John Hurt is renowned for his quirky, often incisive performances, but few of them have been comedy roles. His hilarious portrait of Giles De’Ath, a reclusive British author, is a rare comic treat, and Richard Kwietniowski’s first feature from Gilbert Adair’s novel is a clever, singular delight that deserved a wider release when it came out in 1997.
De’Ath, who rarely ventures far from his book-stuffed London home, accidentally locks himself out in the rain and goes to see a film based on an E M Forster novel. Mistakenly he finds he has stumbled into Hotpants College II, a campus sex romp, and is suddenly entranced by the image of a young actor, Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley).
An obsession forms. He rents videos of other Bostock movies, forgetting that he has no VCR or even a television. He buys fanzines and pastes images of Ronnie in a scrapbook. He mugs up on his idol’s life. Besotted, he decides to go to Long Island where he hopes to meet the young man.
America to a cloistered English person is a considerable culture shock, but he eventually reaches the quiet rural enclave, causing tolerant amusement among the locals who accept him as an eccentric. He gets to his hero through the girlfriend, Audrey (Fiona Loewi) and is soon a guest, discussing meretricious films in a Shakespearean context. Ronnie turns out to be much more intelligent than his work would suggest, and it is a pleasant game to anticipate the painful conclusion.
Admittedly the shift from London to New York makes for two distinct parts, but Hurt’s compelling performance smoothly surmounts the transition in this audaciously appealing comedy.
"Love and Death on Long Island" will be shown on BBC2 at 11.35pm on Friday 16th March 2001.