Posted on Thursday, February 26th, 2009 by Brendon Connelly
The screenwriter for the Russell Brand remake of Arthur has been announced in Variety, and it’s Peter from Balham – sometime collaborator of Chris Morris, Sacha Baron Cohen and Lee and Herring. Peter Baynham isn’t exactly comedy royalty in the UK – more like a secret power behind the thrones – but is, not to put too fine a point on it, incredibly funny.
And now to change the subject rather drastically, I’m afraid. There are two jokes in the original Arthur, by my count: one is alcoholism, the other is the pronunciation of profanities in posh RP and despite them being repeated over and over and over for the full running time, neither of these ever threatens to be the mildest bit amusing. Watching stars Dudley Moore, John Gielgud and Liza Minelli (each of whom has done at least two other pieces of work I truly adore) flop around in Steve Gordon’s slow-draining cinematic sewage was painful enough that I’ve attacked the TV in a violent hurry to switch channels whenever I’ve bumped back into the movie by mistake.
As a result, I’m a little surprised that I was instinctively put off by the announcement of an Arthur remake. There’s a popular and loudly given argument that it’s bad films, not good, that should be subjected to a do-over; and then there’s my less popular point of view, that no film should be off-bounds for a remake just as no book should be off-bounds for adaptation, and it’s all down to the skills and integrity applied and artistic basis for the adaptation. Had Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings (or Tolkien’s for that matter) been the best thing since sliced spice racks it wouldn’t in any way devalue the majestic achievement of Peter Jackson. My problem this time, however, was that I had no trust in a modern studio production to want to rise above the particular problems of the original.
Now, it’s starting to look like I was jumping the gun somewhat.
Alcoholism isn’t a funny joke, but neither is, say, pedophilia. Does that mean The Brass Eye Special, co-written by Baynham, wasn’t any good? Not at all. Because pedophilia wasn’t the subject of the joke, no matter what the Daily Mail say. This was comedy about public and media attitudes towards pedophilia and those, I have to say, are so bloody stupid to be almost instantly hilarious. The show skewered this illogic with gusto and wild abandon, fueled by the brilliant contempt for small-think that Baynham also channeled in his Oscar nominated screenplay for Borat and, by all accounts, the upcoming Bruno.
It’s beyond all reasonable doubt that Baynham’s screenplay will never sink as low as the original Arthur. Add to this Brand’s own previous experiences with addiction and, as a result his pronounced sensitivity to misrepresentation of addicts and their problems, and I’m happy that when Arthur is reborn, we’ll be witnessing entirely different animal to the mooncalf we were tossed last time around.
And yes, before you kindly correct me, I know Peter Baynham is Welsh. Don’t you know why I made the Balham reference? YouTube can help you.