The Oscar Race Comes to Manhattan

It’s the New Year, and the Oscar race is on. On Monday, two events took place promoting Oscar-worthy pictures, a private lunch and talk for The King’s Speech and the New York premiere of Barney’s Version. 

It was fitting that at a lunch given for The King’s Speech—the brilliant film about King George VI and the speech therapist who helped to cure the monarch’s stammer—should take place in a suitably grand private club.

All the big swinging Brits in town, Piers Morgan, Tina Brown, Jennifer Ehle and lithe Trudie Styler were there for the talk given by the film’s director, Tom Hooper, historian Amanda Foreman and star Colin Firth on the making and research of the film. When The Observer caught up with Mr. Firth, we complimented him on his performance, particularly the way in which he conveys George VI’s utter horror at speaking engagements. “Funnily enough, terror isn’t an emotion you are often asked to do as an actor,” he said with an intensity that belies his otherwise laid-back manner. “In order to convey it, you have to use something from your childhood.” But before we had the chance to ask what was so terrifying from his childhood, we were ushered into lunch.

Sir Harold Evans (also sometimes known as Mr. Tina Brown) introduced the talk by saying, “I remember the King’s Speech. …” The audience was politely silent until he said, “No, I remember the King’s Speech!” and the place erupted with laughter. Mr. Hopper explained that many of the lines from the film were lifted straight from a trove of letters he found between speech therapist Lionel Logue and the monarch. “It proves George VI’s intelligence and wit when you read them,” he said. The trio did an admirable job of chatting away about the film amid the distracting clinks of silverware as guest tucked into tender medallions of beef. In keeping with the feeling of a bygone era, many guests lingered over their coffee  chocolate fondant rather than go out into the face-numbing cold.

The British contingent was also thick at the New York premiere of Barney’s Version at the Paris Theater. Adapted from Moredcai Richler’s last novel, about Barney Panofsky, the film is the story of an irascible, blunt, drunk, politically incorrect, insanely funny and all-too human character that Paul Giamatti plays to perfection in this misanthropic masterpiece. 

“Richler is Canada’s Philip Roth or Saul Bellow,” declared one of the film’s publicists, forgetting that Saul Bellow is actually Canadian. 

According to the film’s producer, Robert Lantos, who has a small cameo in the movie and is also from Montreal, Richler was required reading in high school. “Barney’s Version was his best novel and, yes, parts of it were autobiographical. Richler also met the love of his life at his own wedding to someone else. He died while writing the screenplay for the novel.” Wistfully, Mr. Lantos added, “He could drink Macallan better than anyone else I ever met.”

The character of Barney is so unappealing that it stretches the imagination to discover what glamorous beauties Minnie Driver and Rosamund Pike could find attractive about him. “He had to be a tiger in the sack,” said raven-haired Minnie Driver, who was resplendent if chilly in a green, gold and black dress by Dolce & Gabbana with no stockings, “Yup, that’s all I can come up with … charming and good in bed, and probably Paul is, too, although I don’t have any reasons to confirm that,” she added saucily.

She turned and greeted co-star Rosamund Pike with enthusiastic warmth. Ms. Pike plays Mr. Giametti’s true love in the film and was slightly more sensibly dressed for the weather in a Christopher Kane leather minidress embellished with blue and white stars and stockings. The Oxford-educated Ms. Pike had not returned home for Christmas, opting instead for a road trip around Northern California and her first ski lesson in Tahoe. “I must be one of the few Europeans not to know how to ski,” she said.

A cool vanilla blonde with a razor-sharp accent, Ms. Pike was certainly as elegant and restrained as her character, Miriam. When asked how she felt being the true love of Barney, the actress, who was engaged to director Joe Wright, had this to say about her role: “True love aside, it’s great to do a romance which appears truthful, the way the whole love affair develops over 30 years. I hope that people recognize themselves in it; that’s the whole point of making movies.”

And what does Paul Giamatti, the star of the film, have to say about the role that will surely garner at least an Oscar nomination if not the little gold man himself?

“He’s more aggressive than me, but I don’t want to play people who are too much like me.” With that, the embodiment of Barney Panofsky walked down the red carpet flanked by his stunning co-stars. Mordecai Richler would sure have raised a glass of Macallan to that.

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The Oscar Race Comes to Manhattan