Die Hard and Topsy-Turvy: Part III, Writing Character

Immediate friends--which is also believable
The third reason that Die Hard and Topsy-Turvy are such fine films is that both films present characters who never stray outside their parts.

A difficulty that all narrative writers encounter is needing a character to do something at a certain moment in the story. If the thing-that-needs-to-be-done is not within the character's character, the thing-that-needs-to-be-done will ring false. Speaking as an editor, this entails informing the writer, "The action seems a tad contrived." Speaking as a writer, this entails gnashing of teeth as one laboriously works backwards to alter the character to fit the requirements.

The best outcome is when character and thing-that-needs-to-be-done mesh so smoothly, they seem inevitable--and the writer can brag, "Oh, yes, I always intended that to work!"

Die Hard and Topsy-Turvy both have characters that act exactly as they have been created to act. So--*spoilers*--when Gruber doesn't immediately shoot McClane at the end of the first movie (no, not the second), the non-shooting is not only a useful plot point, it is also entirely within Gruber's character. His reason for pausing isn't simply because he wishes--as Booth would say--to deliver his "rambling psycho-speech." The man is arrogant, not stupid. Neither is he the sort of man to act without considering all possibilities. He is wary of McClane, unsure what he will do next: maybe the guy has rigged himself to explode: who knows?! He has every reason to be wary based on McClane's (characteristic) behavior throughout the film. The confrontation is utterly natural.

The remarkable Shirley Henderson
Topsy-Turvy likewise delivers honest portraits of Gilbert, Sullivan, and the Savoy performers. There are so many examples, I'm hard pressed to limit myself to one: Miss Sixpence Please's bewilderment compared to her companions' amusement; the performers' entirely nineteenth century attitudes about current events; Shirley Henderson's coy shamefacedness as Leonora Braham; the excellent Lesley Manville as Gilbert's supportive, unshakable yet still pained wife.

One of the finest examples supports Christopher Hibbert's analysis of Gilbert and Sullivan. He points out that although Gilbert was known as an in-one's-face director, Sullivan could be equally demanding: he just went about his demands differently. But both men were perfectionists and both pushed performers to meet their exacting criteria. Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner capture the main characters' styles:  Gilbert's loud, boisterous, rude, occasionally kind, larger-than-life persona (Broadbent) alongside Sullivan's more refined, soft-spoken, yet sardonic professionalism (Corduner).

Nobody mugs at the camera--with the one exception of Jim Broadbent in one shot. And he's Jim Broadbent, so he's allowed.
The delightful Jim Broadbent

No comments: