As established in an earlier post, I have a deep love of P.G. Wodehouse’s works. So imagine my intrigue when I stumbled upon a DVD in a charity shop called Piccadilly Jim. The cover announces ‘from the novel by P.G. Wodehouse’ and ‘adapted by Academy Award winner Julian Fellowes’. This was before Downton Abbey had aired (I think) but I was a fan of Fellowes from his performances in Monarch of the Glen (standard Sunday night viewing early 2000s) and because he was the screenwriter for Gosford Park – one of my favourite films.
1. P.G. Wodehouse
So my first reason for watching Piccadilly Jim is P.G. Wodehouse (and Julian Fellowes). The main story in Piccadilly Jim stays the same from the novel (which I only recently read) but there are a few changes that are mostly needed to tighten the plot. The farcical elements of the story exist and are almost exaggerated. I watched this film a few weeks ago and was struck by how topical the farce in the film is – particularly following the success of One Man, Two Guv’nors (both in London and New York), Noises Off (in London) and to some extent A Chorus of Disapproval (recently opened). We seem to be going though a phase of enjoying farce and stories like Piccadilly Jim play right into that.
The main story of Piccadilly Jim: Jimmy Crocker is an American ex-writer party boy living in London with his father (a retired actor) and wealthy stepmother, aiming for a title to rub in her sister’s nose. A column he wrote in an American newspaper entitled ‘Piccadilly Jim’ writes about his antics – even though he has since been fired from the paper. Jimmy meets a woman in London who has a complete hatred for Jimmy Crocker and so he pretends to be someone else. I’m going to stop there because you can sort of see where the story is going. But, add in a few more disguises and you just about have the plot. It is pretty ridiculous but makes jokes easy to spot/enjoy.
2. Sam Rockwell
Not all of the performances in the film are great – Frances O’Connor particularly gets on my nerves but it might also be the way her character (Ann Chester) is written… On the other hand you have Sam Rockwell. Who is BRILLIANT. I think he should be in everything. (And this is from me having seen shockingly little of his work.) He is just a very charismatic actor and the character of Jimmy Crocker just has to be likable in some way for you to watch the film.
Also, I want him to dance in everything:
3. Supporting Actors
First off there’s Tom Wilkinson as Jimmy’s father Bingley Crocker. Having Wilkinson in a film just gives it some gravitas in a way. He is just such a forgiving, lovable man – and because of this you understand why Jimmy feels so bad about letting him down.
Then Allison Janney as Eugenia Crocker, Jimmy’s stepmother. Janney is another one of those actors that brings joy to any film she’s in. Who doesn’t remember her as the great guidance councillor in 10 Things I Hate About You? Or as CJ in The West Wing? Or as Juno’s stepmother? She is brilliantly over the top – just as she should be. But, if you’re me, you still root for her over Nesta (her sister).
And honorable mentions for Hugh Bonneville, Tom Hollander and Geoffrey Palmer. They all have very specific character parts and I love them. Nothing in this film should be taken seriously.
4. The Costumes
The costumes in this film were designed by Ralph Holes and the overall look for the film (including the production design by Amanda McArthur) references the 1930s through to the 1970s. The mix may take a while to get used to but once you’ve accepted it it’s all quite fun. The narrative of the film is quite fantastical and doesn’t aim to keep with Wodehouse’s original too strictly so it would probably seem out of place for the design to be rigidly 30s.
Rockwell’s costumes particularly have a very strong 70s feel about them. I’ve put pictures throughout this post and you can see that his shirt collars, use of scarves and patterns are very 70s. At one point in the film he wears a huge fur coat. It’s huge. For me, the point of this is that Jimmy is the ‘rock star’ of the film. He would look too “proper” in full 30s get-up. The 70s vibe gives him edge and lets the audience in to the character more.
5. The Music
Mostly this is connected with my love of jazz inspired songs. From the get-go you know that the film isn’t going to be traditional through it’s use of Jamie Cullum’s ‘Get Your Way’ over the title sequence. Throughout the film other modern songs are retooled for a jazzy 30s style: ‘Tainted Love’ by Soft Cell and ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ by Joy Division particularly stand out in my mind. These songs are also sung in nightclub scenes making their use more acceptable and “believable”. Jimmy strolls through life in such a way that you could believe that he would be at the forefront of newer popular music.
Here are my five reasons for watching Piccadilly Jim. Some may be clutching at straws a little but I would still recommend it – if only once. It doesn’t take too much concentration, much amusement can be gleaned from repeated disguise mishaps and…Sam Rockwell is the lead. Enjoy! And let me know what you think!