Alan Rudolph's loose biopic of the Manhattan mistress of the bon mot, Dorothy Parker, is a typically intelligent and highly idiosyncratic affair which recreates the heyday of Parker (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and the Algonquin Round Table, her circle of equally witty, dissolute, and alcoholic literary friends.
As ever with Rudolph, it's a brilliantly composed piece, with the recreation of a bygone period wonderfully evoked by Francois Seguin's sensual production design, Mark Isham's spot-on score, and perhaps most impressively, Jan Kiesser's resonant photography which really draws the spectator back to the Manhattan of the 20s and 30s.
Among a stand-out ensemble cast (look for Heather Graham in an early role), Jason Leigh is pitch perfect as Parker, from her droll nasal speech patterns to her physical and mental capacity for cruelty - Parker is commonly associated with the more barbed tendencies of modern urbane humour - Leigh truly captures all the failings and foibles of a witty, cynical, and yet, despite her brilliance, maudlin and deeply unsympathetic character. Sterling support comes from Campbell Scott as Robert Benchley and Peter Gallagher as Parker's second husband Alan Campbell. Rudolph regulars Wallace Shawn and Keith Carradine are also along for the ride.
Rudolph directs with his customary improvisatory flair and a tendency towards ellipticism - Robert Altman, Rudolph's primary source of inspiration, acts as producer - refusing to rush the proceedings, to produce a literary biopic quite unlike any other. As interesting, infuriating, and undeniably brilliant as Parker herself.
"Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle" is on BBC2, Sunday 3 December 2000, at 11.30pm.