“And now an icon of our profession, the man who has been my idol… ” goes the sentence. Heart-stopping. You absolutely know what’s coming. A very, very old person is about to appear: there will be difficulty opening the Oscar envelope, hesitant speech will stop the teleprompter and we will all feel guiltily creepy about old age. Not to single out any of the elderly Oscar participants from last weekend’s ceremony, but entre nous, do you think Kirk Douglas was actually alive? Embalmed? And before you accuse me of ageism for heaven’s sake, I’m old too, and those moments scared the merde out of me.
I would have turned the TV set off but like Vladimir and Estragon I was waiting for… Him. (Note the casual Samuel Beckett reference. The reason will be revealed later in this column.) Hands up girls, how many of you are in love with Colin Firth? Our numbers are legion, ever since he appeared, the perfect Regency dandy, at the Meryton Assembly dance in the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice 16 years ago. Till then, my monthly reread of Jane Austen’s novel had Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy in my mind’s eye.
Was the waiting worth it? All through those cringingly awful hours with Anne Hathaway doing her self-deprecating eye thing, opening them very wide, rolling them with a head tilt that was sort of cute in her first film The Princess Diaries 10 years ago but now comes over as self-confident narcissism, and co-host James Crisco, sorry Franco, smirking and loitering next to her, I waited. (Bitch-off, I just said to myself, you’d have hosted the Oscars with all the skill of a waxwork mummy.)
Firth didn’t disappoint. He gave a very amusing, literate acceptance speech for Best Actor in which he refrained from thanking his parents for giving him life—a welcome development in acceptance speeches. Please, please one of these days, won’t one of our jolly Hollywood liberals thank their parents for being pro-life and not aborting them. Anyway, watching him I was struck by how similar all my fantasy lovers are.
Actually, I have had two fantasy lovers—Colin Firth and Tom Stoppard. I share Colin with most of the Western world’s females, and Tom Stoppard with every single woman in London. “The mind can be an erogenous zone,” was Raquel Welch’s memorable quote. Absolutely true. I jump like a trout in response to intellectual power, which, though not the quality that spontaneously springs to mind when you think “actor,” has been an aspect of most of the characters Colin Firth has played. Sub-note here: I am prepared to admit that intellectual power plus handsome (think Bernard-Henri Lévy) does it for me every time over intellectual brilliance plus toad. I never did understand how any female, let alone Simone de Beauvoir, could fall for J-P Sartre.
Jane Austen’s character Fitzwilliam Darcy is a man of rank and fortune, ultimately benevolent to his inferiors, a shrewd observer of manners, a steward of his property with pride in his library and a love of reading—and to all this add hellishly well-dressed. At least one assumes so. Jane Austen isn’t writing for Women’s Wear Daily but she signposts Darcy as something of a Beau Brummell who would have lived contemporaneously. Darcy is “fastidious… clever… a fine figure of a man, handsome features, noble mien… ”
If Darcy could tie a beautiful cravat, he has nothing on professor George Falconer, the character Firth plays in A Single Man. Sensitive, complex and dressed by Tom Ford. Need I say more and probably I’ve said too much. I could just have said Firth and Ford and every reader would have got it. Firth is the characters he plays and each interview he gives reinforces this even if at home he is piggy untidy, wears a horrid undervest and tighty whities while refusing ever to help with the washing-up on staff nights off—a chore which my husband always does enthusiastically.
And so I turn to Tom Stoppard. I don’t have to turn very far because I have a large drawing of him, purchased at a Royal College of Art show, that I immediately taxied over to him for his autograph. I first fell for Stoppard on reading him when I was married to writer and public intellectual George Jonas, and frankly I think they got muddled in my mind—it’s that tall, Mitteleuropean and cigarette thing. About a dozen and a half years later I actually met Stoppard, or rather fought my way over through crowds of besotted women as he lounged against my fireplace in London.
If Firth is the screen version, Stoppard is the flesh and blood of intellectual eroticism. Tall, languid, with throwaway elegance and wit like a razor, he’s the epitome of salon cool, not to mention the finest playwright of the 20th century. The man moves in a cloud that is more pheromones than nicotine. When my husband and I were at the beginning of our own “time of troubles,” we went to see Stoppard’s trilogy The Coast of Utopia. Superb. The Ring Cycle of playwriting. Just like his conversation, it’s filled with erudition and insight, which is why I wanted to throw in Samuel Beckett in case Stoppard ever reads this so he knows that not only am I conversant with Isaiah Berlin on Russian thinkers but am also quite up on metatheatre, Pirandello and his mates.
If Conrad couldn’t be on my desert island—actually if he were—we’d both want Stoppard around. Come to think of it, so should the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Next time that “icon of our profession” sentence gets hauled out, perhaps instead of the walking dead, we could get Oscar winner Tom Stoppard. An appearance that would ensure the only shudders of viewers would be those of cerebral and sensual delight.