Saturday, November 12, 2022

Recasting 1995 (supporting): "Rob Roy"

1995 is definitely remembered more for a different movie that took place in Scotland. While Rob Roy is a fine movie, it naturally gets overshadowed by Mel Gibson's epic, Braveheart. It reminds me quite a bit of my lead recasting choice for the same year. Copycat had a similar psychological thriller appeal to David Fincher's Seven, with the latter deservedly gobbling up more of the attention that year. Still, we're here for the role, not just for the movie, and the character of Mary MacGregor in Rob Roy makes for an interesting prospect when imagining Meryl in it.

Originated by the great Jessica Lange, Mary is wife to Robert MacGregor (Liam Neeson), a clan chief in the Scottish Highlands who takes out a loan to alleviate the poverty of his people. When the money is stolen by the garish aristocrat Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth), MacGregor is forced to go into hiding to avoid punishment or death. 

From the get-go, it's pretty easy to see why Meryl was not in this movie. Quick side note: according to IMDb, Lange replaced Miranda Richardson (an actor from whom I've thieved two roles already in this supporting recasting project). For one, Meryl wasn't really much for supporting roles in the 80s and 90s. And while I expect she would've jumped at the chance to prove her chops at a Scottish accent, the role is more risky than she tended to accept. I'm reminded of the Lange role in Blue Sky I chose for 1992 in the lead project. The character was sensual, overtly at times, and Meryl tends to not go there much. It's like the opposite of the kinds of movies we'd picture Isabelle Huppert doing, like Elle, for example. The sex stuff might turn Meryl off from the role. Or maybe she doesn't feel she could play it convincingly. It's all the more reason for me to want to see how she'd do. 

It's perhaps natural to assume that films (especially ones from thirty years ago or earlier), tend to only exploit women's sexuality for box office draw. While that's no doubt true in many or perhaps even most cases, I came across a quote Lange gave that suggests this particular role is far from that:

I loved that the writer, Alan Sharp, had created a female character in a predominantly male film that was every bit as interesting as the male characters. She has a wonderful sensuality, vulnerability, strength and intelligence. In the relationship with her husband, she’s on equal footing. And it’s such a purely female/male relationship. That’s rare in films today. There’s nothing modern or neurotic about their marriage.

That kind of character I can absolutely see Meryl being interested in. Like most women in the 18th century, even if Mary was on equal footing with her husband, she unfortunately was easy prey for depraved men in power. In an attempt to flush out her husband from hiding, Mary is brutally raped by Cunningham before he home is burned down (rape not shown below).   

God bless Jessica Lange, but that accent is rough. OK we have to talk about Tim Roth for a second. He is probably the best thing about this movie. His characterization of the conniving "Archie" is one of the best performances I think I've ever seen. He's just SO good in the role. It's not surprising that he won the BAFTA and was nominated for the Oscar for his portrayal. Every emotion we feel for any of the main characters in this movie is enhanced by how convincing Roth is. Exceptional performance. 

Aside from the accolades for Roth, critics weren't exactly thrilled with the movie. It was by no means panned, as it holds a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 55 score on Metacritic. It made a few bucks at the box office as well, earning back its budget and then some. With its spring release, I can't help but wonder how this would've done in the fall when more Oscar contenders tend to hit theaters. Overall, I think it's an underappreciated film and well worth the watch. 


  1. Thank you, Jeff, for all your imaginative and well-researched recastings. As always, your blog is an oasis for those of us thirsting for good news and thoughtful commentary on Meryl’s career.

    Interesting that you’d think of “That kind of character I can absolutely see Meryl being interested in.” I agree—Meryl might be turned off by roles that are too sexy or edgy or dark, like Isabelle Huppert’s “Elle.” I wonder, though, how she would have done those kinds of roles. Or what she could have done with lighter (but no less challenging) fare like Sally Field’s “Hello, My Name Is Doris.”

    I just watched “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” and loved the film and Lesley Manville. Certainly not an Oscar-bait role, but as many critics agree, Ms. Manville brings such humor and heart to this character so it’s easy to forgive all that fairy-tale fluff. How I’d love to see Meryl in Mrs. Harris mode, just warm and cuddly but still human, vulnerable and feisty. I think she’s been lovely and compelling in that mode before (“Defending Your Life,” “Julie and Julia,” “Hope Springs,” “Florence Foster Jenkins”). Some years back, she was reported to have been “eyeing” the role of the library worker (author Vicki Myron) in the film version of “Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat.” Meryl and a cat—I wonder who’d be more lovable.

    Ah, to see Meryl in a feel-good movie where no one’s going to accuse her of overacting or trying too hard (as she was unfairly criticized by some in films like “Prom”). Or if not a feel-good movie, then maybe a devastatingly quiet and beautiful “downer” such as the Charlotte Rampling role in “45 Years.” I could absolutely see Meryl being great in either “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” or “45 Years.” And I will absolutely look forward to seeing more of Meryl—light or heavy, cute and cuddly or subtly harrowing—still being the marvel that she is.

    — Danny

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words again, Danny. Interesting you mention Hello My Name is Doris, because I totally agree and even include it in my lead reacsting project a couple year ago:

      I read Dewey (about the cat), which I thought would be awful but was in fact very touching and focused on the closeness of a small town. I would've been totally here for seeing Meryl make that happen (I think it was around 2005).

      And I whole-heartedly agree with your sentiments on hoping to see Meryl in something soon like the suggestions you made. I'd love to see more of a chamber piece like 45 Years or Mass. And I definitely plan to check out Mrs. Harris Goes to Pairs. I saw the trailer a while back it thought it looked very enjoyable. I've enjoyed Lesley Manville in The Crown this season.

    2. Yes, Jeff, “Mass”! Call me crazy or cheesy, but I believe this would be a kinder and saner world if more people would watch (or make) such films. In ways I could never have imagined, that movie crushed me and freed me. As we Streep fans know, sometimes a movie is not just a movie, acting is not just acting. Movie- (and Meryl-) watching can be a lot of fun, but it can also feed the soul. So grateful you mentioned “Mass.”

      — D.

  2. An interesting movie Jeff, I can't say I remember watching it though, but I am familiar with the book. I do agree some of those accents are... questionable!

    For my choice I will pick (perhaps a little obvious) the role of Marilyn Lovell in "Apollo 13". I think Meryl would have fitted in really well with such an interesting cast in a well-received movie.

    1. Ooo I loved Apollo 13. I don't remember too much about the wife role, but I suppose it was kind of heavy her having to imagine her husband being lost on the mission and having to keep it together for her family.