Little Voice, the 1998 movie, is not a crime film – although it features several actors very familiar in roles from crime films or TV series – but has a screenplay which illustrates the interplay between story-line and characterisation. It is based on a play written by Jim Cartwright, and I thought it a well-crafted piece of work.
Cartwright’s approach is to create vivid and memorable characters. Jane Horrocks is Little Voice, the almost mute young woman who is devoted to her late father, a fan of light music, and possesses a dazzling gift for mimicking singers such as Shirley Bassey, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe. Her mother, played by Brenda Blethyn, is loud and tarty, and she is ‘discovered’ by a small time showbiz agent, played by Michael Caine. The cast also includes Ewan Macgregor, Alex Norton (Burke, from Taggart) and Philip Jackson (Japp, from Poirot.)
Blethyn and Caine give wildly over-the-top performances, but for the very good reason that these are called for by the way in which the screenplay is written. Cartwright’s story is straightforward, and would not work if his characters were subdued. In this respect, the demands of the story reminded me of the demands of an action thriller – with a straightforward plot, there isn’t much room for subtlety of interpretation, but the effect can be very satisfying if the performances are strong.
And the performances in Little Voice are strong. Above all, Jane Horrocks is excellent, and her singing quite superb. Apparently Cartwright wrote the original play especially for her, and I can see why. The setting, incidentally, is in Scarborough, a resort I know very well indeed. My parents first met there, and made many return trips on holiday, taking me with them year after year. I’ve not been to Scarborough for some years, but seeing the town again in Little Voice was a trip down memory lane.