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Best Of British Biographies – Rachel Weisz

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The Name’s Bond…Mrs Bond

Now, before anyone accuses me of belittling the amazing Ms Weisz’s achievements, I came up with the title just because I thought it was funny and not in any way representative of her work. I mean, she is an Oscar and BAFTA winner. She has, to date, had forty five wins and ninety three nominations and that’s just for her cinema work. There’s more to be added when you take into her work in other branches of the performing arts. In short, she is an extremely capable and talented woman in her own right.

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Early Days

Rachel Hannah Weisz was born in Westminster in the early seventies. While she has the reputation of being a “typical English rose” her name gives her roots away. Her parents emigrated to the UK from Vienna. This was in 1938 prior to the outbreak of World War II. Being Jewish in mainland Europe was more than slightly problematical. Added to the fact that she became a naturalised US citizen in 2011 and her position in this round up of British talent is flimsy but I’m picking so she stays in!

1994 Death-Machine

Her early days saw her in a family setting that valued the arts. Her sister, Minnie, is a photographer and visual artist. Their parents also encouraged their children to form opinions of their own by engaging their participation in family debates. That independent spirit may have been behind her nomadic school career which took in North London Collegiate, Benenden (think Eton for girls), and St Paul’s Girls School for her ‘A’ Levels. That lot saw her safely ensconced in Trinity Hall, Cambridge for her degree.

A Degree Of Success

She read English and ended up with an upper second. While there she was a contemporary of Sacha Baron Cohen, Alexander Armstrong, Emily Maitlis, Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc, Richard Osman, and Ben Miller. Those names might not mean much west of the Atlantic but they have all done rather well for themselves on this side. Not surprisingly, Rachel ended up in a variety of student performances and she co-founded a student drama group called Cambridge Talking Tongues. However, she could have started much earlier. 

1999 The Mummy

She started modelling for L’Oreal at the tender age of fourteen and was offered a role in King David alongside Richard Gere. Given that she was in her early teens it did foster a modicum of press attention. Whether because she was offered the role so early or that she refused it is hard to say nearly three decades later. Similarly I’ve seen conflicting reports that say Ms Weisz refused it herself or that her parents did the refusing. Either way it was to ensure she completed her education with some semblance of normality.

On To The Television

The nineties saw her acting career starting to take off on the stage as well as on screens large and small. In 1993 she co-starred in Scarlet And Black with Ewan McGregor after a few small tv roles. A 1994 revival of Noël Coward’s Design For Living at the Gielgud Theatre saw her winning the most promising newcomer award from the London Critics’ Circle. That same year saw her film debut in Death Machine; this was a small, but pivotal role. Her first major role came in 1996 in Chain Reaction with no less than Keanu Reeves and Morgan Freeman.

2001 Enemy at the Gates with Jude Law

To be honest though, her first big, international breakthrough came with her foray into film franchises. Namely, The Mummy in 1999. I have to admit that this is where I first really noticed her. This film became a family favourite. My, then, peri-teenage daughters loved the feisty librarian character even though we came on the strength of Brendan Fraser in George Of The Jungle! It seems that Leonardo DiCaprio was offered the role of Rick O’Connell but was already committed to The Beach with Danny Boyle. 

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And Then The Cinema

Anyway The Mummy was huge fun and a great success. According to director Stephen Sommers, Universal phoned him the morning after it was released and said, “We need another one.” Sure enough, two years later came The Mummy Returns which was set ten years after The Mummy. Nearly everyone came back for this one and it was nearly as good. Only Brendan Fraser and John Hannah came back for The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor and the least said about that the better. Incidentally, The Mummy Returns was Dwayne Johnson’s first non-wrestling related big screen role.

2003 Runaway Jury with Dustin Hoffman

As it happens, The Mummy Returns was overshadowed for me. That same year one of my “default” films was released – Enemy At The Gates. In this one Rachel is barely recognisable as the less than glamorous Tania Chernova. Conditions in a besieged Stalingrad didn’t leave much room for a stringent beauty regimen! However, not having access to hair and make up doesn’t stop her intrinsic beauty shining through. It’s hard to believe that a film about such a bloody period in history can be so entertaining but…well, just watch it and decide for yourself.

Film Favourites

Mention one of my “default” films and, before you know it, up pops another one! This time it is the court room drama Runaway Jury. This is, in my humble, a brilliant film. John Cusack is always watchable as is Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman. In this they are in various positions in a big budget court case; can victims of gun crime successfully sue the gun manufacturers. 

