What you definitely know him from:
Skyfall, Cloud Atlas
What you might know him from:
Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer, Bright Star
What you probably don’t know him from:
A relative newcomer to the world of cinema, Ben Whishaw is one of Britain’s brightest new stars, revitalising the role of Q in Skyfall, and proving himself to be an absolute chameleon in the recent Cloud Atlas. An accomplished stage actor, and something of a mystery in real life, Whishaw keeps himself to himself, but always manages to create a beguiling, bewitching presence on screen.
Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer
Whishaw’s first major role, and a leading one at that, he plays Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in this visceral adaptation of Patrick Süskind’s novel. Relishing the role of a murderer obsessed with capturing the elusive scent of a human, Whishaw is stunning. Centring an entire film around a murderer is a risk, because, after all, how can an audience even relate to, let alone root for, a murderous psychopath? Somehow though, with Whishaw in the role, we do, and we even feel a little sympathy for him along with it. Born in a fishmarket and hastily kicked under the table along with the fish heads, Grenouille is a tragic character, and as he grows, he becomes fascinated with achieving perfection. Whishaw plays it with an eagerness, a desperation to learn which can sometimes become terrifying on screen as he fails in his pursuits. At times you’ll find yourself feeling sorry for him, and then a second later, terrified of him. Whishaw garners empathy for a monster, but never forgets that is exactly what he is, a monster, and plays the character balancing on a fine line so we’re never quite sure when he’s going to snap. The less said about the batshit insane finale, the better, though.
A minor role, but an integral one in the Bond universe nonetheless, no-one was more surprised when the role of Q went to Whishaw than Whishaw himself seemingly. A complete technophobe, Whishaw could fool anyone when watched on screen as gadget geek Q, directing Bond through the underground from his temporary HQ. Traditionally played by more distinguished actors, casting Whishaw is a master stroke from director Sam Mendes. Whishaw has all the gravitas of a thesp but a light heartedness and sense of fun that Desmond Llywellyn sadly never had. His youth gives us an exciting character development – for the first time, this is a Q that we believe might actually become a part of the action rather than simply providing the gadgets.
Whishaw fits into this mindfuck of a movie perfectly, taking on no less than 5 characters of varying race and gender. It’s the central role of Robert Frobisher that is most important, though, and Whishaw completely makes it his own. A bisexual composer who takes a job as an amanuensis to Jim Broadbent’s more established composer, Whishaw perfectly plays the frustration of trying to make his own mark on the world while being forced to enhance someone else’s mark. Frobisher is a more complex character than first reactions might portray, and there’s a darkness hiding in there that is only hinted at, but which makes you uneasy nonetheless. How far is he willing to make his mark, and make sure that he gets the credit for it? This is the perfect role for Whishaw, the lovelorn, romantic, windswept artist, with a dark edge for good measure. Frobisher’s suicide bookends the film, and it’s incredibly affecting. Whishaw narrates his own death scenes, and it is moving to say the least. Whishaw’s voice is like melted butter, and there’s an ease with which he makes world-changing remarks that is utterly beguiling.
Whishaw is a remarkable young actor, and the fact that he hearkens back to old Hollywood in preferring to keep his private life private is admirable. He’s proven himself incredibly versatile, and capable of going from small indie flicks to massive blockbusters in the blink of an eye. Take one look at him and you can tell that there are exciting things to come from him. He’s a master of his craft and takes it seriously, yet you still feel that he knows he has a lot more to learn, and that he’s chomping at the bit to learn it as soon as possible.
Overall Grade – B+