This week sees the surprising reboot of yet another film. Fans of Dudley Moore’s 1981 Arthur must be wondering why such a comedy classic would be in need of a remake. The decision to cast Russell Brand as the titular millionaire can’t, however, been seen as too much of a surprise.
A story about a young, carefree, self-indulgent man who has plenty of good looks, charm and the abundant wealth to skim through life without encountering any real obstacles is a perfect vehicle for Brand to play another version of himself, much as he did in his two previous outings – Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get him to the Greek. John Gielgud’s butler has been replaced by Helen Mirren’s nanny but the role of the long-suffering servant – at the beck and call to every one of Arthur’s whims – is still there.
Brand’s Arthur is heir to his family’s spectacular fortune, only he insists on dressing up like Batman, buying Abraham Lincoln’s hat and filling his life with meaningless relationships. His mother sets before him an ultimatum – marry the woman she has chosen (and he loathes) or lose his wealth.
Having never made any such serious choices in his life, Arthur struggles to reconcile a growing realisation of his own principles with a love of the comfort which his wealth affords him. In an age of super wealth with banker’s bonuses going on matching Ferraris, watching Arthur blow vast sums on trivial amusements is unsettlingly believable. The effect of such wealth and power is the belief that anything or anyone can be attained. And why would a rich man or woman surrender that to become powerless?
What Arthur sees and wants, he gets. Cast your mind back to the book of Samuel when David was king and his desire for the bathing Bathsheba set off a serious of unfortunate events which resulted in her husband, Uriah, being killed in battle so David can conceal his adultery. Power can get you what you want, but often the cost is too high. As Jesus tells his disciples in the gospel of Matthew,‘What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’
A more serious film would have explored that further rather than hint at it, but Arthur is after all a comedy in the more traditional feel-good rather than edgy tradition. Brand is by no means as good an actor as Dudley Moore in this role, but the moments where he is playing himself are comedy gems, and the reason why many (including this reviewer) still like watching him. The trick is to find the right films which allow him to continue doing just that because Arthur, I fear, may well bomb at the box office as a result of its lack of soul or spark.
While few of us in the West are as super wealthy as Arthur, we are in comparison to the rest of the world. When we see a TV, book or holiday we want, we will get it. As Arthur comes to realise, giving is more important than getting. Or as Churchill said, ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’