Christopher and His Kind (DVD Review)19 Jun, 2011 By: Billy Gil
Stars Matt Smith, Lindsay Duncan, Toby Jones, Imogen Poots.
Novelist Christopher Isherwood has had several films made based on his work (Oscar nominee A Single Man; Cabaret, which was adapted from his Berlin Stories) and, more recently, on his life (2007 documentary Chris & Don: A Love Story, about his relationship with portrait artist Don Bachardy). Christopher and His Kind falls into both categories: It’s based on his autobiography of the same name.
To say that Christopher and His Kind gives you the full picture of Isherwood and his illustrious life wouldn’t be fully accurate. We don’t even see him in the United States; it takes place almost entirely in the time period he spent living in Berlin, residing there in the early 1930s to escape his domineering mother (Lindsay Duncan, memorable in a supporting role as the very British, stiff-upper-lipped Kathleen Isherwood) and to engage in the Weimar Republic’s revolutionary sexual freedom.
There, we see bits of his life that would then go on to inspire his later work: his friendship with poet W. H. Auden (Pip Carter); his friendship with floozy cabaret singer Jean Ross (excellent Imogen Poots), who would later inspire his Sally Bowles character (the one Liza Minnelli played); his romance with (and later betrayal by) German Caspar (Alexander Doetsch); and meeting his first real love, young, meek Heinz (Douglas Booth).
The BBC film does well to focus on the entertaining aspects and characters of Isherwood’s young life, convincingly re-creating the dingy spaces that housed Berlin’s gay and cabaret scene, moving jauntily until the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party swiftly brings Berlin’s openness to a grinding halt, with glimpses of the terrors that would follow. Its attention to detail and impeccable acting, namely by Matt Smith (the BBC’s current “Doctor Who”), who perfectly captures Isherwood’s spirit and vocal nuances, makes this one of the best glimpses into Isherwood’s life (and gay life during the Weimar Republic, as well) that can be seen on film.