A Man of No Importance: A Film of Some Importance
Patrick Malahide appeared as the unsympathetic Inspector Carson in the 1994 film adaptation of A Man of No Importance.
Set in Ireland during the early 1960s, it tells the story of bus conductor Alfred Byrne (Albert Finney),a closeted gay man whose main ambition is to put on a beautiful production of an Oscar Wilde play. And, that is basically it. We watch his day-to-day struggles as he lives with his loving, but slightly clueless in regards to his homosexuality, sister Lily (Brenda Flicker).
A Man of No Importance boasts an impressive cast, including two of Patrick Malahide’s former antagonists: Michael Gambon (The Singing Detective, Two Deaths) and Rufus Sewell (Middlemarch). Gambon plays local butcher Mr. Carney, who cares deeply for Lily. Sewell plays Robbie Fay, the young man who drives the bus with Alfie. Alfie, for reasons initially unknown to Robbie, insists on calling him Bosie.
Alfie entertains their passengers by regaling them with monologues from his favorite plays. Some of the passengers have also agreed to appear in his upcoming play. His last attempt at a Wilde production, The Importance of Being Earnest, never panned out. This year he plans on being even more ambitious, taking on Salome which proves to be a controversial choice. The text offends the very devout Mr. Carney who had been excited to appear as Importance’s Algernon.
Alfie is desperate to find the perfect Salome. He thinks he has found his girl when the beautiful Adele (Tara Fitzgerald) climbs on his bus. As he tries to convince her to join his production, the two form a very sweet bond. Their loving but platonic relationship makes his sister think that Alfie has finally met a suitable girl and she connives to get them together. That doesn’t pan out as Alfie is gay and Adele has secrets of her own.
But, the focus here is on Inspector Carson. He is not a very nice man at all and has a significant dislike for both Alfred and Robbie . I rather believe he has his early suspicions about Alfie’s sexuality and despises him for it. Inspector Carson is pretty much a misanthropic, uncharitable, sarcastic fellow. But, he is also a rather amusing as a light comic foil for the duo. He doesn’t step over into farcical as it isn’t that sort of a film, but he does get a little bit of showing up.
He first appears waiting along the bus route specifically checking to see that all passengers have their tickets. Alfie is a kindly man who allows less fortunate people to have free rides. Carson notices that a young woman with a baby does not have a ticket. Alfie pretends that he just forgot to give her the ticket, but Carson knows better. “The bus company is not a charity,” he snaps at her. He then threatens Alfie, basically within hearing distance of the woman, “If you want to provide free transport for wasters, it’s up to you. But if I come on and find a tinker without a ticket, I’ll put you off the bus, not them. Mark me now!” Wasters? Tinker? Carson is so unpleasant, but his beautiful Irish accent is an aural delight.
When he very nimbly jumps off the bus he is suddenly besieged by a large group of school girls. I have no idea why that happens, though I expect we are to conclude Robbie put them up to it. Maybe it was explained and I just missed it. It doesn’t matter why. It is very random and hilarious, so I love it.
I also enjoyed the aggressive way Carson makes his away down the bus aisle. With his shoulder swagger, long dark coat and hat pulled down low (which intensifies his blue eyes) he kind of looks like a gunslinger. The effect is more pronounced when he hops off the bus a second time, probably after checking to make sure they were no where near St. Trinian’s, and his coat is swinging as he pulls out his trusty notepad. The scene is made even better as there are a couple riding a bicycle and a horse and cart, the rag and bone man, going by.
Carson’s truest colors come to light the day after Alfie had a very bad night. It is now obvious to everybody that Alfie is gay and was beaten by thugs outside a gay club the night before. Carson takes profound delight in pulling off Alfie’s sunglasses to reveal his bruises. He literally chortles – like “hoo-hoo-hoo” type chortling, when he sees what has happened, “The love that dare not speak its name, eh? *chortle* Well, it dared to speak its name last night by the looks of it!”
The scene gets really interesting because Alfie is sick of hiding who he is and he answers back, very bravely, to Inspector Carson, and wants to know where Robbie is. Carson’s demeanor goes from mocking humor to disgusted anger. He falsely claims that Robbie is sickened by Alfie and asked for a transfer. Then when Alfie fights back by shouting that his feelings are pure and beautiful, Carson practically runs away with a brilliant expression that perfectly combines loathing and disgust with snorting, snickering bemusement. It is a fantastic scene and encapsulates so much of what Alfie will likely have to face as he chooses to be true to himself and live his life as an openly gay man.
I recommend this film. It combines quaint sweetness with a few darker elements. The setting is very pretty and some of the extras are adorably quirky; David Kelly has a small part playing an old duffer who is actually pretty savvy. It doesn’t really have a very final ending, but the ending is OK being kind of open since it implies that the characters are just people who are getting on with their lives. Alfie will have to deal with prejudice and working with Inspector Carson who, in turn, will have to deal with working with Alfie; Lily and Mr. Carney will have to decide how they are going to proceed; Robbie and Tara will have their own lives to lead, etc, etc. It is certainly a film worth watching.