'Archie' miniseries explores the life of film icon Cary Grant

  • by Laura Moreno
  • Tuesday December 12, 2023
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Jason Isaacs as Cary Grant in 'Archie' (photo: Matt Squire/ITV)
Jason Isaacs as Cary Grant in 'Archie' (photo: Matt Squire/ITV)

To this day, Cary Grant is the man many men aspire to be. Articles still appear offering advice on how to dress like him, be self-assured and charming like him, and even do your hair like his.

His version of masculinity is as nuanced as his acting performances: "Sexy but never brutish. Graceful without being delicate, and dashingly handsome, suave and sophisticated," according to press notes that accompany the new four-part miniseries.

"I'm not Cary Grant. But he wasn't Cary Grant, either. That's the point," said self-deprecating actor Jason Isaacs, who aces his role as Cary Grant in the limited series, "Archie."

Cary Grant in a publicity photo for Alfred Hitchcock's 1941 film, 'Suspicion'  

Although hesitant to take such an iconic role at first, Isaacs was reassured once he got the script by Academy Award nominee Jeff Pope.

The series does not shy away from depicting the discrimination he faced at first due to his British accent, and how he worked to sound American. No doubt it helped that the mid-Atlantic/New England accent at the time is quite British to our ears.

As the title suggests, Cary Grant, born Archibald Alec Leach, is a look behind the scenes at the man himself, warts and all. Cary Grant's fourth and final wife Dyan Cannon, played by Laura Aikman, and his only child Jennifer Grant, wrote the two books "Archie" is based on, Cannon's "Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant" and Grant's "Good Stuff."

Mother and daughter also gave extensive interviews to guide the production, and executive-produced the project. They have described the script written by Jeff Pope ("Philomena" and "Stan & Ollie") as "brilliant." So while the miniseries is satisfying to watch, there is an argument to be made that it's not exactly a balanced picture of Cary Grant's life.

Laura Aikman and Jason Isaacs in 'Archie' (photo: Matt Squire/ITV)  

The gay question & Mr. Dyan Cannon
The question on many people's mind is how "Archie" deals with Grant's long-assumed bisexuality. In short, the mini-series portrays Grant with the same ambiguity with which he ultimately portrayed himself.

The most difficult part of the mini-series to write, says Jeff Pope, was when young Dyan Cannon, 33 her husband's junior, asks him if he is gay. With characteristic charm, he replies, "I have loved many people, and married a few of them."

The scene, however, is symbolic. In real life, his ex-wife says the topic never came up, as with many bi men of his generation. But the series does not shy away from this part of his life.

The public sees exactly what the public saw during his lifetime, including the domestic bliss and frolicsomeness Cary Grant had found (if the photos can be believed) with actor Randolph Scott. The famous friends lived together throughout most of the 1930s and documented their happiness together in what just may be the best photo shoot ever. But the series dispenses with that part of his life in a few minutes.

"Archie" doesn't shy away from the fact that as his star rose, the rumor mill was abuzz with gossip about him being gay. Neither does it delve into it. Never one to be bothered by rumors, Grant always denied he was gay, even as he was amused.

In 1980, he sued comedian Chevy Chase for libel for painting him as gay. Far more conclusive is information Scotty Bower, Hollywood pimp to the stars, gives on the sexual escapades of Cary Grant and Randolph Scott with him personally in his 2018 book "Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood." But the series has been called sterile and unbalanced for omitting information like this.

Cannon can vouch for the fact that he was definitely attracted, and in fact faithful to her. The film makes clear that Grant was the devoted father and husband he never had. No doubt, however, the show would have been more interesting had it elaborated on his sexuality.

Harriet Walter and Jason Isaacs in 'Archie' (photo: Matt Squire/ITV)  

A difficult upbringing
Rather than focus on sexuality, the series explores the impact the poverty of his childhood had on darker aspects of his personality, like his fear that women would leave him as his family had, and his inability to stop manipulating them.

Born in Bristol, UK in 1904, young Archie's family was broken by the heartache of losing his older brother to disease, his father's uncaring unfaithfulness, and then losing his mother. His father lied to Archie, telling him she was on an extended holiday and then that his beloved mother had died.

His fortunes change when he saw the Bob Pender Troupe of acrobats in his hometown, taught himself to walk on stilts, and joined the troupe. After successful performances in New York City, the future star decided to stay, believing he had no family to go back to.

It may be hard to believe that such a graceful light-hearted gentleman could have ever known real hunger, but he was still quite skinny when he arrived in the US. For the rest of his life, he would go anywhere for a free meal.

Decades later, he discovered his mother (Harriet Walter) had been put into a mental institution by his father.

One of the most touching scenes of the series is when he springs her out of the mental institution after decades, and she recognizes him as Cary Grant, the star.

Playing Cary Grant
The series begins in 1961 at the height of Grant's fame. Despite huge box office success, he was miserable in his private life at home in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles. This is when he decides to woo and marry Dyan Cannon. The scene then cuts to his painful childhood.

Surprisingly, it never occurred to young Archie to try his hand at acting until he crossed paths with comedian George Burns (star of the vaudeville stage, radio, and later TV and film along with his wife and co-star Gracie Allen). Burns helped young Archie get his first film contract.

Many leading men of the era have a rough-hewn quality about them, like Robert Wagner, but Cary Grant's princely features have no such quality.

He nearly married Sophia Loren and always called her "the one who got away," but she is barely mentioned in the series. Instead, the series includes co-stars Mae West, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, and good friend actor Randolph Scott.

While the series only covers part of his life, without a doubt, Cary Grant will long be remembered in the pantheon of cinematic greats.

'Archie,' on BritBox (free 7-day trial). www.britbox.com

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