‘Archie’ Review: An Unforgiving Look Into Cary Grant’s Life
The Big Picture
- Archie provides a compelling but somewhat sterile look into the private and public life of Cary Grant, with Jason Isaacs delivering a standout performance.
- The series attempts to find a balance between preserving Grant’s legacy and exploring his darker aspects, such as his controlling and manipulative behavior towards women.
- The portrayal of Grant’s relationship with Dyan Cannon is framed around his mother’s reentry into his life, causing a clash that weakens their marriage. However, the series shies away from delving into Grant’s speculated bisexuality, leaving it feeling incomplete.
Cary Grant was one of the finest actors of his generation, with a legacy that extends well beyond his 44-year career. He is often remembered for his endearing charm, flirtatious habits, and natural comedic flair, but he is rarely the subject of scrutiny for his revolving door of wives or the “fit[s] of anger” that ultimately led to his divorce from Dyan Cannon. History often affords beloved men the benefit of rose-colored glasses, through which their difficult personalities are minimized to prop up their talents. Archie—ITV Studios’ ambitious four-part biopic series—tries to unravel the best and worst aspects of Cary Grant, with a certain degree of success. For a first attempt at tackling the aggressively private life of one of the most beloved actors of the 20th century, it’s quite impressive.
Beneath the ostensibly cheesy veneer of Archie, which is a byproduct of the era it seeks to explore, lurks a darker story that is never fully tapped into. The series seems keen to preserve the legacy of Grant, which has its benefits, while still presenting him as a controlling man who badgered women into relationships with him and then cruelly gave away their dogs while they were giving birth to his child. He isn’t a villain—though some of the women might see him as such—but he is a product of his difficult upbringing and an example of the societal norms of the era. Archie never fully finds a comfortable way of marrying the two versions of Cary Grant, the public and the private, but it does at least find a way to be compelling—if tedious, at times.
- Release Date
- December 7, 2023
- Jason Isaacs, Jason Watkins, Harriet Walter, Henry Lloyd-Hughes
- Main Genre
- Drama, Biography
Archie draws back the curtain on the entirety of Cary Grant’s life, beginning with his impoverished childhood in Bristol, where he was born Archie Leach (Dainton Anderson). While the series balks at the idea of showing this chronologically, the first episode does a neat job of introducing audiences to Archie, his callous and cruel father Elias (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), and his mother Elsie (Kara Tointon) who is eventually committed to an asylum after Archie’s older brother dies. The loss of his brother and his mother (who his father tells him died, rather than the truth) has a profound impact on the young boy, and it sets him on a path to theater. Eventually, a teenage Archie (Oaklee Pendergast) is presented with an opportunity to leave the grit of Bristol for greener pastures — more specifically: New York City. Once he’s an ocean away from his past, Archie, now a young adult (Calam Lynch), refuses to return home to Bristol and decides to stick around in the city and see if he can become the next big star. While Lynch, who recently charmed audiences as Theo Sharpe in Bridgerton’s second season, is a delight to watch as the budding young actor, Archie hits its stride when Archie Leach becomes Cary Grant (Jason Isaacs).
Jason Isaacs Doles Out the “Cary Grant Charm” in ‘Archie’
Whether he is playing Captain Hook in Peter Pan or playing a very different Archie in Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, Jason Isaacs has always been uniquely skilled at doling out the swoon-worthy charm. As Cary Grant, it’s often easy to forget that it’s Isaacs playing the actor, especially when the series dips its toes into recreating iconic moments from Grant’s cinematic career. Isaacs is rather chameleonic here and slips into the role smoothly — embodying, rather than mimicking, Grant’s posture, mannerisms, and tonality. This is all aided by the costuming, which sees Isaacs outfitted in sleekly tailored, single-breasted suits and casual, sunny California attire that adds to his debonair looks. Isaacs’ ability to replicate Grant’s uniquely manufactured Mid-Atlantic accent is worthy of its own praise. Like Grant, Isaacs hails from England, which means the Bristol accent was easy enough to tap into, but it’s the layers of Grant’s accent — the carefully concealed Britishisms hidden away beneath a too-perfect Americanized accent — that really stand out.
The underdog, coming-of-age story of Archie Leach’s transformation into Cary Grant runs off the track a bit once Dyan Cannon (Laura Aikman) steps into the picture. Dyan is an up-and-coming actress when she catches the eye of Grant, who is already divorced thrice at this point. He relentlessly pursues her and eventually marries her, though their marriage seems to be largely fueled by spite. Archie frames much of Grant’s relationship with Cannon around the discovery that his mother (Harriet Walter) is still alive, and it’s his mother’s obsessive presence in his life after that, which seems to ruin his relationship with Dyan after their daughter is born. To a degree, it makes sense. With his mother reentering his life, Grant is forced to reckon with who he once was, and that internal clash weakens the facade he’s carefully contracted for himself.
‘Archie’ Is a Compelling Yet Sterile Biopic Series
The four-part series was written by Jeff Pope, who penned the screenplay for The Lost King, and directed by Paul Andrew Williams, who has helmed several series including Broadchurch, A Confession, and White Dragon. The focus on Grant’s relationship with Cannon is owed to the fact that Pope drew inspiration from Cannon’s memoir Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant, which was published back in 2011. The disclaimer at the start of each episode suggests that they drew inspiration from a number of different sources, but Archie often feels unbalanced with its framing.
While it is a relief that it doesn’t sensationalize Grant’s personal life, this often leads the series to seem sterile. It tries to coyly touch on the oft-speculated relationship Grant might’ve had with Randolph Scott—going so far as to soften Grant’s attitudes towards that speculation while ignoring the fact that Grant sued Chevy Chase for libel for joking that he might’ve been queer in 1980. For that, Archie seems too aware of its modern audience, and too shy about laying out the well-documented evidence in a more black-and-white fashion. For some, it may be an uncomfortable truth that their favorite silver-screen star was likely bisexual. However, if approached tactfully, it would make for a more interesting story to explore. Somewhere, there is a line between a stiff-upper-lip attitude and the more garish and crude stylings of biopics like Maestro. Complicated men make for compelling stories to tell, but they don’t always have to be so clinically uninspired in their examination.
Archie makes a noble effort to unravel the private and public life of both Cary Grant and Archie Leach. Though it does leave something to be desired — a deeper, more intimate look — it is made all the more enjoyable by Jason Isaacs’ performance. If debonair charm was the sole arbiter of a show’s success and critical acclaim, Isaacs’ would lead Archie to the highest of praise. His performance often transcends the surface-level scripts, providing a moving amount of depth to Grant’s greatest role as a father and a son.
Archie will be available to stream on BritBox in the U.S. on December 7.
WATCH ON BRITBOX