2005 The Constant Gardener

Obviously this is a topic with a lot of feeling, and money, resting on it and no one wants to leave anything to chance. Rachel plays Marlee, John Cusack’s “associate”…I’m trying to avoid spoilers! There are twists and turns galore and the final ending has twists and turns all of its own. It has periods of intrigue and high excitement. You do worry for Marlee at one point… I shall say no more but it still gives me butterflies even after seeing it dozens of time!

And The Oscar Goes To…

Shortly afterwards, in 2005, Rachel hit what is commonly held to be the height of cinematic achievement; she won an Oscar. It was for her part as Tessa Quayle in The Constant Gardner. Eva Green was originally cast in the role but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts; I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing it was something Casino Royale shaped. Kate Winslet, Sienna Miller, Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman also auditioned to replace her.

2012 The Bourne Legacy

The next few years just consolidated her reputation for being versatile and adaptable.  Rachel turn her hand to romances, comedies, thrillers, fantasies, action films, biographies…think of a category and she will have been in a film of that ilk. It may be heresy to some people but I quite liked The Bourne Legacy. OK…it’s not The Bourne Ultimatum but, then again, neither were any of the other Bourne films. For me, Jeremy Renner was a great super soldier. Rachel was wonderful as the back room boffin dragged into the world of espionage.

Real Life As Entertainment

Another film of hers that I really liked was Denial. As well as being a cracking court room drama, which I love, it also stars the ever magnificent Timothy Spall! Another thing that it had going for it was that it was an event that I can remember following on the news. The gist of the narrative is that author David Irving (Timothy Spall) claims that he has been libelled by Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) in her 1993 book Denying The Holocaust. 

2016 Denial

This is a marvellous film. There is gut wrenching footage around the Auschwitz concentration camp, let’s face it, how can it not be. Timothy Spall is marvellous as the pompous, self opinionated author who has found a flimsy piece of possible evidence and blusters his way through the court case. Rachel is strong, assured and positive in her defence. I’m not going to spoil the ending but, if you want to know just Google “Irving v Penguin Books Ltd”!

Yet More Real Life

The following year saw her in another story based on real life The Mercy. This was a biographical drama based on the story of Donald Crowhurst (Colin Firth) with Rachel playing his wife, Clare. This story was a hairsbreadth away from being written as a farce if it wasn’t for the fact that Mr Crowhurst died during the events portrayed. In short, Donald wanted to ensure his family’s financial security by completing the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race.

2018 The Mercy

This was a race around the world in a sail powered boat for a solo sailor going via the great capes. Donald entered this despite being an amateur sailor and was hoping to rely on gumption, a can-do spirit, and the best technology available. At that time and we’re talking late 1960’s as Donald was inspired by Sir Francis Chichester. He set off, promptly got lost, sent a series of false and wildly optimistic reports before he disappeared; possibly by accident or possibly by suicide.

Making History

As if trying to corner the market on stories based on fact, 2018 saw Rachel in a historical, biographical comedy – The Favourite.  This was the story of cousins Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) competing to be the favourite of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman).  At the time, around the early eighteenth century, Queen Anne is unwell and more interested in biding her time racing ducks rather than governing the country. 

2018 The Favourite

I can’t help but think that current events here would have been less catastrophic if the powers that be had followed the same philosophy! Still, it was an interesting, entertaining, and amusing film. It also gathered a lot of plaudits. In fact it was nominated for ten Academy Awards in a variety of performing, production, and technical areas. It only won the one, Olivia Colman in the Best Actress in a Lead Role. But both Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz were nominated for the supporting roles.

And Into The MCU

Rachel’s last released film is her debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She played Melina Vostokoff; one of the original group of Black Widows and the mother of Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) in Black Widow. This was an enjoyable film but suffered from a mid-pandemic release. This also meant that there was a kerfuffle over the cinematic and streaming releases. Enough of a kerfuffle for Scarlett Johansson to go to court over it.

2021 Black Widow

So, I think I’ve made enough of an argument for there being so much more to Rachel Weisz than just being married to Daniel Craig. She is so very versatile, flexible, and talented. I’m sure that she could give her equally talented husband a run for his money. They are both very watchable and always entertaining. I do wonder what it must be like in their household. All I’d say is if you get invited for a game of charades, don’t count on winning!

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