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Elisabeth Rappe

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Elisabeth Rappe is a regular contributor to Film.com, CHUD, and The Spectator's arts blog. She spends her off-time with comic books, her pug, Elliot, video games, and Clint Eastwood movies.

Could Helena Bonham Carter Just Put on Some Jeans?

There comes a time in every actor or actress’s career when a public intervention must be staged, not only for the good of their career, but because their particular quirks and habits have become impossible for moviegoers to watch any longer.

For Helena Bonham Carter, that time is now. We hate to be the ones to do it, truly, but … Well, better us than someone without a genuine enjoyment of her resume and her unconventional style. But we can’t take it any more, and so we send this plea out to Bonham Carter and her Hollywood enablers: Step away from the crazy wigs, the corsets, the croaky Cockney and the snaggleteeth. For the love of all that is still good and pure in cinema (and it ain’t much), stop.

Yes, we know. Bonham Carter’s problem has been an ongoing one, but it was manageable when confined to Tim Burton flicks. It was even acceptable when she appeared in a few “Harry Potter” films, corset-clenched and hair frizzed, screeching loud enough the Ringwraiths would ask her to tone it down, because it fit. Everyone looked like they needed a comb, an electric toothbrush and a 21st century makeover. If anything, Bonham Carter might have been underdone.

Les MiserablesBut now her propensity for this caricature has spilled out over the acceptable genre borders and landed in “Les Miserables,” where her performance brings the movie to a record-scratching halt and collapses Tom Hooper’s meticulous portrayal of 19th century France with one swift kick. As she and Sacha Baron Cohen lurch onto the screen as the wretched Thenardiers, they manage to turn what was a fresh adaptation into some kind of ill-advised “Sweeney Todd” reunion. (The extended use of a sausage machine only underlines the similarity. There’s even a wink to cannibalism, albeit with a wooden leg over a fleshy one.)

But wait! Can you really throw that at Bonham Carter when that’s how the Thenardiers are written and performed on Broadway too?

Well, yes. For one, it is incredibly lazy casting (“Let’s get Bonham Carter! She’s terrific at playing debauched Victorians!”) and one longs to see what Helen McCrory or Nicola Walker might have done with it.

Secondly, a casual glance at the Thenardiers’ Broadway incarnation argues that it’s distinctly different than the version Bonham Carter is playing, which seems an ill-advised homage to Mrs. Lovett. Bonham Carter spends much of the scene sticking objects in her wig (which, naturally, looks like every frizzy wig she’s ever worn), brandishing her fingerless gloves, chomping her rotten teeth and hoisting up her assets through her corset. Her costume veers into the Gothic fantastic and is miles away from the grubby 19th century dress Mrs. Thenardier usually sports onstage. It’s pure Bonham Carter (with a dash of Burton), making you wonder what on earth Hooper was thinking. Could he not have restrained the costume and flourishes a tad? Or at least upped the ante to a prosthetically rotten level that even Bonham Carter hasn’t yet reached? A glance through Google Image shows some deliciously disgusting Thenardiers, making Bonham Carter’s version look even more like a Halloween costume purchased at Hot Topic.

The King's SpeechBonham Carter has become so indelibly associated with this sort of deranged reject that in trying to name the last normal character she played, it’s easy to overlook her performance in “The King’s Speech.” Her turn as Queen Consort Elizabeth is genuinely wonderful – restrained, gentle, sensitive, prim yet tough. It’s so unlike her that you forget it is her, which is exactly what acting is supposed to be about. Bonham Carter shouldn’t come onscreen carrying her Burton-Potter baggage. She should make us look twice to see who it is.

Which is why we beg her – and those casting her – to stop casting her as historical or fantastical madwomen. Stop letting her burst onto the screen all pale and purple, draped in shredded lace, buried in hair, cackling and “Wot’s all this, then”-ing herself into a frenzy. It’s becoming what it shouldn’t be: boring. Make her play women who wear business suits. Jeans. T-shirts. Military uniforms. Something, anything, as long said character also goes to a hair salon. We know she’s a terrific actress capable of transforming herself, which is why we want to see her do it again and again. We want to see the original Bonham Carter of “A Room With A View” again.

Whatever you do, and however you do it, make it happen in 2013, because we’ve seen “The Lone Ranger” trailer and we’d recognize that wig-and-corset combo anywhere. This mean’s she’s truly escaped Burton-land and will soon find her way to Middle Earth, Marvel and DC Comics. If we don’t stop her now, it will be too late for us all.


Categories: Features

Tags: A Room with a View, Harry potter, Helena Bonham Carter, Les Miserables, Sweeney todd, The lone ranger, Tim burton

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