BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Bertie Carvel goes from Nick Clegg to Tony Blair

BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Bertie Carvel goes from Nick Clegg to Tony Blair

October 29, 2021

BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Bertie Carvel goes from Nick Clegg to Tony Blair

Bertie Carvel, one of this country’s most acclaimed actors — his roles have ranged from Nick Clegg to Rupert Murdoch to the philandering former husband of TV’s Doctor Foster — is to portray Tony Blair in The Crown.

In its fifth season, due out in November next year, the Netflix drama will tackle two of the biggest events in recent UK history — the death of the Princess of Wales; and how Britain went to war in Iraq, following 9/11.

It is a giant role for 44-year-old Carvel, who possesses an uncanny, chameleon-esque ability to disappear into his characters.

The Crown’s creative team have a draft script written by Peter Morgan that explores Diana’s death in a car crash in Paris in August 1997, three months after Blair was elected to No 10 following a landslide victory.


Bertie Carvel (left) one of this country’s most acclaimed actors, is to portray Tony Blair in The Crown. Pictured right: Prime Minister Blair speaking after death of Princess Diana in 1997

Morgan has been very clear that the episode will not show the actual crash. Intriguingly, though, it will explore a different angle from the one depicted in the 2006 film The Queen, which starred Helen Mirren as the monarch and Michael Sheen as Blair.

In that film, also written by Morgan, and directed by Stephen Frears, Blair is seen to be at odds with the Palace over how to handle the death of the princess. 

Blair famously hailed Diana as ‘The People’s Princess’, while the Queen deemed her death a private matter and was not prepared for the national outpouring of emotion from the public.

The Crown wants to examine more of the constitutional crisis behind the scenes; and how the Queen was said to have felt bullied by her Prime Minister into making a public declaration about Diana.

‘We don’t want to go the same route as the film,’ an executive on the production confided. 

‘There are aspects of the clash between the Queen and Blair that haven’t really been aired yet. It’s being so sensitively handled because of Diana’s sons — and the Queen . . . and Charles. Just making it is seen as controversial. And then we have to show it.’

The executive pointed to the calibre of the A-list cast. Imelda Staunton as the Queen. Dominic West as Charles. Elizabeth Debicki as Diana. Jonathan Pryce as the Duke of Edinburgh. And now Carvel as Blair (his deal is close to completion). 

The Crown’s creative team have a draft script written by Peter Morgan that explores Diana’s death in a car crash in Paris in August 1997, Pictured: Elizabeth Debicki as Diana, Princess of Wales in the fifth season of The Crown

Other members of the A-list cast include Imelda Staunton as the Queen and Dominic West (pictured) as Charles

‘These are huge actors who can convey as much with one look as a page of dialogue. They know how to do this sensitively.’ 

As for Carvel, I believe he can do anything. He won an Olivier for his hammer-tossing headmistress in the musical Matilda, a triumph for the Royal Shakespeare Company (and the late, much-loved executive producer Andre Ptaszynski) that is still running at the Cambridge Theatre. 

(Though I did notice Netflix insisted on casting ‘a real woman’ for the film version. Emma Thompson got that part, and not Ralph Fiennes, who’d been offered it earlier.)

No fairytale ending for Old Vic and Python Gilliam

Stephen Sondheim, the much garlanded composer, is fuming over a decision by the Old Vic to pull out of a production of his dark fairy tale Into The Woods after executives at the theatre refused to work with the show’s director, Monty Python legend Terry Gilliam.

A faction at the theatre refused to engage with Gilliam, saying they didn’t want to work with ‘old white men like him’. They were referring to comments he made in an interview about former movie boss Harvey Weinstein and the women who accused him of sexual assault.

In the interview, published early in 2020 in the Independent, Gilliam stated: ‘There are many victims in Harvey’s life and I feel sympathy for them, but then Hollywood is full of very ambitious people who are adults and they make choices.’ 

Stephen Sondheim (pictured), the much garlanded composer, is fuming over a decision by the Old Vic to pull out of a production of his dark fairy tale Into The Woods after executives at the theatre refused to work with the show’s director, Monty Python legend Terry Gilliam

More than a year later, in March 2021, this column revealed that Gilliam would direct the musical, by Sondheim and James Lapine, at the Old Vic.

