatrical anecdotes, such as the recollection of seeing a rival's Lear: "I was pleasantly disappointed".

    I found Courtenay's Norman too unrestrained, too overtly camp, but he is harrowing when grieving over the dead body of Sir - who has gone a performance too many. Norman's grief is that he's been omitted from Sir's memoirs.
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