Theory of Flight premiere in New York

December 10, 1998
by Jane Land (as written for the Ken-Friends mailing list)

...We took a cab over to the theatre, found the right entrance (the one with the carpet on the sidewalk, of course!), went in and could hardly avoid noticing the cluster of flashbulbs going off to our left. There were Ken and Helena, posing for the professional photographers. I *think* he had his arm around her when I first saw them. Various people, who may or may not have been journalists or Fine Line execs or City Parks bigwigs were going up to them and saying things and asking questions, but I just got out my camera and started snapping, as did Paula.

Brave Jude, on the other hand, sidled her way a little nearer the front - fortunately it wasn't too much of a crush - and when Ken turned and saw her, he immediately said, "Hi, Jude. I'm so glad you made it," took her hand and gave her a kiss on the cheek. (Well he said something like that - I'm relying on Jude and Paula to check my memory of all of this!) Jude looked dazzled and exalted, and I do believe that her feet levitated several inches off the floor.

I've got the photos back already (that was one of the real life things I had to do!), and I'm sending a set off to dear Ngoc ASAP. They're not great, but I was nervously fumbling with the camera, and it's great that they came out at all!

Okay, okay, I know what you're all thinking - "WE WANT A DESCRIPTION!" So here goes: First of all, the mustache is gone - thank heaven from my point of view. Clean-shaven, hair reasonably short, natural color (dark ash blond), and thin. Maybe not as thin as for Hamlet, but noticeably thinner than in the last few talk show appearances, though I know that the camera adds pounds His head's a little to big for his compact body, as we all know. (Insert one of Ngoc's jokes about asteroids here) The better to hold the brains, *I* think! Very, very fair-skinned. No lips. (Insert chorus of "It ain't what you got, it's how you use it"!) Pale eyebrows and eyelashes. Trace of a double chin in spite of the thinness.

See how accurate and objective I'm trying to be? Everything I'm writing is perfectly true, but neither the description not the photos do justice to how completely adorable he is in person. Completely. Truly, truly, truly. Adorable.

He was wearing a dark gray pinstripe suit with a vest (waistcoat to the Brits - I'm not talking about his undershirt!), a white shirt and a dark navy tie with a subdued diamond pattern. The lapels of the suit were wider, and cut higher, as was the vest, than they are on my husband's suits. I think it's because Ken's suit was a British three button pattern, while most American suits are two button. (Yeah, right - Jane the fashion expert speaks!) I was a bit disappointed that, in spite of what the Times said, it wasn't black tie. I had wanted to see Ken in a tuxedo/dinner jacket. Ah, well. Believe me, I'm *not* complaining! (Except about the shoes - they were the same ugly, clunky shoes he was wearing on Leno. Somebody - Tamar or Helena - should put them in the garbage when he's not looking. :-))

You know, I think I'd better post this and do some real work. Back shortly - we haven't even gotten to the movie yet!
Here we go again...

Specifically, here we go up the escalator toward the theatre. Jude did suggest that Paula and I go over and meet Ken, but I wasn't quite sure if she planned on introducing us, or whether it was the right time, so the moment passed. I know, I know - you're thinking I was crazy, but my two deepest desires were in conflict. Much as I wanted to speak to Ken, I was equally anxious not to make either a pest or a fool out of myself. (But don't worry... the evening's not over yet! ;-)

The theatre, which was sizeable, with a balcony, wasn't full :-( but there was a pretty decent crowd. Seats were assigned, so that while Jude was, fortuitously, right behind me, Paula wasn't anywhere near us, though she could have moved, had we known - half of Jude's row was empty! After most of the audience had settled down, Ken, Helena and miscellaneous bigwigs came down the left-hand aisle and sat in the far left front. A man and woman from the City Parks Foundation made a few remarks and there was a brief slide show about the foundation. Apparently they have some sort of relationship or agreement with Fine Line, which is how Theory of Flight (and we!) ended up at their benefit.

