King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Jack is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. As he increasingly slips into a fog of forgetfulness, his son Mason attempts to get him to write his autobiography before he forgets everything. He fills the garage with photographs and pieces of equipment salvaged from his father’s long career, hoping they’ll provide inspiration. But, inevitably, the artefacts send Jack’s consciousness careering back to experiences from his past.
Jack (Robert Lindsay) is the near-legendary cinematographer, Jack Cardiff. (If the name is unfamiliar, think Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death and The Red Shoes, to name but three.) Mason (Oliver Hembrough) is a camera operator, determined to keep his father productive, while Jack’s wife, Nikki (Tara Fitzgerald) is just trying to come to terms with the fact that her husband keeps mistaking her for Katherine Hepburn, with whom he once had a serious dalliance. Into this troubled household comes Lucy (Victoria Blunt), charged with the tricky task of helping Jack to write that autobiography – no easy matter for somebody who professes to hate ‘old films.’
Lindsay offers a nicely nuanced performance as Cardiff, finding the humour in the man’s situation (and yes, there is humour there) as well as the poignancy, when somebody whose career has been entirely composed around his ability to capture the magical qualities of light increasingly finds himself slipping further and further into the darkness.
The video designs of Ian William Galloway, where old photographs blossom magically into motion, help to convey the idea of his cinematic history and there’s a gorgeous flashback to 1951 and the set of The African Queen, where Fitzgerald does a fabulous turn as Katherine Hepburn. Blunt also manages to transform herself from a no-nonsense Yorkshire lass to a pretty convincing Marilyn Monroe. A sequence where an earlier scene is replayed word-for-word, but seen from Jack’s deluded perspective, adds a delicious twist to the proceedings.
You don’t have to be a film buff to enjoy this, by the way. Cardiff’s plight is one shared by so many people and his story serves to accentuate the horror and tragedy of this all too common malady.
But his shattered genius somehow lends the story an extra shot of melancholy.