I watched Mad About The Boy the documentary about Noel Coward in the Queens Film Theatre, Belfast and was intrigued and entranced with Noel’s life, his ability to have escaped from poverty with a father who is mentioned briefly in the beginning and who was a piano salesman, and his mother who was his bedrock throughout his life until she died in 1954.
Coward was born on the 16th of December 1899 and lived until 1973. He had very little formal schooling, leaving full-time education when he was 9 years old, but haunting his local library where he was a voracious reader and self-educated himself. But he had been bitten by the performing bug early on and at age 7 appeared in local productions. This was encouraged by his mother, who arranged for him to attend a dance academy. Then through a small (wee) advertisement in the Mirror which asked for young boys to apply for a part in a play with Lila Field The Goldfish. The road was set.
His career had its ups and downs, he didn’t see World War 1 service due to being ‘unfit for service’; however, during World War 2 he worked early on with the British Secret Service in Paris and then in the USA. In both locations, he gathered intelligence and passed it on, and he also sought to influence people to support the United Kingdom.
Unfortunately, during this time, the British Media were very anti-Coward – ‘why should he be able to prance about and live the high life, when his fellow countrymen were being killed’. Coward was deeply hurt by this but was unable to reply to their barbs due to the Official Secrets Act.
Running in conjunction with his acting was his social life, including his gay life. He had a number of discreet relationships – most of substantial length, the longest being with the film actor Graham Payne, and this began in the mid-1940s and lasted until Coward’s death.
Noel Coward loved people, men and women, and had deep friendships with a select band throughout his life.
And binding all this together was his ability to act, write plays and musicals, write lyrics, poetry and also music – he was the ‘Quintessential British Gentleman’.
The documentary shows all of the above and more, being able to show highlights from home videos made by Coward and his friends, but also the newsreels of the time, picture archives and Rupert Everett reading some of his journals extracts, and Alan Cummings narration it is fully entrancing, you get some idea of the man.
I enjoyed the movie/documentary, but at times it felt weird to watch a current showing with black-and-white excerpts. Yes, the home movies probably did not have sound, but a lot of the films of his work would and I cannot understand why these were not included. Their silences did not add to the overall structure of the documentary.
Coward was a unique man, and like all of us had good and bad bits, but without doubt he was in most ways a renaissance man.
- Wikipedia – Noel Coward
- The Guardian – Mad About the Boy: The Noël Coward story review – fascinating portrait of a 20th-century great
- IMDB – Mad About the Boy: The Noel Coward Story
- YouTube – Mad About The Boy
- YouTube Trailer for Mad About the Boy Documentary
- Photographs – A Gay Movie Review
Directed by Barnaby Thompson
Writing Credits – Barnaby Thompson
Music by – Rael Jones
Editing by – Ben Hilton