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Actually, he's pretty darn good.
He writes about a world in transition: when the power of old money, old class - dare I say, Old Europe - was grumpily giving way to the new money and energy of America. Actually, sometimes not so grumpily: Wodehouse himself was a huge fan of all things American, and wrote hit after hit on Broadway of the twenties. He lived here. He golfed here. And yet, somehow, he also never lost touch with the weekly scores of his old school's cricket eleven.
But the main thing about Plum, as his fans call him, is his style.
Put simply, the guy writes funny. Sure, there are the droll situations - chaps caught in engagements with girls - actresses often - they shouldn't be; chaps caught without the necessary funds to settle bets they shouldn't have made in the first place; chaps caught in the vice-like grip of interminably boring maiden aunts; all needing to be rescued, in circumstances of Houdini-like wonder, by their butler. But actually, Wodehouse could write funny about the internal workings of a screw-turbine: his prose is a feather-light bear-trap of wry observation and stinging insult, especially about those aunts.
All of which is completely unfilmable.
Luckily, we had Julian Fellowes. Himself something of an English classic, himself a devoted fan of American razzamataz. Julian took a cool look at the early Wodehouse of Piccadilly Jim the novel, and decided we would understand it better as prime-time Wodehouse of the 'thirties. Which is quite right: this is when the world caught up how good he was; and this is the period he stuck with for the rest of his long life.
Then there was cinematographer Andrew Dunn, who shot Julian's other little movie Gosford Park, and who seems to paint when he lights. And most of all there was the cast: Sam Rockwell, who is Hollywood's best-kept secret, Frances O'Connor who occupies much the same role in Australia, Tom Wilkinson and Brenda Blethyn who know the trick with this stuff is to keep it just the right side of ripe; Allison Janney who is just great, period; and Geoffrey Palmer, who has been butling on stage and screen in Britain since ever tea met china on silver tray.
All of which made P.G. show up on screen. I was lucky enough to be there to see it. I hope you like the result. Watch out for those aunts!
John McKay February 2005
Film Information Collapse
[PICCA] | 2005 | 97 | Narrative Feature
Foreign Title: (Piccadilly Jim)