Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Archie, on BritBox

All Cary Grant fans know he was born Archibald Leach, because they remember he dropped his real name as a one-liner in His Girl Friday. He reinvented himself as Cary Grant, but there was always some Leach in there, deep down. Not surprisingly, his early years of poverty and family strife inevitably shaped his later behavior, definitely including his relationship with fourth wife Dyan Cannon. Creator-writer Jeff Pope largely draws from Cannon’s memoir to tell Grant’s story in the four-part Archie, which premieres Thursday on BritBox.

The only thing that could have made Leach’s childhood more Dickensian would have been a stint in the work-house. His older brother was clearly his mother Elsie’s favorite, so his untimely death partially broke her. Nonetheless, young Archibald craved her approval, whereas his lowlife father Elias was incapable of being a loving parent. After consigning his mother to a mental institution, Elias told Archie he was dead and then pawned the young lad off on a relative.

As a result, Leach had to make it on his own, which he did as film star Cary Grant. After his early success and short-lived marriage to former silent movie star Virginia Cherril, Pope and series director Paul Andrew Williams fast-forward past two marriages and several dozen classic movies (including
The Bishop’s Wife and To Catch a Thief). Suddenly, in the early 1960s, Grant is feeling at loose ends. His films are as popular as ever, but Sophia Loren will not return his calls, so he shifts his focus to up-and-coming actress Dyan Cannon.

Laura Aikman is a good likeness for Cannon and she has her signature laugh down cold. It is pretty clear Cannon was involved in the series as an executive producer and the author of its primary source material, because
Archie is definitely sympathetic to her perspective. However, it is not wholly unsympathetic to Grant’s either, but he is far more complicated.

Archie, it is very clear what a number his awful parents did to him. Whenever the mature Grant acts manipulative or cruel, the series flashes back to show what was done unto him. Harriet Walter is particularly effective in this regard, as Grant’s demanding elderly mother, who gives back precious little in return. Dainton Anderson, Oaklee Pendergast, and Calam Lynch are all quite earnest as the various young Leaches, but Jason Isaac is an eerie dead-ringer for the silver-haired Grant. He also nails Grant’s unique Transatlantic accent. Frankly, the casting of two leads is remarkable. Plus, Ian McNeice is appropriately jolly and jowly as Alfred Hitchcock.

Although much of drama that marks their relationship is familiar Hollywood aging male star-young starlet stuff, Isaacs and Aikman truly have screen chemistry together. Viewers can believe they cannot help getting together, even though they both probably know it will be a mistake.

Unlike Mark Kidel’s psychologically focused documentary
Becoming Cary Grant, Archie regularly dismisses rumors Grant was gay. It is rather convincing when it portrays his reckless pursuit of Cannon and Loren. If he just needed arm-candy, he could have picked up just about any other starlet at the time—because he was Cary Grant.

Pope frames his story through Grant’s “Evening with Cary Grant” lectures, during which the star would regale his fans with anecdotes. It is a device that mostly works rather well. This is far from fannish hagiography, but it will not sour the audience on Cary Grant. To the contrary, it inspires a great deal of sympathy and compassion for one of the biggest stars in cinema history. Recommended for consumers of classic Hollywood glamour and gossip,
Archie starts streaming Thursday (12/7) on BritBox.