Christopher and His Kind (film)

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Christopher and His Kind
Christopher and His Kind DVD.jpg
Region 2 DVD cover
Directed by Geoffrey Sax
Produced by Celia Duval
Written by Kevin Elyot
Based on Christopher and His Kind 
by Christopher Isherwood
Starring Matt Smith
Music by Dominik Scherrer
Cinematography Kieran McGuigan
Edited by Paul Knight
Release dates 20 February 2011: Germany and France (Arte)
19 March 2011: UK (BBC Two and BBC HD)[1]
Running time 90 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Christopher and His Kind is a 2011 BBC television film. It tells the story of Christopher Isherwood's life in Berlin in the early 1930s. The film, adapted by Kevin Elyot from Isherwood's autobiography Christopher and His Kind, was produced by Mammoth Screen and directed by Geoffrey Sax. Isherwood is played by Matt Smith, whilst the cast also includes Toby Jones, Douglas Booth, Imogen Poots and Iddo Goldberg.

Plot[edit]

In Los Angeles in 1976, Christopher Isherwood begins writing his memoir. The film flashes back to 1931 as Christopher prepares to leave England for Germany, against the wishes of his mother Kathleen. On the train he meets Gerald Hamilton, an English ne'er-do-well of Irish descent, who suggests that Christopher take a room at the boarding house where he lives. Upon his arrival in Berlin, Christopher meets his friend Wystan Auden, who takes him to the Cosy Corner, a seedy gay club populated by hustlers.

Christopher takes up residence at Gerald's boarding house under landlady Fräulein Thurau. There he becomes fast friends with Jean Ross, an aspiring actress who sings at an underground club. He also begins a tumultuous affair with Caspar, one of the rentboys from the Cosy Corner. Their relationship continues until Caspar abruptly disappears. Christopher does not see him until many months later and is horrified to see that he has joined the Nazis.

To earn a living Christopher offers English lessons. One of his students is Wilfrid Landauer, the wealthy Jewish owner of a department store. He entreats Christopher to take a political stand against Nazism but Christopher, as an artist, initially demurs. Herr Landauer's home is ransacked by the Nazis and they lead a boycott against his and other Jewish-owned businesses. Christopher last sees Wilfrid when their eyes sorrowfully meet over a bonfire of books the Nazis are burning.

Heinz Neddermayer, a street sweeper whom Christopher espies from a café, enters Christopher's life and they fall in love. Frau Neddermeyer looks kindly upon Christopher but Heinz's brother Gerhardt, a Nazi sympathizer, detests him. When Frau Neddermayer enters a sanatorium for treatment of tuberculosis, Gerhardt angrily advises Heinz that Christopher and Jean are no longer welcome in his home.

Bobby Gilbert, the American steel heir, whom Jean had been courting to take her to Hollywood, departs Berlin suddenly, leaving Jean bereft and pregnant. She pawns her jewellery to pay for an abortion and soon after leaves Berlin as well.

With the Nazis gaining in power, Christopher and Heinz decide to leave Berlin. They travel to England where Christopher tries to secure permanent residency for Heinz. Their hopes are dashed, however, when a passport officer denies Heinz a permit to remain in the country. The couple decides to travel around Europe, avoiding a return to Nazi Germany.

Several years later Jean and Christopher chance upon each other in an outdoor café in England. They reminisce and he tells her that Heinz was eventually arrested and sentenced to prison, followed by a stint in the army. Jean confides that she does not miss Berlin.

The scene shifts to 1952. Christopher has returned to Berlin for the first time since 1934, to write a magazine article. He reunites with Heinz who, following the partition of the city, ended up in East Berlin. He has married and has a son named Christoph. Heinz expresses his wish that Christopher should find a family of his own and suggests that he and his family could move to America and become Christopher's family as well. Christopher refuses to commit to the idea but promises to remain in contact with Heinz. He visits his old boarding house for a joyful reunion with Fräulein Thurau, whose home ended up being in the American sector of the city. She presents him with the dolphin clock that adorned his old room, exhorting him to look at it and remember happy times.

Closing titles convey that the next year, 1953, Christopher met Don Bachardy and the two remained together until Isherwood's death. Christopher and His Kind was published in 1976 and Heinz, shocked at its frankness, never communicated with Christopher again.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Christopher and His Kind was shot in Belfast, Northern Ireland.[2] Members of the Ulster Unionist Party protested the filming because of the large swastika banners hung from buildings during the production. As a result, scenes with the banners could only be shot early in the morning or late at night.[3] To research the role, Matt Smith read Isherwood's novels, watched video footage of Isherwood and traveled to the United States to meet Isherwood's longtime companion, Don Bachardy. "Just seeing the love Don had for him, and to be in the space where Christopher had lived and written was very informative."[4] Because of its interest in Smith as the Eleventh Doctor in the Doctor Who franchise, the BBC issued strict instructions that Smith was not to appear completely nude in the film. Said director Geoffrey Sax, "They told me I must not show Doctor Who’s bare bottom. They were quite firm about that, even though Matt was playing an entirely different character. They have invested a lot in him as the 11th Doctor and were due to make a second series with him, so they were obviously anxious to protect their property. So I said: 'OK, you won’t see his bare behind.'"[3]

The dolphin clock that appears in the film is the actual clock from Isherwood's room in Berlin. Don Bachardy lent it to the production.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

Sam Wollaston of The Guardian strongly praised Christopher and His Kind, citing an excellent performance from Smith, whom he calls "appealingly rakish, thoroughly disreputable, charming, posh, clever and funny" and compares favorably to John Hurt's performances as Quentin Crisp. He similarly praised several of the other performers and applauded the film for its masterful evocation of its time period, concluding, "Brilliant, top drama, well done."[5] Michael Hogan for The Sunday Telegraph concurred in this assessment, calling the film "handsomely shot, lovingly recreating the period, but with a twinkling, tongue-in-cheek feel – not to mention some lusty sex scenes – that stops it becoming too misty-eyed". He echoed the kudos for the performances from Smith and the supporting cast.[6]

Less impressed was John Lloyd for the Financial Times who found the gay sex scenes discomfiting. Additionally he thought that the acting was not intense enough, finding the scenes between Christopher and his mother to be the most effective. The film, he concluded, "wasn’t great but it was bravely done, all the same".[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Christopher And His Kind". BBC. 19 March 2011. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  2. ^ Dawtrey, Adam (26 March 2011). "Northern Ireland pulls in major projects". Variety. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c Wigg, David (17 March 2011). "Nudity, Nazis and the Doctor: Matt Smith is a long way from the Tardis as he plays louche writer Christopher Isherwood in new BBC drama". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  4. ^ "Network TV BBC Week 12 Christopher And His Kind feature – interview with Matt Smith". BBC. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  5. ^ Wollaston, Sam (20 March 2011). "TV review: Christopher and His Kind | Civilization: is the West History?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  6. ^ Hogan, Michael (17 March 2011). "Christopher and His Kind, BBC One, preview". The Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  7. ^ LLoyd, John (25 March 2011). "The winds of gradual change". Financial Times. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 

External links[edit]