The reaction from the theatre when I asked for details was hostile. It seems they never wanted to do the show in the first place. And certainly not with Gilliam.

On Wednesday evening, cast members who had signed contracts to begin rehearsals in January — the show was due to open in April, and had already sold roughly £500,000 worth of tickets — were told the Old Vic and co-producers Scenario Two (the theatre company that has the London first-class rights to Into The Woods) had ‘mutually’ agreed not to continue with the production.

Scenario is now scrambling to find a theatre for the musical, which is still going to be directed by Gilliam, with Leah Hausman co-directing and choreographing.

‘My view is straightforward,’ said John Berry, former leader of the English National Opera and a Scenario partner. ‘I’ve got to put efforts into looking for a new theatre.’ He repeated the mantra that the decision to pull Into The Woods from the Old Vic was ‘mutually’ agreed.

 A faction at the theatre refused to engage with Gilliam (pictured in 2021), saying they didn’t want to work with ‘old white men like him’ after comments he made in an interview about former movie boss Harvey Weinstein

Who’s the big bad wolf here, I wondered? Were executives and board members at the Old Vic uneasy and uncomfortable about Gilliam and his views? ‘You’ll have to ask Matthew Warchus that,’ Berry responded, referring to the theatre’s award-winning artistic director.

However, Warchus, Gilliam, Old Vic executives and PR people did not respond to messages for a comment. I did speak to one Old Vic trustee who said everyone at the South Bank theatre had been emailed and told to keep quiet on the subject. When I inquired about the mood at the venue, I was told: ‘Well, we’ve got A Christmas Carol coming. People love that.’

Sondheim, however, has let his displeasure be known. The 91-year-old musical theatre legend is said to be angry and upset.

Ticket-holders were sent an email at 1pm yesterday telling them the news. The Old Vic, meanwhile, appears to be lost in the woods.

A music gem, if you get my Drift! 

The train from King’s Cross dropped me at Newcastle station. A few hours later, sitting in the centre stalls of the magnificent Frank Matcham-designed auditorium of the city’s Theatre Royal, I’m in a Saturday Night At The Movies kind of mood.

That’s because I’ve been watching The Drifters Girl, starring an incandescent Beverley Knight and her four extraordinary leading men — Adam J. Bernard, Tarinn Callender, Matt Henry and Tosh Wanogho-Maud. Five of the juiciest roles this year.

Top five: I’ve been watching The Drifters Girl, starring an incandescent Beverley Knight and her four extraordinary leading men. Pictured: Bernard, Wanogho-Maud, Knight, Henry and Callender

By the end, the entire audience was on its feet,and I knew I’d just watched a musical of the calibre I’d normally rave about from Broadway, but here I was way — howay! — north of Watford.

Knight portrays Faye Treadwell, the ‘passionate, fearless’ woman who took control of the organisation that owned the Drifters, and their earworm hits. Sitting backstage, sandwiched between her cast mates, she added: ‘She galvanises these guys to be the best they can be.’

The four men perform countless roles in the show — the many Drifters replacements over the years, showgirls (with feather boas); racist white cops. At one point, Matt Henry plays Bruce Forsyth. He really does. ‘We’re always being told there isn’t enough black talent, so they have to come from America,’ said Wanogho-Maud. ‘But it’s right here.’

I predict The Drifters Girl will reawaken that Saturday Night vibe every day of the week.

Previews at London’s Garrick Theatre from next Thursday.

Andrew Garfield is giving one of the year’s best film performances in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s superb film adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical work, tick, tick . . . BOOM!

Andrew Garfield is giving one of the year’s best film performances in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s superb film adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical work, tick, tick . . . BOOM!

Larson is best known as the composer of musical Rent. And Miranda has, essentially, made an engrossing biography of his determination to create a hit show before he was 30.

He died aged 35, before either Rent or tick, tick opened.

This great movie will show in cinemas on November 12, and will stream on Netflix from November 19.

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