Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Film Night Kate and Leopold

This week columnist Kate Walker gets to pick the Friday night film - and surprise, surprise it's one that stars a certain Aussie hunk.

Kate's pick for Friday Film Night is the romantic comedy
Kate and Leopold.

Kate and Leopold was described by one critic as “ a Harlequin romance novel come to life. Where else but in the land of the bodice-ripper could Mr. Right (or, in this case, Sir Right) turn up out of the blue, sweep you off your feet in a single weekend, and make you realize that your life — prior to his appearance, of course — is an empty shell that's devoid of the one thing that makes living worthwhile in the first place?” So that makes it a perfect film for a PHS Friday film night.

It also stars a certain Mr Hugh Jackman, another reason to recommend it to the PHS members. Sadly, this is not the film which contains those memorable scenes of Hugh-in-a-towel, but if you can’t have that then Hugh in a 19th century costume, frock coat, white shirt, cravat, waistcoat, boots, will still suit me fine.

As for the plot – well, yes it takes a fair bit of suspension of disbelief. You have to accept that time travel is not only possible but that a 19th century Duke of Albany could end up in 21st century New York, cope with modern life and fall in love with a modern young woman. And you don’t have to question the ending too much. But when you’re enjoying the film those points don’t matter.

Leopold, the Duke of Albany (Hugh Jackman), lives a life of privilege in 1876. He’s also an aspiring inventor and future inventor of the elevator. He draws pictures of what would be the modern day elevator, even though everyone thinks he's crazy. But Leo has yet to find a marriage that would secure his family's financial future, much to the chagrin of his demanding uncle.

One night he spies a stranger in his uncle's house. It turns out the strange man is Stuart (Liev Schreiber), who comes from the present day. Stuart found a rip in the fabric of time beneath the Brooklyn bridge that is only open very rarely. By jumping off the bridge, he found a portal into 1876 and when he jumped off the bridge while in 1876, it sent him back to the present. Leo pursues the man and ends up in 2001 in New York City, in the apartment of the man who is in fact his great-great-grandson. When Stuart is involved in an elevator accident that lands him in the hospital before he can send Leopold back to 1876, the Duke comes under the care of Stuart's ex-girlfriend and downstairs neighbour, a stressed-out marketing executive, Kate (Meg Ryan), and her actor brother, Charlie (Breckin Meyer). Kate knows the truth about Leopold, but doesn't believe it, and she considers the obligation of looking after him to be a real burden - until she realizes that he would be the perfect spokesperson for an advertising campaign her marketing company is working on. Suddenly, hard-bitten, unromantic Kate and Leopold, the "psychotic escapee from a Renaissance Fair", are spending quite a bit of time together and falling in love. But there's an obvious problem in the form of a 125-year age gap.

Hugh Jackman is the perfect mix of rogue and gentleman. His role is comic when he’s playing with modern technology, or trying to walk the daftest dog in the world through New York street, romantic when he’s showing the perfect manners that Kate has long ceased come to expect or chivalrously tucking her under the covers. Being a progressive-minded noble who invented the elevator and admires engineers, Leopold is fascinated by the future, but he's unwilling to relinquish the courtly, more leisurely pace of life in 1876. "Life is not solely composed of tasks, but tastes," he tells the harried Kate when she rushes through breakfast.

It's that kind of attitude that wins Leopold a job as a pitchman for a low-fat butter substitute, in a running subplot that creates some of the movie's funniest scenes. Even though she initially thinks he's lying about where he comes from, Kate is quick to recognize Leopold's appeal to the her own sex — when he tells housewives that Farmer's Bounty is low-calorie and delicious, she knows they'll buy it.

Meanwhile, Stuart, who had been sent to a psychiatric hospital because of his stories about time travel, manages to escape and tells Leo that he has to go back to his own time. All the elevators aren't working because Leo wasn't there to invent them in the past. Unfortunately, Leo has fallen in love with Kate. Not only that, but he's doing fine in the present day, and has been giving Charlie superb advice on how to behave towards women. But Leo knows what he has to do, and goes back to the 19th century.

Stuart gets his photographs of the past back, and lets Charlie see them so that he notices that Kate is in the background of the pictures of 1876. Stuart is convinced that this means that Kate is supposed to go back to that time to be with Leopold, but Kate is at a business dinner to accept a promotion to vice-president of the company. If she wants to go back she has only 23 minutes before the time portal closes. . .

Time-travel romance. is a great concept, but as with books, good films are made when characters have strong personalities as well as situations. Leopold is not simply a nobleman from another time, but one with a lack of satisfaction with his situation and a keen interest in science. Meg Ryan as Kate doesn't sigh and wonder if she'll find the man of her dreams, she has simply given up, and it's making her bitter, impatient and selfish. (OK, I'll admit it - for me she's also a bit too old for this part which makes her seem less appealing than the character should be.) She has only the faintest glimmers of what was presumably, once upon a time, a hopeful spark.

Leopold sees the glimmers. He's a gentleman, and when he recognises that Kate is needy, he wants to provide her with the comfort and support that previous men have been unable to offer. He can see that she feels more deeply than she appears to, that she deserves to be more than a cog in the wheel. There is a wonderful scene in which he interrupts her at a dinner date to tell her boss, "There are those who would say that a man courting a woman in his employ is perpetrating nothing more than a serpentine attempt to turn a lady into a whore."

Kate & Leopold does not go for the easy route of having a modern girl falling in love with an old-fashioned guy because she's swept away by his knowledge of etiquette in the face of contemporary gaucheness. Kate thinks Leopold is weird for the first half of the picture -- she reacts to his decorum with cynical scoffs, and declares that she’s about to call the police when he announces that he's from the 1800s. When a romance does develop, it's because Kate has never been able to rely on anyone before, and she recognises that Leopold is a good man, willing to devote himself to her. That critic I quoted didn’t get it quite right – there is no bodice ripping, the chemistry between the two lead bubbles pleasantly rather than burns. . There's no powerful sexual attraction, but this movie is more about innocent romance than passion, so it works. Leopold is the perfect Romance hero – strong, masculine, courteous, considerate. He is also a handsome, heroic and gallant figure whose old-fashioned sense of right and wrong is refreshing to see at a time when cynicism is the norm.

There are plenty of laughs too but they’re not the expected fish-out-of-water jokes. The humour comes from Leopold's bemused curiosity with the speed and nature of modern conventions, and the way he adapts to them. Scenes like the one in which his eyes marvel at the efficiency of aerosol shaving foam, or the moment where he rants about the impossibility of toasters. And then there’s the filming of the ad for Farmer’s Bounty. . .

Okay, so it’s a nonsensical plot, but Kate & Leopold is the kind of flight of fancy where romance and chivalry work over narrative logic. Never mind how the time travel works, if you care enough about the fate of these two likeable leads, then common sense is irrelevant to the film's enjoyment factor.

It's that enjoyment factor that makes it the perfect relaxing Friday night film - And Hugh Jackman is always worth watching . In a towel or in a frock coat and boots.
PS from Kate - I'd like to remind you that that as it's Leap Year, February 29th is the day when the ladies can propose to their heroes if they want to. There has to be a great romance plot in that. . . .

But until I come up with one, you'll have to be content with my next Modern Romance - Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife, which is published on March 7th - well, that's the official date but knowing the way the books are distributed it could turn up in in the shops tomorrow - or even today. American readers will have to wait until June when it comes out in the Presents edition.

I have a copy to give away. As always, I'll get my own Alpha Male - Sid the cat - to pick a winner from everyone who posts in the comments section. You can talk about Leap Year - or tell me how you received your marriage proposal (or how you proposed if you were the one who did!) You can even talk about Hugh in boots . . . I'm not picky


  1. Hi Kate!
    I've not seen this movie but I know that it's been on television and I'll have to watch it next time. I didn't know that women can propose on this day. I wonder if anyone ever has.

  2. I haven't seen this one either. Will have to look out for it now.


  3. Hi Kate. I love Kate and Leopold. It is a fantatistic movie.
    My husband proposed to me on the flower covered verenda of a country home. It was so romantic.

  4. Love it, love it, love it.

    He is delicious in this movie. So gallant. So clueless. :-)

    LOL at Farmer's Bounty...I'd forgotten...

  5. I love this movie, it is such a great love story. And it has the bonus of watching the hunking Hugh Jackman, I have always liked him.

  6. Hi Kate

    Loved Kate and Leopold. I always thought that totally silly plot meant it had to be filed under the 'guilty pleasures' banner, but now you've got the nuances that I missed it all begins to make sense to me why I liked it so much now....

    My marriage proposal consisted of my boyfriend of four years (and the father of my one year old son) saying to me 'Oh look, Ireland are playing Italy in the World Cup in New York, if we could get tickets why don't we get hitched while we're there!' Now that's not quite as unromantic as it may sound because I am a big football fan. I got tickets, he paid for the flights, we had a fabulous weekend and threw a surprise wedding party for all our mates when we got back. But I have to wonder - after fourteen happy years of marriage - would he have married me if I hadn't managed to get those tickets?

    Still, there was some compensation - I was supporting Ireland and he was supporting Italy and against all the odds, Ireland won! Ha!

  7. Gorgeous movie!

    And yes, I am one of those women who proposed - on this day twelve years ago. But I'm afraid I didn't do the whole choc and champagne thing... I woke up, yawned, accepted the cup of tea my dear one brought to me in bed and said "Hey, I love you. Wanna get married?"

    The romantic bit was eloping to England and then spending our honeymoon in Paris - sheer decadence.

  8. Sid has picked his prizewinner and appropriately enough he has chosen Michelle Douglas - an extra little something to help you clebrate the day you proopsed, Michelle!

    Please send me your snail mail address andI'll get your copy of Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife in the mail for you