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The Crack Magazine

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Mad About the Boy – The Noël Coward Story

Director: Barnaby Thompson

Narrated by Alan Cummings and featuring diary readings from Rupert Everett, this briskly-paced and genuinely illuminating documentary about the seemingly quintessential British playwright/songwriter/actor posits Coward as a modern figure who would have been at home in today’s world of social media and celebrity. Coward aficionados will already know about his modest beginnings, born in a boarding house in London suburb, Teddington in 1899. The young Noel acquired a taste for performing when he appeared in a stage play at the age of eleven and as an adult graduated to writing. His early plays failed to set London alight. Then, during a visit to America, he admiringly noted the jaunty pacing of Broadway plays. Marrying this slick sprightliness to the English drawing room milieu, he achieved huge success with classics such as ‘Private Lives’ and ‘Blithe Spirit’. Despite the louche sophisticate image he curated, he retained the common touch in real life: as John Mills amusingly reveals, Noël was ‘carpet slippers and baked beans and steak and kidney pie’. Embarking on a US tour during the war, Coward was criticized for being a playboy who had abandoned his country when in reality he was secretly raising funds. While he was prevented from taking a larger role in the war effort (as Churchill disproved of his homosexuality) he, nevertheless, ranked highly on an unearthed Nazi hit list. While he never acknowledged his homosexuality, an amusing TV interview sees him dropping some heavy hints when asked about his early life as an autodidact and he replies ‘I spent a lot of time in Battersea Park Lavatory, I mean library… Freudian slip’. The kitchen sink tradition left Coward feeling out of fashion although he made a good living in the US as a cabaret performer, but he was later readmitted to the fold and spent an evidently happy retirement as a tax exile in Jamaica. The diary readings from Everett (thankfully not doing an impersonation) are frank and revealing and the picture sports a judicious selection of archive TV interview material, as well as a suitably classy black and white selection of stills embellished with the occasional witty splash of red on Coward’s trademark red carnation.

David Willoughby

Follow David on Twitter @DWill_Crackfilm