Have you seen Driving Miss Daisy (2014) the play? It's Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a mid-20th century, Atlanta matron Daisy Werthan and her chauffeur, Hoke. This filmed play stars Angela Lansbury (Gaslight, The Manchurian Candidate) and James Earl Jones (The Great White Hope, Star Wars) and is available in theaters this month.
This is a three-person play which also stars four-time Tony Award-winner Boyd Gaines as Daisy's son Boolie.
THE DISTRIBUTORS ARE LIVING MY DREAM
It's produced by Broadway Near You, which seeks to "dramatically expand the market [of stage performances] by producing high-definition “stagecasts” of A-list theatrical productions for distribution first in cinemas, and subsequently in all media, worldwide. "
This has been a dream of mine since childhood. Long ago, when viewing the CBC's tapes of the Stratford Festival, including Romeo and Juliet with Megan Follows, I wondered why all plays are not on film and disseminated like movies.
Later, as I dove into film reviews, I was powerless to form my own opinions about the stage version of a movie if I hadn't been present to see it. This was frustrating. I'm glad to see that someone has taken action with this idea.
THE FILMED PLAY IS CHARMING
As to the film itself - it's charming. Someone on the internet calls it Mrs. Potts meets Darth Vader, referring to Lansbury's role as a tea pot in Disney's Beauty and the Beast and Jones' role in Star Wars. But it's not just the familiar names and faces which sell this; those considerations just get you into the cinema. You stay for the performances.
Lansbury has said that as long as she can put one foot in front of another, she will act. Her enthusiasm for her chosen profession shines through. Sometimes a little too much, since the story tracks a woman slowing down and aging into her 90s with dementia. Still, her energy is delightful to see.
Jones brings humor and dignity to the role of the chauffeur who lives through a certain time and place without equal rights - a main theme of the tale. According to the published play, the story takes place between 1948 and 1973. The Civil Rights movement would begin during this span of time. Though this is the frame of the play, the individual human connections remain front and center.
Gaines' role as Daisy's son and Hoke's employer brings a camaraderie with the chauffeur that I don't ever remember seeing before. Although this story is about Daisy and Hoke, this version is the first one where Boolie isn't a third wheel. Before, the son has always seemed to be a mere plot device to get Daisy out of her house or to bring in new subjects to discuss - he hires the car and the chauffeur for her travels, she goes to her son's house for the holidays, there's a running joke about her disliking Boolie's wife, Florine, etc. But here, Boolie is not just a mechanism for pushing the plot, there is an underlying friendship between Hoke and his employer that is a welcomed addition.
THE SCENERY AND PROPS ARE WONDERFULLY SIMPLE
According to Uhry, and from what I've read in the play and seen live onstage, Driving Miss Daisy is meant to be a simple play - a bare bones story hanging on the dialogue. It is equally effective plain or with little embellishments here or there. "The scenery is meant to be simple and evocative," says the author. This production has kept that simplicity.
A wooden bench represents the back seat of the car where Daisy sits. A chair in front of the bench is the seat for Hoke who handles a steering wheel on a pole with casters. This represents the car.
In one scene, a second chair doubles as a passenger seat or as a chair in Boolie's office. The bench does double duty as a seat in Boolie's waiting room.
There's a chair and a small side table that represents Daisy's house, but frankly I don't remember much about it because Lansbury is rarely seated there. She leaps up a lot. Funnily enough, as Daisy ages and the play goes on, Lansbury seems more active. I love her version of this character.
Though they have followed the directive for simplicity, there is well-placed, relative extravagance in the form of image projections.
During key transition scenes, projected, real-life images from the era flit about briefly on the wall.
When Hoke sits in the car waiting for Daisy who is attending a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, you'll see news reel images of the actual person, lending these fictional characters the depth of reality.
Driving Miss Daisy is a must-see filmed play. It's well-produced with charming actors, realistic scenes and perfectly sparing scenery that remains true to the source material.
Have you seen this film? What did you think of it?