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Streetcar Named Desire 4 stars but 5 for Gillian Anderson

September 20, 2014

I’ve seen the film. Years ago of course, but remember the brooding Brando and the annoying Blanche who comes to stay with her sister and him in the steamy South. This Young Vic production gave me a different perspective altogether and I empathised completely with Gillian Anderson’s Blanche. The apartment is on a rotating stage in the round and for reasons beyond me it is set in a timelessness of somewhere in the late 20th century rather than the original post war era. That kind of jarred as the attitudes were still very much early 50s.

Anderson started as flirty, fragile and funny with some sharp cracks and coquettish behaviour. And regular snifters to keep her going. Her sister, Stella, accepts the appalling behaviour of her husband Stanley because the sex is so great with him and she enjoys the passion and volatility of their relationship. We have no idea of the personal backstory that led her to marry someone so beneath her social standing, but Blanche holds no punches telling Stella what she thinks of Stan. However, I don’t really feel we got see the menace, the animal magnetism, or relentless abuse and brutish behaviour that was referred to. Occasionally Stan would explode but it seemed to come out of nowhere rather than being a tinderkeg waiting to blow. Or it may be that Gillian Anderson was so much better than everyone else that their portrayals paled in comparison. Her desperation for affection and kindness were palpable and her determination for her world to be magical and joyous childlike. She had huge monologues which kept us captivated as she told the heart-rending tale of her doomed marriage and having to watch all her loved ones die.Stanley insists on telling his sensitive friend who had taken a shine to Blanche all about Blanche’s reality of having lost the family mansion and resorted to prostitution until being sacked as a schoolteacher for sleeping with a pupil and Mitch too abandons her. Later, Stella goes in to labour and Stanley rapes Blanche as if it were inevitable. Obviously this is the way to put a woman in her place. And then of course Blanche continuing to live there is untenable and they arrange for her to be carted off. It’s awful. Tragic. Pathetic. I wept as her illusory world shattered around her  as her sister decided to side with her husband and the nurse tried to heave her up off the floor. Luckily a man came to her rescue. The doctor, gentle, caring offered her his arm so she could leave with dignity. She responded as a reflex and I could feel the gratitude as she hauntingly said she had “always relied on the kindness of strangers.”  I don’t think it was Blanche living in a fantasy world, I think it was Stella and the only way she could maintain it was to obliterate Blanche from her life.

Five starts for Anderson, and four overall.

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