Then Helena got up. The gist of her remarks was that she hoped we enjoyed the movie, they had enjoyed making it, she had been very excited by the script - I think she may even have said that it was her favorite part of any she had played. She said, quite amusingly, that if we didn't like the movie, "and if you happen to see me or Ken at dinner, please lie! We're very sensitive." Also that it was supposed to be funny, so "please laugh." Then she said (I wish I could be certain of the exact words), "And now I'll introduce my much more articulate, my co-actor, my dear friend, well, my, my boyfriend, Ken Branagh."

She really stumbled charmingly over that last bit, as if she couldn't quite believe she was saying it out loud. Isn't this only their second Offical Public Appearance together? Windsor Castle was the first. And while "boyfriend" sounds a little odd for people in their thirties, it's a lot better than "my lover" as Emma calls Greg Wise. That always makes me gag a bit, and I don't think that Ken would appreciate it as a public label.

Now I have a dreadful confession to make. Ken got up and said a few sentences - and I don't remember a word of it! Jude and Paula - help! I'm so glad that there were three of us there - it's the only thing that may save me from rotten eggs and wet noodles! I do know that he can't have said anything *very* dramatic, or I would remember it. Then he and Helena walked back up the aisle. I heard that they were planning on staying for the screening, but I don't know where they sat.

Now to the movie itself. I'm not going to give a full-fledged review, and I'm certainly not going to discuss any plot points - I'll save that until it has opened in at least NY and LA, and a few more people have seen it. So the remarks below are pretty general and safe to read, except for real purists. For them I'll put this warning:


even though I don't think it's necessary.

I know that Lisa wasn't thrilled with The Theory of Flight (and she's a journalist), but I'm with Ngoc on this one. I LOVED IT! I really, really LOVED it. I'm sure it has its flaws, but I didn't, and don't, want to think about them yet. The central performances are wonderful, the chemistry is wonderful and I had the biggest, silliest, happiest smile on my face the entire time I was watching it. I can't wait to see it again! At this moment, when, I admit, I'm still in a somewhat... exalted... mood, I think I like it the best of all the movies Ken's made which he *didn't* direct. (It's a close thing with Othello though, which had Ken's superb Iago and at least *some* of Shakespeare's words.) Certainly, unlike Celebrity or even GBMan (which I liked) it has a heart and a soul and characters worth caring about.

Now maybe when I've seen it again (and again and again and again) I'll be able to separate the qualities of the film as a film from certain other factors, because... Well let's just say that for this movie, the smushie meter is going off the scale. (Which had more than a little to do with that smile of mine!)


If anyone wants to engage in a further discussion of the film, either on or off list, let me know. I'm trying to be very restrained here until I get a green light to say more.

When the movie was over (it got a decent amount of applause - I restrained myself from standing up and woohooing, but I made sure to clap loud and long), we piled into buses to be taken to the Plaza Hotel for dinner in the Grand Ballroom. I assume that Ken and Helena got a limo - they certainly weren't on our bus!
Where was I? Ah, yes, on the bus, going to the Plaza. (OFT - I *love* the Plaza. It has a portrait of Eloise, the brattiest children's book heroine ever. Besides, it's right across the street from the theatre where I first saw Hamlet!)

They passed out seating lists as we got on the bus, and luckily we were all at the same table. We had been rather nervous that we'd be split up and would have to explain to our separate tables of park-loving dermatologists and lawyers and bankers what we were doing there. We were at table 48, and I treasure the rather mundane seating list because Ken's name is on it, alphabetized with mine and everyone else's - "Branagh, Kenneth Table 33". (Which was actually the head table.) This is probably the only time I'll see our names listed in tandem!

The ballroom was packed - certainly it seemed like a larger crowd than the one in the theatre, but I think that was simply because it was a smaller space. Paula and I made a trip to the ladies room, and on our way back spotted Ken, again with several photographers, in a corner of the adjacent room where they were serving drinks, in earnest conversation with an executive-looking type. Tamar, who we recognized from Jude's description, was leaning aginst the wall near them, looking somewhat formidable, so we didn't hang about, though I did say to Paula that what I really wanted was to become invisible so that I could stand there and shamelessly gawp at him. We struggled back to our seats (really, there was hardly room to move in there, especially once people started to pull out their chairs), Jude went to the ladies room, and on the way back (wonderful, wonderful Jude!) mentioned to Tamar that she had a couple of friends with her. Tamar said that "We're working now," but maybe Jude could stop by later...

By the way, we had wondered, and it's now officially established that Tamar's name is pronounced "Tame-ar". She's tall and thin with very short black hair, very nice, obviously very smart, and equally obviously very protective of Ken. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

To be honest, dinner wasn't very good - I know that comfort food is fashionable right now, but chicken pot pie? At the Plaza? But it hardly mattered. I barely ate anyway. To eat at all efficiently, one has to look down, and if I'd looked down, I'd have had to take my eyes off Ken, who was standing by his table for a long time talking with several people, one of whom, a semi-elderly woman, actually started patting him on the shoulder to emphasize whatever point she was making. He was a good thirty feet away from us, but I got quite cross every time a waiter or guest blocked my view momentarily!

Finally he sat down, and we ended up having a quite enjoyable conversation with the other people at our table, which started with overhearing one of the men practically drooling over Helena and how gorgeous and talented she is, which led to debates among them about how old she is, and how old Ken is, at which point we couldn't resist enlightening them. They seemed quite tickled to hear about the t-shirt and the birthday charity gift and that Jude had had tea with Ken, and we filled them in on both Ken and Helena's entire filmographies. The fellow who liked Helena so much earned my approval by grumbling jealously, "So how come he's 38 and looks like that and has her, and I'm only 37 and look like this?" (Actually, he was a perfectly nice-looking man.) They enjoyed hearing about, among other things, all the little jokes in Dead Again, but I was very proud of Jude when one of them asked, "So why did that marriage *really* break up?" Jude answered coolly, "Who knows? They've never discussed it publically," and the topic died a fast death. (It struck me at that point that we were feeling, in a more distant way, something of the same protective instinct about Ken's privacy that Tamar exhibits.)

When the meal was over there were a few, mercifully very brief, speeches about the parks, and people began to make leavetaking motions. The head table was still seated, but it was basically then or never, so I said to Jude, "Come on. Take us over and introduce us to Tamar. At least we can do that. The fact that she just happens to be sitting at the same table as Ken doesn't *necessarily* have to mean anything!" So we said a fast goodbye to our tablemates and squeezed our way toward the front of the room. Just before we got there, Ken stood up and moved a few feet away. I don't know if he'd had time for much of any dinner, but there wasn't anything left at his place but an empty coffee cup.

We shook hands with Tamar who gave us a quick scrutiny and seemed to decide that we were harmless. She asked Paula, "Haven't you written?", and Paula (who had) answered, "I admit nothing" (Much Ado About Nothing), which made Tamar laugh. She asked me if she had met me before, which I had to deny - believe me, if I'd met the woman whose job we all covet, I'd remember it. (But I didn't tell her that.) Then Jude, whose mind was *full* of fruitful ideas since the first project had gone so well, asked how Ken would feel about showing up if the Ken-Friends ever held some kind of meeting or convention. Tamar laughed at first, but then actually gave the idea some serious thought. She said that he wouldn't want to do a signing or photo opportunity where dozens or hundreds of people all came rushing at him - that, she said, would "freak him out." (See what I mean about protective?) But he would probably love to do some kind of question and answer session - he might really enjoy that with a group such as ours! And it could be done either in England or over here. Sooo... the idea has been floated, Jude now knows Tamar, and we'll have to see what develops. Certainly we have both Tamar's attention and Ken's now - and they've seen, mostly through Jude, that we're not raving lunatics or drooling groupies. (Uhmmm... :-)

Sending, and getting a cup of coffee now - *really* good stuff coming up... Back in a couple of minutes!
I'm back (with coffee to aid my typing and compostion skills)

At this point, Ken, with his back to us, was actually blocking our most natural route out of the room. Of course we *could* always have backed up, wound our way around some other tables and managed to avoid him, but somehow we didn't want to do that. So we hovered for a few seconds until he half-turned around.

Oh, by the way, (aren't I good at making you wait? ;-)), Helena was right there, too, talking to someone, and I should say something about her. (See, Deborah, I didn't forget!) First of all, if I had gotten to talk to her, which I didn't, I wouldn't have had to lie about the movie - I did love it, and her performance is seriously wonderful. She's tiny, of course, and looks much as you would expect. Her looks are less chameleon-like than Ken's, so it's easier to get used to seeing her in person. (Or maybe I've just got a Ken fixation? Nooo - couldn't be!) Porcelain-white skin, huge dark eyes and the sort of totally messy hair (insert one of Ngoc's squirrel's nest jokes here) that only a woman who knows she's beautiful tries to get away with. She was wearing a long skirt patterned with olive-green leaves and reddish-purple flowers (I didn't like the colors) with a black camisole top and a short jacket in the same material as the skirt. Oh, and as I told Paula on the way in, there is one other thing that I might have wanted to say to her: "You had better be very, very, very good to him, or we will be very, very, very angry with you!" So much for her... ;-)

And then Ken saw Jude out of the corner of his eye, turned all the way around, and said, "Jude - so where are your friends?" He did. He really honestly did! And there we were. Jude said, "Well - they're right here," indicated us, and took a half-step back. I can't honestly remember if I put out my hand first or he did. His hands are are warm - at least last night - and I don't *think* that my palms were sweaty! He smiled, I murmured my name, said it was wonderful to meet him and said I loved the movie (so original, wasn't I?). He thanked me and then shook Paula's hand as well. Then someone - and I'm pretty sure it was me :-) said that we were very excited about Love's Labour's Lost, which is obviously a subject which delights him. He said that he has a very good feeling about it and thinks that it may be something quite special. Paula said that she is looking forward to hearing him sing, and Jude interjected that she *has* heard him sing - she has that old "Thompson" episode on tape. Ken chuckled and said, "The voice has come on a bit since then. In fact, we just made a CD of the songs we'll be using in Love's Labour's Lost. Just me and the piano, to get a rough sense of the length of things and how they'll fit into the film." He also said that the choreography is almost finished, and that he plans to learn all his own dancing during January, so that when shooting starts in February he can get on with directing "and they'll [the rest of the cast] have to catch up." (With a slightly mock-wicked smile.) Paula said, "It's going to be so much *fun*!" and Ken agreed, looking delighted again.

Jude and Paula - help again! That's all the specifics I remember, and yet it didn't seem as brief as it sounds above. In any case, Tamar came over and told him it was time to go (part of her job, I'm sure - to keep him moving along), so we said goodbye.

A whole heap of general impressions - that pale Irish skin looks very soft and his face is so gentle and friendly. He doesn't smell of anything - not the Elysian Fields, not aftershave, and, thank God, not cigarette smoke! Maybe he really has quit. He smiles easily, but there's none of the slightly manic energy he tends to have in talk show appearances - or even that he had at Yale. Oddly enough, I think he *is* a little shy - or at any rate, when he's in front of a large group or doing publicity stuff he can consciously turn himself "on" and become a "public person" in a way that's not necessarily natural to him. He seemed closer to a simpler way of being in the few short minutes we had last night - it's the quality that made me say, after he spent that brief time in the lobby at Yale (and he was far more tense even then, I think), that he is sweet. He really is. Really, truly. Sweet.

It's dangerous to try to speculate about anyone with whom one has spent only a few minutes, but he said in a recent print interview that he's much happier these days, and I think it's true. He's settled into his house, he's gone back to Shakespeare and to directing and he and Helena seem happy. (Okay, I know that I'm getting into noodle-lashing territory here, but...) Jude is convinced that Helena absolutely adores him, and since I'm feeling rather sentimental about them as a couple after last night, I hope that it's true. For both their sakes.

So that's about it. We walked back to Jude's hotel and every few feet one of us would say, "Isn't he wonderful? Isn't he precious? Isn't he just absolutely and totally *perfect*? And the other two would agree.

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