Analysis of a Scene XLIII: Remembering Albert Finney in “A Man of No Importance”

 

Patrick Malahide and Albert Finney

RFodchuk and I were very saddened by the death on February 17 of the great Albert Finney.  His beautiful performance as Alfred Byrne alongside Patrick Malahide’s deliciously and wickedly officious Inspector Carson in “A Man of No Importance” is a real gem.  This touching film about a closeted gay man in 1960’s Ireland is truly recommended viewing.  You can read our full recap of the film here.

But now we’ll focus on the final confrontation between bus conductor Alfie and his boss Inspector Carson.  Alfie  had a bad night after being attacked by some thugs outside a gay bar.  It seems his world is now falling apart around him.  He has been outed as gay in a homophobic world, his dreams of putting on a production of Oscar Wilde’s “Salome” crumble, and he is terribly afraid of losing the trust of his young friend bus driver Robbie “Bosie” Fay (Rufus Sewell).  But, we see that Alfie actually has an incredible inner strength that now comes to life.

“Well, it dared to speak its name last night by the looks of it!”

[Alfie, wearing sunglasses to hide his bruising, sees that his bus has a new driver.  Carson notices his disappointment.]
Carson:  “The love that dare not speak its name,” eh?
[Carson moves to face Alfie and removes the sunglasses.  He laughs at Alfie’s bruising.]
Carson:  Hoo-ho-ho-ho-o! Well, it dared to speak its name last night by the looks of it!

Carson: “Hoo-ho-ho-ho-ho”

Admin: Poor Alfie.  He is so downcast and is feeling very alone then Carson shows up and completely mocks him.  Carson’s laughter when he sees the bruising is downright cruel.  It is a good laugh though, I’ll give him credit there.  You can see that Alfie is sick and tired of it all as he stares Carson clear in the eyes.  He isn’t going to roll over for this.

RF: I like the way Carson comes sauntering around the corner of the bus, although you just know he’s going to say something mean.   Naturally, he zeroes in on Alfie’s bruises.  But perhaps because of everything he’s been through (including a not-too-well-thought-out suicide attempt), Alfie decides he isn’t just going to take it any more.  Maybe he figures he’s got nothing left to lose.

Bemused that Alfred is fighting back.

Alfie: It didn’t speak love’s name last night – that was my crime.
Carson: You’re lucky not to be in jail, like yon fella  Stephen Ward!
Alfie: I am in prison. I’ve been in prison all me life. And the one bird that sang to me from me prison bars has upped and flown away.
Carson: Oscar Wilde, I suppose.
Alfie: Alfred Byrne, I fear. Where’s Robbie Fay?

Admin:  Carson seems rather surprised if not full on confused at Alfie’s sudden chattiness.  He must have been expecting a much meeker response, but Alfie is ready to face everything head on.  Robbie’s friendship means a lot to him, and he is desperate to know where it stands.

“You’re lucky not to be in jail, like yon Stephen Ward!”

RF: Carson throws Alfie a rather mean grin when Alfie says “I am in prison,” though he seems to be more concerned with inspecting the bus than listening.  I had to look up who Stephen Ward was; Carson is referring to the Profumo affair, which means he keeps himself well-informed of current events – or just the salacious ones.  He does appear confused by Alfie’s sudden loquaciousness.  It’s inadvertently flattering that he thought Alfie’s words were actually Oscar Wilde’s, even though Carson says it in a mocking way.

Admin:  I was a little surprised that Carson would immediately think Alfie was quoting Oscar Wilde.  Maybe deep down he’s just upset he has never been asked to be in one of Alfie’s plays.  🙂  OK, probably not.

RF:  Probably not, but the possibility is intriguing.  😉

“See, I explained to your own boy, as you call him, the kind of man you are, and what you get up to…”

Carson: Bosie, is it? Well, Bosie’s gone.
Alfie: Me own boy.
Carson: See, I explained to your “own boy”, as you call him, the kind of man you are, and what you get up to, and he was off like a shot…BANG! ..to get away from you! [Checks his watch] Now, it’s time. On your way. [Walks away]

Admin:  Spoiler alert: Carson isn’t being honest there.  Robbie/Bosie doesn’t care that Alfie is gay.  Carson is the one who moved him to a different bus.  Again Carson is being incredibly cruel, moving up close to stare Alfie in the eyes.  But, still Alfie doesn’t flinch or break his gaze.

He really seems a bit stunned that Alfred just keeps answering him back.

RF:  “Bosie” was also Oscar Wilde’s nickname for Lord Alfred Douglas, so Carson is trying to pile on the mockery and humiliation here by letting Alfie know that he knows about the nickname.  That’s right, Carson is being especially cruel here in leading Alfie to think that Robbie has abandoned him, and taking a certain amount of relish in it.  But Alfie is finally standing up to his bully, too.  As you say, they’re having a contest of wills and Alfie isn’t backing down.  Carson also smirks as he says, “Oh your way,” figuring that he’s gotten the last word and won.

Admin:  His puzzled expressions as Alfie keeps getting in those final words are golden.  Of course, it isn’t really all about getting one over on Carson.  Alfie is speaking to the world in general as much as he is Mr. Carson.

