Steve Gordon’s 1981 comedy ‘Arthur’ knew exactly what it was doing; a dryly witty comedy about a man infantilised by his own wealth, it’s fondly remembered for Dudley Moore and his relationship with his butler, Sir John Gielgud, who won an Oscar for the role.
One of the many things it got right was spelling out why Arthur needed to grow up. Gielgud explains that old poor drunks aren’t funny; they freeze to death in winter.The Arthur remake, a car-crash that manages to get everything that was right in the original wrong, revels in Russell Brand’s infantilism and appears to blame it on his Britishness.
The ‘Brits’ (a word that has always struck me as unpleasant anyway, like ‘the Yanks’, are used to being the bad people in Hollywood films; we’re the snobby, venal, top-hatted villains. But the new ‘Arthur’ (also top-hatted) takes its racism further.
Here’s the Guardian’s excellent Peter Bradshaw on the subject: ‘The absolute low point comes with a racist crack about Barack Obama. British matriarch Vivienne sneers at the “coffee-coloured” president, and Arthur feebly objects that “you can’t say that”. Oh yes you can – if you’re a cardboard Brit! Because it’s the sort of thing those uptight Brits do, you see, like wearing monocles and drinking tea. There’s no way on earth an American character would be made to say it.’
Placing the racism in the mouth of a British character seems all the more strange when one considers the relatively lower incidence of racism in the UK. In the 80′s, a New York comedian who had a brief career as a film star referred to American-Asians as ‘the urine-coloured people’, and his career crashed. One can only hope that history repeats itself.