Andrew Collins: Isn’t that..?

Getting distracted by the game of naming lesser-known supporting actors at the cinema

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I watch a lot of films. I watch a lot of TV drama. In other words, I watch a lot of actors at work. I am also something of a list-maker and information-gatherer. I pride myself on being able to remember and call up trivia in mixed company that will thrill and astound with its pointlessness – such as, the names of lesser-known actors. I don’t like to hear myself utter the vague words, “that bloke off…” or “that woman who was in that thing…”

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Which is a blessing and a curse.

Last weekend I went to the Curzon to see the new Jane Eyre. I do like a costume drama, and this latest version, from director Cary Fukunaga, was handsome and windswept and – in the great tradition of literary adaptations – brilliantly cast, with mostly English actors. The kind you recognise from other costume dramas. Some of them lesser known. My favourite.

I’ll be honest, once again, I found my suspension of disbelief unsuspended on a number of occasions while I tried to identify where I’d seen certain supporting actors before. When Jane Eyre (played by Mia Wasikowska – easy, she was Alice in Alice in Wonderland) runs away from Mr Rochester (Michael Fassbender – another easy one, he’s been in loads of things and I am a huge fan of his work), she is taken in by kindly Mr Rivers (Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot, piece of cake). However, she then meets his two sisters, Diana and Mary. I recognised both of these women. I’d seen them both before, and recently… but where?

So there I am, distracted in the dark. I want to lose myself in the story, but I’m looking at Diana and Mary every time they appear on screen, trying to place them. If a caption came up on the screen with the actors’ names on, it still wouldn’t have solved it for me. Holliday Grainger and Tamzin Merchant? I know them. I know them! She’s been in..? And she’s been in..?

The same impediment befell me when Rochester’s intended, Blanche Ingram, turned up. I recognised her, too. And I mean really recognised her. Not enough to tell you who she was or where I’d seen her recently, but I knew her, even under that bonnet. The guessing game once again got between me and the film.

I’m not one of those people with a 3G smartphone. Nor am I one of those people who turns his mobile on in a cinema anyway. (I hate those people.) So I had no way of checking the information until I got back home and sat at my computer.

Well, I was right. I did recognise all three ladies. Holliday Grainger is currently in HBO’s The Borgias, which I am enjoying on Sky Atlantic. She’s Lucrezia Borgia. Of course she is. Tamzin Merchant was in The Tudors, which is currently being repeated on some channel or other – she was the ill-fated Catherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife.

As for Blanche Ingram, this fairly brief part was played by Imogen Poots, a promising English actress I’d seen only the week before, playing an American, in the rubbish Fright Night 3D. (She was also in the silly remake of Bouquet of Barbed Wire, but was good in it. At least at that point, I hadn’t really seen her much before, so her presence didn’t distract me.)

I hope you feel my pain. Because I am, essentially, a trainspotter, and immersed in big- and small-screen fiction, I can’t shake off this disease. And it is a disease.

I am now off to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy where I am confident that pretty much everybody in it is super famous. So I should be OK. And when I see the lesser-known actor Simon McBurney, I’ll be able to say to myself: he was Mr Brocklehurst in…Jane Eyre.

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Here’s a video interview with Jane Eyre director Cary Fukunaga