Birthday Girl The film with Nicole Kidman, Ben
Chaplin, Vincent Cassel, Mathieu Kassovitz. Directed by Jez Butterworth. