Driving Miss Daisy (The Play)
Cert: 12A / 135 mins / Dir. David Esbjornson
The first thing that becomes apparent in David Esbjornson's adaptation of Alfred Uhry's play, is that Angela Lansbury is having some trouble holding on to that Georgia accent*1. It's not a biggie, but accents are a bugbear of mine, and it goes so far as to derail the generic mid-West accent she gives the rest of the time. In the interests of transparency, I should also point out that I haven't seen the 1989 film which was based on the play (no agenda, I just haven't), and while I'm aware of its themes, this production was to be my first real exposure to the story.
And so, Dame Angela stars as Daisy Werthan, a well-to-do white Jewish widowed teacher in 1948 Atlanta. After a non-injurious car accident suggests that she can no longer handle the vehicle safely, her son Boolie sets about hiring her a driver, in the shape of Hoke Coleburn, an ageing black chauffeur struggling to find work after his previous employer has died. Fiercely independent, 'Miss Daisy' initially rebuts the thought of someone else driving her car, and is mortified at being thought of as stuck-up enough to have her own staff in attendance. The two slowly become companions and ultimately inseparable friends as the years roll on and infirmity takes its toll on them both.
And that's sort of it, really. I know the narrative is set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, and while that's referenced in the play, it never seems to become more than a mechanism to show the passage of time; it certainly doesn't carry as much weight as you feel it should and becomes a sort of Elephant In The Room. In fact, rather than a somewhat stilted conversation about Martin Luther King, there doesn't really seem to be any sort of jeopardy in this telling of the story at all. The trust and pride issues seem to be skirted over almost as quickly as those of social unrest.
But, Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones have magnificent chemistry together, and as a character-piece it's a joy to watch. Boyd Gaines supports ably as Daisy's son, Boolie, and gets enough interaction with his co-stars to showcase his comic exasperation, although the truly laugh-out-loud moments come from Jones. The play's funniest lines are filtered through his baritone voice, often with a wide-eyed incredulity, and you get the feeling that he's certainly having the most fun in his role. The stage sets are minimalist and neatly used (especially the rotating section utilised for Miss Daisy's car), and a projected backdrop works well in tandem with sparse props.
Not quite as dramatic, touching or indeed funny as it feels it should be, Driving Miss Daisy is never less than very-watchable, but there's a feeling that the film which won four Oscars has set the bar above the play's reach.
Use as an accompaniment to the Tandy/Freeman outing, not as a replacement.
Oh, and a special thank you to the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford for starting the feature 15 minutes after the advertised time ("satellite problems" was mumbled from the door at the back of the room), so that we missed the beginning of the live Q&A session from the South Bank afterwards, and extra thanks to them for then muting the sound of this Q&A so that the auditorium's muzak could play over the top for five minutes until someone noticed.
It's care and attention like this which bolsters my faith in independent cinemas.
Well, it's not really a trailer per se, but yeah, that's pretty much it.
Not as much as I wanted or hoped.
This version is a DVD.
Possibly, but only in conjunction with the Jessica Tandy film.
^^ That's a strong four, but a four nonetheless. So much more could have been done with this.
*1 Which surprises me if I'm being honest, because in any episode of Murder She Wrote taking place in the Southern states, she subconsciously begins drawling like Old Gregg at every opportunity.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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