The wives of others

Those caught on the receiving end of my enthusiasm for Paul Verhoeven films will be surprised that I remembered to ask Sebastian Koch about his new film Albatross, and did not spend our entire interview grilling him about Black Book. In fact my cunning plan to spend the interview asking about Black Book and then shout some questions about Albatross at his retreating car as he left for the airport worked perfectly. He’s lucky I didn’t follow him onto the plane.

Albatross is a sprightly attempt to goose some life into a template from which most life has already fled. Miserable married men have been seen losing their footing over precocious young girls who forget to wear bras since the invention both of movies and of bras; and this one does it in an English seaside guest house, a venue already pre-loaded for farce. Sooner or later someone’s going to leap into the broom cupboard when their spouse comes round the corner, and sure enough they’re dressed as the Pope at the time.

Most of the goosing comes from the actors, vivid and surprisingly cosmopolitan bunch that they are. Director Niall MacCormick has a lighter touch than Brit-coms usually have to withstand, and a while back he cast Andrea Riseborough as Margaret Thatcher so safe to say his instincts for performers are habitually spot-on. This is a lucky break for Albatross, since the actual plot and its Be Yourself moral, arriving courtesy of sad grandparents and snotty upper class twits, provides hardly any goosing at all. After seeming determined to grab an odd bunch of ingredients and charge up a particularly British sit-com cul-de-sac just to see what happens when it hits the wall at the end, the film decides to settle for a nice cup of tea instead.

But better a light touch than no touch at all. The very English Jessica Brown-Findlay sashays around the more urbane Julia Ormond as if touching her would set off an alarm, while Sebastian Koch squeezes his oversize Germanic frame into tiny rooms that don’t fit him and simmers with nameless frustrations. Between them they look like the New Europe crashing into a ditch.

A conversation with Sebastian Koch is now online over at Little White Lies. Albatross is an opportunity to see this fine dramatic actor stretch his comedic muscles, play the fool a little, and dance a shimmy. So I asked him about Nazis and the Holocaust and Hauptsturmführer Ludwig Müntze.

13 October 2011 Films

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