ITV | ★★★✩✩
Reviewed by Josh Howie
Jew or Not Jew? Surely the most fun parlour game to play at the Shabbat table. Just don’t bring up film star Cary Grant, aka Archibald Leach. Unusually for someone born in the UK he was circumcised. He donated money to Israel in the name of his “dead Jewish mother.’ He supposedly turned down the part of a gentile pretending to be Jewish by saying he was Jewish, and the public wouldn’t believe him in the role. But with so much of the man a construction, who knows?
At least we know Jason Isaacs, playing Cary here, is Jewish. Archie, a four-part drama streaming on ITVx, tells the incredible life story of one cinema’s most iconic stars. Born in Bristol in 1904 to a philandering father and a mother who died in an asylum, the boy Archie literally ran away to join the circus.
Staying in America after a tour, he worked in vaudeville, before creating his unique accent and being discovered for the talkies. Then, all a press officer had to do was randomly choose the surname Grant from a phone book, and hey presto, the rest is movie history.
Except, decades later, Cary’s estranged father confessed that his mum is actually still alive.The facts alone are a scriptwriter’s dream. Which makes the end result here a disappointment.
Maybe part of the problem is there’s just so much to fit in. Isaacs plays middle-aged Grant in his 1960s heyday, and as an older man touring his Q&A sessions in the 1980s. And he does a good job. There’s a passing resemblance, th accent’s not too on the nose and he conveys a desperation and willingness to please that’s all too common in many actors. Especially someone with such a traumatic background.
But then there’s small child Archie, medium child Archie, young adult Archie, all framed by old Cary’s reminisces on tour. And we flit back and forth to middle-aged Cary attempting to seduce his fourth wife during the making of North by Northwest. It’s not that you’re ever confused, it’s more that you never stay anywhere long enough to emotionally connect with what’s going on.
The dialogue also feels off, like they’ve tried and failed to channel the zaniness and wit of Bringing Up Baby, which doesn’t help maintain engagement either. And then there are the recent additions to the hack directors’ playbook, of transitioning through archive footage, and using modern music in the soundtrack to suggest edge for an older era. Also, casting directors, I get that people of colour did exist in the UK at the turn of the century. Yet what a coincidence that so many seemed to have been bit players through Cary Grant’s childhood.
Whilst all this may be somewhat distracting, the primary failure here is that in this perfunctory telling of what happened to Cary Grant, we never really get to grips with who he was. His LSD use, his alleged bi-sexuality are glossed over. His trauma is seen but not really felt. His talent is diminished. He deserves better.