This new, bite-sized biography of the late playwright, actor, and raconteur Noël Coward squeezes a lot into just over ninety minutes, but while it rarely stops for breath, it paints an interesting portrait of a life of contradictions.
Barnaby Thompson, director of the St Trinian’s reboot and likeable 2020 comedy Pixie, drags us through Coward’s life story, narrated by Alan Cumming and featuring footage from films, interviews, and radio appearances.
It can be an awkward collage, and his private life is only seen in snatched moments. Branded a deserter for living abroad during World War 2 (when he was secretly enlisted as a spy for the war effort), Coward would be considered the quintessential Englishman practically everywhere except the UK until later in his life. His frustration with critics, and fears of being outed at a time when homosexuality was illegal, show someone who was both part of the establishment and forever an outsider.
There’s also a celebration of the man’s vast talent, not only as the witty caricature he presented, but as a performer. His performances as a naval captain in his and David Lean’s epic In Which We Serve, as well as a memorable appearance in The Italian Job, remind you that drawing room farces were only one facet of his output. There are also dozens of quotes and anecdotes that will amuse history fans, such as Ian Fleming offering him the part of Dr No, to which he replied “No, no, no, no. A thousand times no”.
Enjoyable if not revelatory, Mad About The Boy breezes through 73 years of fond and fraught memories with affection and enthusiasm.