Review: The Wedge-Watcher's Diet
Gillian F. Taylor
Photographs taken from the new Denis Lawson Yahoo Group
"When my six-year-old son, Alex, saw the first trailers for 'The Ambassador', he was horrified. "What's happened to Wedge he looks terrible", he cried. His older sister, Kate, nine, was equally appalled. "His hair's gone grey!" I tried to explain that it's now 21 years since Wedge Antilles shot a TIE fighter off Luke Skywalker's tail over the first Death Star in 'Star Wars'. For myself, I think the years have been particularly kind to the luscious Wedge. I've loved 'The Ambassador', particularly Denis Lawson, and hope there will be another series. May the Force be with you, Wedge I mean Denis. Love the hair!"
Well, I'm with the mother who wrote that letter. I enjoyed 'The Ambassador', especially Denis, who got to play a secret service man. He ran around, helping the lady ambassador solve problems, doing all the sneaky and rough stuff that the ambassador couldn't do. He looked good doing it too, whether casual in a black leather jacket, smart in a suit, or formal in a dinner jacket. In fact, it was while watching 'The Ambassador' that I realized that Denis Lawson is one of those blessed individuals with the knack of looking good in almost anything. *sighs enviously*
Michael Stackpole dedicates the fourth X-wing novel, 'The Bacta War', to Denis Lawson 'The original Wedge Antilles'. Denis has never been keen to cash in on the role. He's lent his voice to occasional projects, like reading an audio book in the 'Heir to the Empire' trilogy, and voicing Wedge for the Rogue Leader computer game. However, he's avoided conventions, though I'm sure an appearance by Wedge Antilles would go down a storm with fans (and pay well). From an actor's point of view, Wedge was a very small, undemanding role, with barely half a dozen lines per film. Denis tries to avoid too much association with the role, preferring to be Denis Lawson Actor, not Denis Lawson the guy who played Wedge Antilles. And here in the UK, he's very much succeeded in being Denis Lawson Actor.
A couple of weeks ago, I got in from my role-playing night, and switched the telly on randomly while I sat down. As the telly's getting on a little, the sound comes through before the picture. I was surprised and delighted to hear a familiar soft, slightly Scottish voice. Sure enough, when the picture arrived, there was Denis. I was in time to see the last five minutes of a two-part detective story I hadn't realized he was in. He confessed to his part in a tragic crime, with tears shining in his eyes, and I melted happily in my armchair. The drama in question was 'Delziel and Pascoe', a long-running series about two gritty, Northern detectives. Luckily, it was repeated later in the week, in the late-night, signed for the deaf slot. The signing interpreter wasn't too intrusive, except for the funeral scene. As I don't otherwise watch this series, I didn't care much about the guy being buried. What I did care about was that the signer was blocking my view of Denis, who was looking very tasty in his police officer's uniform.
I couldn't help wondering if it was the same uniform he'd worn for a guest role in a recent sitcom called 'Feel the Force'. It's about two keen but incompetent policewomen, and Denis featured in one episode as the area's Chief Superintendent. One of the policewomen had a severe crush on his character. The highlight of the episode was the scene where various characters each have a fantasy sequence of their beloveds doing a pole dance. Sadly, we didn't get to see Denis in his undies, but Denis pole dancing in police uniform was a treat anyway!
The last three or four months have been rich ones for Denis-watching in the UK. 'The Thieving Headmistress' was a documentary drama about a nun turned schoolteacher, who systematically robbed her school of thousands of pounds to fund a lavish lifestyle. It was a well-made dramatisation of a real-life story, with Denis playing a priest who benefited from her dishonesty. There's a nice ambiguity in the role, as Father Plunkett occasionally looks uneasy at the gifts he'd given, knowing that the headmistress must be dishonest, but turning a blind eye. There's also the suggestion that the headmistress (understandably) has a crush on Father Plunkett. Admittedly in some scenes, Denis wears a deeply unsexy grey cardigan, and Father Plunkett's idea of holiday wear seems to be a collection of eye-shatteringly hideous patterned shirts, but he does look fabulous in his clerical vestments.
Denis was much better dressed for his role as Al Jackson in 'Sensitive Skin', which showed last year. He starred with Joanna Lumley, as a couple coming to terms with reaching 60. Their central London apartment is stylish and mostly empty, and there's a nagging feeling that their lives are much the same. Both are searching for some way to redefine themselves. It's a slightly off-beat programme, somewhere between drama and comedy, with sound performances from both leads.
As I'd borrowed the DVD set from the library, I didn't need to watch the recent repeats of the BBC's lavish production of 'Bleak House', featuring Denis as John Jarndyce. I've never been a fan of Dickens, but I was riveted by this adaptation, and watched virtually all eight hours in one day. Everyone in the extensive cast was good, but it was Denis, of the male actors, who was nominated for a BAFTA and an EMMY. Jarndyce is kindly and warm-hearted, delighted to offer a home to his young charges. There's an undercurrent of unhappiness to the character; he has seen the misery caused by the Jarndyce vs Jarndyce law suit, as expectations are built up and dashed, and so refuses to get involved. His growing love for Esther, the hope that she will love someone so much older than herself, is touching and beautifully portrayed. The role has won Denis a legion of new female fans, who all envy Esther, and want to smack her for preferring the drippy doctor.
