Thursday, 12 December 2019

Late-flowering love is not to be spurned

Late-flowering love is not to be spurned

HAVING been the first man to play Hannibal Lecter on screen, in 1986’s Manhunter, Brian Cox is known for his darker roles.

But the ensuing decades of professional success have seen the veteran Scottish actor gradually reveal a sunnier side to his nature.

He’s played everyone from Agamemnon in Troy (2004) to Churchill in 2017’s D-Day drama of that name, while many will recognise him from the first two Jason Bourne movies, in which he played CIA deputy director Ward Abbott.

Now 72, his latest screen role is arguable one of the most nuanced of his career.

Based on the bestselling novel The Etruscan Smile by Spanish economist José Luis Sampedro, Rory’s Way stars Cox as Rory MacNeil, a rugged old Scotsman who reluctantly leaves his beloved isolated Hebridean island and travels to San Francisco to seek medical treatment.

Moving in with his estranged son and daughter-in-law — played by JJ Feild and Thora Birch — Rory sees his life transformed through a newly found bond with his baby grandson.

If that sounds a wee bit saccharine, as they probably say in the Outer Hebrides, there is plenty more to the film, which has had a long journey to the screen.

First published in 1985 — around the time Cox was portraying Lecter — the novel, which was inspired by birth of the author’s grandson, was written in Spanish but set in Italy.

The original title, La sonrisa etrusca — aka The Etruscan Smile — refers to the Etruscan civilisation’s famous terracotta statues that bear a mysterious smile even in their afterlife and instil hope towards the idea of a happy death.

That’s the subject here, but along the way we are also treated to comedy — when the Gaelic-speaking Rory is recruited to take part in a university study of endangered languages.

A chance encounter at the local fine art museum with a curator played by Rosanna Arquette leads to a slowly developing romance.

Rory may not have moved to the States with the best of motives, we learn, but the unfolding of his relationship with his grandson Jamie comes as a pleasant surprise for both the audience and the protagonist.

Not that Cox’s Rory is exactly the image of the responsible grandfather — at one point taking the baby for a walk in his stroller without telling anyone where they are going.

Twenty years on from her standout roles as Jane Burnham in American Beauty and Enid Coleslaw in Ghost World, it is also a pleasure to see Thora Birch getting more film roles.

Rory’s Way is showing at the Regal Picturehouse cinema from today (Friday).

Matthew Wilson

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