Joanna Lumley

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Joanna Lumley Pencil Portrait
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There is a Joanna Lumley for everyone – the beautiful angelic Joanna, hot sexy Joanna, kick-ass “Purdey” Joanna, heroic single mum Joanna, comic genius Joanna, crusading Gurkha-saver Joanna and the definitive Lady Penelope from Thunderbirds that sadly never was. The much loved tv and film personality has been all these and more. An OBE, she has won three BAFTA’s and a British Comedy Award yet has also been an unmarried mother during the 1960s when such a position was considered socially unacceptable.

Reading through “Joanna Lumley (Tim Ewbank & Stanford Hildred (2010),” one has the impression of a former model who found television fame in The Avengers,” and remained grateful for the opportunity the role afforded her. Pondering on the irony of it all, here she was enjoying herself hugely filming the show while her flatmate Jane Carr, boyfriend Michael Kitchen, and other actor friends li9ke Stuart Wilson and Jonathan Pryce were all with prestigious national theatre companies often rehearsing difficult speeches in scruffy warehouses, battling away at tricky scenes and having to cope with the tantrums of fellow actors and temperamental actors. “Why can’t i be put through the mill like that?” Joanna queried herself. “Why don’t I have some of those pressures. All I do is learn a line like ‘I say Steed, where do you think the Russians will land?’ and deliver it.” Clearly, she knew how fortunate she was; the day to day ‘on set’ experience ‘- to her mind at least – barely commensurate with work. All rather refreshing to read – most actors would have us believe they suffer immeasurable hardships for our viewing pleasure.

Ever conscious of of sexpot typecasting, Patrick MacNee would recall that; “The only one of The Avengers girls I never saw naked was JoannaLumley which says everything about her. In those days, shewas like Fort Belvedere, She came wrapped in concrete. I just felt very fortunate that I was too old for her. She treated me like an old uncle and we got on famously but she was a real ice maiden when it came to sex.”

Recommended viewing

A Rather English Marriage (1998)

One of those rare viewing experiences that make the ever escalating cost of an annual television licence worthwhile. Amidst the morass of visual mediocrity that pollutes our lives every evening and which nowadays serves only as a background accompaniment to whatever else I am doing, there occasionally surfaces a drama production that reminds us of the BBC’s pedigree in this department. The screenplay by Andrew Davies reworks author Angela Lambert’s original ending as the two male protagonists are left to move forward in a “marriage” forged in adversity and tempered with mutual respect. In the original novel, Reggie becomes too domineering and Roy re-marries leaving his erstwhile companion alone after his failed attempt to seduce a younger widow named Liz.

The central performances from Albert Finney (Reggie), Tom Courtenay (Roy) and Joanna Lumley (Liz) are exemplary and the drama unfolds like a literary microcosm of life and human relationships.

Reggie, a self-involved, pompous ex-RAF flier who married into money, and milquetoast Roy, a former NCO during the war and devoted husband, lose their wives to illness on the same day at the same hospital. Reggie’s wife leaves almost all her money to her two adult nieces (one of whom is played by Rosamund Pike); Reggie is awarded only a small stipend and allowed to remain at her large estate until his death, after which time the house is to be given to charity. It is her surviving husband’s life tenancy that ultimately undermines his romantic notions towards Liz (Joanna Lumley)and compels her to seek a more viable solution to her financial problems.

As the two men adjust to life without their wives, a social worker comes up with the idea of bringing the two men together in their grief to help each other and share the household burden. This appears a great idea to Reggie who presumes he now has an unpaid servant in Southgate. Reggie is very comfortable with maintaining the hierarchal role of Squadron Leader to Southgate’s batman in return for offering him residence in a splendid country mansion, a marked contrast to his new servant’s suburban property. Tom Courtenay provides a superlative reaction shot to Albert Finney’s bluster when he rather timidly marvels at the fact that he’s finally met ‘one of those’ people who look upon World War II as “the best years of their lives”.’ Clearly his own role in the war had little in common with Lee Mallory’s “Big Wings”, an overall feeling that the one to one jousting in the sky embued pilots with a sense of detachment from the real carnage down below on terra firma.

Reggie refuses to admit that he’s become an old man, that he’s no longer the once-dashing fighter pilot and ladies man of his youth, and he continues frequenting a high class brothel to satisfy his weekly urges. He’s a blustery and larger-than-life modern day Colonel Blimp, overpowering virtually every scene in the first act until Roy finally asserts himself over use of the one available car. It’s an isolated moment as Finney continues with a portrayal bordering on caricature as he masks a fragile interior and his unspeakable remorse over the death of his daughter.

Once Joanna Lumley appears on the scene, the ‘rather english marriage’ is threatened at precisely the time that cracks in Reggie’s armor begin to show, gradually revealing a character not nearly as robust and unflappable as he first appears to be. Similarly, Courtenay’s character, whilst mild mannered and seemingly subservient to the “old windbag,” is slowly revealed to be much more complex in terms of his relationship with a troubled son.

The Liz Factor

Joanna Lumley as Liz Franks, is the middle-aged woman acutely aware of the years slipping by and sees Reggie as the last opportunity to grab the sort of wealth that will prop up her ailing boutique business and feed the security she craves. She enjoys Reggie’s company and in that wonderfully clipped and breathy english voice of hers, admits to be being “terribly fond of him.” Reggie perpetuates the impression of owning the house in which he lives and Liz disguises her true motivation.

As the story progresses and facing forclosure on her business, she duly lies on her back as Reggie thrusts contentedly, his face buried in the pillow as Liz coos “darling” gently in his ear. As Reggie recuperates in hospital after his subsequent stroke, he admits to Roy he knew all along she wasn’t in love with him but that he loved her anyway. God, it’s enough to make any self respecting man heave. Lumley is decorative, charming and caring, but ultimately controlled by the sheer practicality of her circumstances. Informed by Roy that Reggie has use of the country house for the remainder of his natural life without legal title, her swift exit from the two men’s orbit for more lucrative pastures anew ensures the nursing duties fall back on the faithful batman’s shoulders.

Recommended reading

Joanna Lumley (Tim Ewbank & Stanford Hildred (2010)