Picks and Pans Review: The Dresser

updated 12/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

An acting exercise masquerading as a film, this is Ronald Harwood's adaptation of his 1980 play about a fading Shakespearean actor and his valet. Albert Finney plays the actor who is on the verge of breakdown. Tom (King Rat) Courtenay is the valet trying to coax his master into just one more performance of King Lear. They have some powerful scenes together, each patronizing the other. Finney, though, overdoes the madman notion a little, and Courtenay overdoes the mincing, simpering, flouncing ninny role a lot—it doesn't take a gay rights activist to be offended by the portrayal. Edward (Edward and Mrs. Simpson) Fox is part of a corps of sturdy British stage veterans who play Finney's ramshackle World War II troupe of aged, infirm and, as he puts it, "Nancy-boy" armed forces rejects. Director Peter Yates, who has done such quintessential American films as Bullitt, The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Breaking Away, is, in fact, English. He effectively conveys the camaraderie of wartime England in general and of the small theatrical company in particular. There may be some symbolic message here about the fading British empire, but it's best not to think about that, since the film is weighed down enough. Yates ends up focusing too solemnly on two men who are not as interesting as the setting in which they live. (PG)

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