Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

The Girl in the Cafe


Ever since Bill Nighy’s lascivious, leather-clad send-up of an aging pop star making a last-ditch grasp at fame and loving it in Love, Actually, I’ve been a bit of a fan. Not the kind of fan that parks outside his hotel and screams every time the curtain twitches – that would be reserved for Colin Firth (also in Love, Actually, actually) should he ever come to Heidelberg – but definitely a fan. There’s something about his loose-limbed, grasshopper style of moving and floppy fringe and self-deprecating wit that makes him pretty cool for an old guy.

Since Love, Actually Bill’s become quite famous. He’s just won a Golden Globe award for his role in Gideon’s Daughter, he’s in Notes on a Scandal which is sure to be raking in the gongs, he’s played pirates with Johnny Depp in Pirates II and last year he was nominated for a Golden Globe for The Girl in the Cafe (TGITC). Which is why I’m here. At some point last year, I chanced upon Ingrid’s blog The Girl in the Cafe, where she writes about movies, theatre, her particular love for Bill Nighy and other interesting things. There I signed up to receive, watch and review TGITC. I did the first two, so here’s the third part of the deal:

In TGITC, Bill Nighy plays an accountant, Lawrence, who works for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He’s completely dedicated to his job and has no life outside of work. You could not possibly imagine anyone greyer. He walks the corridors of power, but he is a functionary who works terrible hours at the behest of younger and more powerful men. One afternoon he sneaks out for a quick cup of tea in a cafe, where he meets a girl. They talk, they meet for lunch, have dinner and, on a whim, he invites her to accompany him to Reikjavik where his boss is attending the G8 summit.

The girl, charmingly played by Kelly MacDonald, is an enigma. All we know is her name, Gina. She serves to bring the inept and shy Lawrence out of his shell. We start to hear the voice of a lonely man, we hear his sense of humour slowly emerge, we hear of his secret dream that Keith Richards will turn up at his office and beg him to join the Rolling Stones. I liked seeing Lawrence evolve. This was beautifully paced, and fine acting from Nighy.

Then he gets up the courage to invite her to Riekjavik, unwittingly starting a process that will lose him his job, for Gina, unknown to him, is a woman of opinions and is not afraid of sharing them – with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, his German counterpart and the British Prime Minister. What she feels most strongly about is the fact that the G8 countries are ignoring their Millenium Goal commitments, to save the lives of the thousands of children that die every day, to save the lives of women who die in childbirth, to make poverty history. Her opinions are inconveniently delivered, bringing severe embarrassment to Lawrence and his overlords and she is removed from the conference. However, her words have struck a chord, and the British government manage to persuade the other attendees to prioritise the Millenium Goals.

So that’s the story. Here’s what I thought: I am uncomfortable with November-March relationships, so the romance didn’t wash with me. I thought there was oceans more chemistry in the non-sexual relationship between the Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannsen characters in Lost in Translation than between these two. Lawrence seemed – understandably – bewildered and grateful, and Gina, well she remained an enigma. There was no knowing why she had ended up in a Reikjavik hotel room with a man thirty years her senior, there was no knowing why she wanted to sleep with him and no knowing why she kept having mind-burps that would cost him his career.

While I fully support the Make Poverty History campaign and all the Millenium Goals (I come from Africa; people are dying of AIDs in their thousands in my home town), I found the film’s resolution overly neat and rather Hollywoodesque in its desire to tie up the ends and provide satisfaction. My overall impression of TGITC is that it has two great performances from Nighy and MacDonald – and the movie is worth watching for these alone – but, as a film standing alone, it is let down by its saccharine ending. As a project, though, if it does help to create awareness of the terrifyingly realities of poverty, AIDs and those hundreds of thousands of children who are dying, then it has succeeded.

So thanks to Ingrid for including me on her list, and I wish The Girl well on her journey. I’m about to post her to Denmark.


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

5 thoughts on “The Girl in the Cafe

  1. I like Bill Nighy, too, and you’ve sort of piqued my interest, but I’m not sure this really sounds like my cup of tea.

  2. Very interesting review, Charlotte. Have you seen Nighy in ‘I Capture the Castle’? It’s a wonderful adaptation of a delightful book, and he’s very good in it.

  3. Thanks for participating Charlotte 🙂 And I was about to say the same : I Capture the Castle is a great Nighy performance. So is Gideon’s Daughter and he’s brilliant in State of Play. OK, I’ll shut up now.

  4. We loved Bill Nighy in Love Actually too – great description of him in your review – and it was good to see him get a Golden Globe. I haven’t come across The Girl in the Cafe yet but will look out for it.

    I agree about Colin Firth too, there’s something about his inarticulate Englishness..even though when it came to the crunch I ended up with an articulate South African!

  5. I first noticed Bill Nighy in I Capture the Castle, and then realized he was the rock star I had already seen Love, Actually. I love that self-deprecating wit. Thanks for the film review, it looks like an interesting one.

    Colin Firth is the only actor that I am actually disappointed is married, even though I’m a grown married woman who should be past schoolgirl crushes. Because you never know when an alternate space-time continuum might break out and he somehow comes to suburbia to carry me off into the sunset!

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