“Mr Carson! ‘The love that dares not speak its name.’ Do you know what that is?”

Alfie: Mr Carson! “The love that dares not speak its name.” Do you know what that is?
Carson: I don’t know and I don’t want to.
Alfie: Let me tell you. It’s fine. It’s beautiful. [The passengers start getting off the bus to see what is going on.] It’s the noblest form of affection.
Carson: You can kiss my arse! [Stomps off]

 

“You can kiss my arse!”

Admin:  Well, Carson is extremely flustered now.  He genuinely wasn’t expecting Alfie to start defending his feelings for Robbie.  I’d say the fact he lowered himself to using obscenity pretty much means he really has no rebuttal or argument and is completely out of his element.  He has lost his upper hand over Alfie and is scurrying away almost in embarrassment.

RF: Carson was the one who dropped the “love that dares not speak its name” allusion in the first place, but he does seem confused at being asked to define it.  He has a sort of confused sneer on his face while Alfie extols the virtues of his love, and I agree, it’s almost like Carson resorts to a schoolyard taunt as a last resort because he genuinely can’t think of what to say.  He also leaves in something of a hurry.  😉

Admin:  Yep, Carson had no idea what he was going to unleash there with his little bit of workplace bullying.

And the older man has intellect and the younger man has all the joy and the hope…and the glamour of life before him.

Alfie: There’s nothing unnatural about it. It’s intellectual. And it exists repeatedly between an older and a younger man. [Carson is basically just trying to get away now.] And the older man has intellect and the younger man has all the joy and the hope…and the glamour of life before him. And that it should be so, the world doesn’t understand. [Alfred pauses here, thinking…and then speaks quietly  to himself] The world mocks at it. And, sometimes….puts one in the pillory for it, Bosie.

Watch out for buses!

Admin:  By this point Carson has had more than enough and practically runs away.  Don’t get hit by a green bus!  Alfie continues his oratory despite Carson’s departure, but he changes tone.  He is no longer defending himself to Inspector Carson, but rather he is thinking of the injustice of it all.  He sees his affection for Robbie as pure and good and noble but knows the world scorns him for it.  It hurts him terribly.  You can see the pain in his eyes when he realizes he hit the nail on the head with “the world doesn’t understand.”  Seeing his defiance replaced by sadness is heartbreaking.

He clearly thinks Alfie is nuts.

RF: I suspect Carson is thinking, “This guy’s nuts!” or perhaps something a lot less flattering.  Alfie declaims his lines almost like he’s doing a defiant soliloquy on stage, which might even be part of what’s giving him courage.  And yeah, Carson is just one of many enemies he’ll face.  At this point, he’s also not sure if Carson is telling him the truth or not, so he probably feels abandoned by Robbie and left on that pillory all by himself, as evinced by his sudden sadness.  But at least he got Carson to leave him alone for once.

RF:  It’s also interesting to note that Alfie is directly quoting Oscar Wilde in that soliloquy, with just a bit of paraphrasing to make the lines more applicable to his own situation.  The words are Wilde’s definition for “the love that dares not speak its name“, although it was Lord Alfred Douglas who came up with the concept in his poem, “Two Loves“.

Admin: It is rather a pity Alfie didn’t get to relish the joy in seeing Carson squirm.  Maybe he reflected upon it later, though, after Robbie assured him that switching buses was not his choice. 🙂

RF: I also liked that the passengers turned out to be a kind of supportive Greek chorus, refusing to join Ivor Carney (Michael Gambon) in condemning Alfie’s conduct after Carson leaves.

Wrap-Up

Realizing the truth and pain of his words.

Admin:  What a lovely scene.  It is really all about Alfie learning to accept himself for what he is.  He really doesn’t care about Carson’s good opinion.  Mr. Carson was just foolish enough to open the floodgates which promptly swept him away.  Patrick Malahide’s bemused expressions and final hasty departure are so funny and show us what Carson is all about.  While I really like Mr. Carson as a character (he is fun to watch), it is satisfying to see him squirm as Alfie opens up.  And, of course, Albert Finney’s performance is beautiful.  Alfie is as kind and gentle a being as you could ever hope to meet.  It is so unfair that the world would be unjust to him for reasons he has no control over.   His soliloquy is a profound one, and Albert Finney brings so much humanity that you can’t help but feel some of the pain yourself.

Alfie and Robbie remain friends. Hooray!

RF: It is a great scene.  Mr. Malahide makes a very effective jerk – I mean that in the best possible way, I swear!  😉  Carson seems to really enjoy his villainy, and is surprisingly literary in the words he chooses for his bullying, not that that makes them any more tolerable.  He is very fun to watch, even as he’s retreating in confusion after his comeuppance.  Perhaps there’s even a tiny smidge of self-awareness there; he seems to know he’s been bested, even if he’s not quite sure how.  And it’s a wonderful moment for Mr. Finney’s Alfie, who finds a hidden reserve of strength and will hopefully never be as badly affected by such bullying again, so maybe he’s gained a bit of self-awareness, too.

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