I got the chance to see Denis in one of his earliest film roles recently, a minor part in the 1977 version of 'The Man In The Iron Mask'. He plays a tailor's assistant who's in on the plot to overthrow King Louis. It's very much a supporting role, but he does get one good scene where the success of the plot hinges on his ability to bluff Patrick McGoohan's villain about what clothes the King is wearing. Denis looks good in his eighteenth century costume, but suffers the worst hairdo in the whole movie, a cross between a pudding-basin cut and a pageboy bob that made me wince every time he was on screen.
By way of contrast, in a recent repeat of 'The Flipside of Dominic Hyde' (1980), Denis played a philosophical Londoner, who seemed to be drunk most of the time. Another supporting role, but a memorable one in a gently bizarre, slightly sci-fi programme that is fondly remembered.
Some other repeats I was lucky enough to catch were guest-starring roles in long-running drama series. In 'Cold Feet', He played the author of a best-selling novel, memorable for "that scene where she was doing the ironing, and then ..." Well, from the way the women in the series react, it wasn't just the iron that was getting hot. Denis flirts charmingly through the role, reducing all the women in sight to quivering masses and sparking envy from their husbands. And as a final treat for Denis-fans, we get to see him in a dressing gown.
More pleasure in 'Hornblower: Examination for Lieutenant' (1998). Denis is back in uniform, this time as an irascible eighteenth century British Navy officer, Captain 'Dreadnought' Foster. The best action is at the climax of the story, just as Hornblower appears to be on the point of failing in his ambition of being promoted to lieutenant. An enemy fire ship is threatening the British fleet, so Hornblower, Captain Foster and the other examining officers go racing to the rescue. Hornblower and Foster board the burning ship, struggle to turn it away from the British ships, rescue one another from the flames and finally leap into the sea. Denis has stripped off his coat by this time, so we get a good wet-shirt scene. Every historical drama should have one.
Other UK drama series worth looking out for are 'Holby City' and 'Bob Martin'. 'Holby' is an on-going medical drama, which Denis appeared in between 2002-4. He played an arrogant heart surgeon with a drink problem and a natty line in colourful surgical caps. All agreeable fun, in an undemanding way, but not even Denis can look terribly good in surgical outfits.
'Bob Martin' (1999/2000) was a well-written drama, satirising game shows and the inner workings of the TV industry. It centred on the presenter and production crew of a typical game show, hosted by the eponymous Bob Martin. Denis played the producer, Greg, who had a nice taste in elegant suits with pastel shirts, and bouffant hair. Denis did an excellent job of playing Greg just bordering on camp. Sadly, the series vanished from the screens in the middle of the second series, when the leading actor's private life made headline news, and became more scandalous than anything in the show itself.
This is by no means a complete listing of Denis Lawson's TV work. He's much in demand, as a look at his profile on IMDB will show. Denis is also an award-winning stage actor, principally in musicals. You may have heard his nephew, Ewan McGregor singing in 'Moulin Rouge', but Denis has a much better singing voice (and if you like to hear Denis' speaking voice, he does the audio description for the blind on the DVD of 'Moulin Rouge'). I was lucky enough to see him in the lead role of Jack Horner in the musical 'Lust', which is an adaptation of a bawdy Restoration comedy.
Horner is a notorious rake so notorious that other men are at pains to keep him well away from their wives. Horner and his doctor spread the rumour that he had caught a venereal disease, and had to be castrated. The other men naturally think that this is hilarious, and he got what he richly deserved. As they believe he now has no interest in women, they think he's a safe escort for their wives, keeping them safe from the attentions of other men. Boy, are they wrong!
Denis put in a fabulous, high-energy performance, singing, dancing, groping and charming his way into women's beds. He looked suitably terrific, with flowing hair and a pearl dangling from one ear. The real show-stopper moment comes when Horner is seducing one of his ladies. She sits on the end of his bed, and he faces her, with his back to the audience. She takes hold of his breeches and yanks them down, exposing Denis's naked butt to the startled and admiring audience. And just as the audience is getting its breath back, they are discovered in this position by the lady's husband. Shock (naked butt!), followed by surprise (husband!), followed by gales of laughter. It was one of the finest things I've ever seen in a theatre. I saw that play four times. Maybe it's as well it was never filmed; I'd have worn out the pause button on the remote.
So, if you're a Wedge-fan, although you may never get the chance to see for yourself whether his rear end is a nice as Janson's is said to be, there's still plenty of opportunities for Wedge-watching. Once you've seen the range of roles Denis Lawson can play, you can understand why he feels that half-a-dozen lines as an X-wing pilot is not what he wants to be remembered for. Personally, it's those wonderful eyes and his firm, naked butt I'll remember him for, but that's just me :) So next time you get the chance to watch him in something, go enjoy. Even if he keeps his clothes on.
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