Film review: Me and Orson Welles

Orson Welles, that brilliant beast of the prewar theatre jungle, is here reduced to a gentle moggy

Orson Welles, that brilliant beast of the prewar theatre jungle, is here reduced to a gentle moggy in Richard Linklater's sentimental-romantic drama set amidst the excitement of Welles's 1937 ­production of Julius Caesar in New York. ­

Christian McKay gives a game ­impersonation of the young Welles, ­being mercurial, demanding, impossible, etc, as he mounts a challenging new modern-dress "fascist-militarist" version of Caesar – reminding isolationist Americans of the gathering storm across the Atlantic. Zac Efron is Richard, the pushy, stagestruck teen who amuses Welles and flukes his way into a small part; Claire Danes is the beautiful young theatre assistant with whom Richard falls in love, only to find the affections of this ambitious young woman are ­engaged elsewhere.

As so often with films reverently ­dealing with theatre folk, the directing itself becomes exasperatingly theatrical and inert. The focus is soft, and so are the ideas. Welles is a vowel-rolling ham who never really scares or ­upsets anyone – even his final crisis with young ­Richard isn't really painful. Tim ­Robbins's 1999 film Cradle Will Rock, set in very much the same time and place, also suffered from nostalgia and ancestor-worship.

There is one nice ­moment, when Welles improvises a new section for a radio ­performance of The Front Page, ­inserting a passage from The ­Magnificent Ambersons. That gave a hint of the man's cheek and his style. The rest has the taste of warm Paul ­Masson.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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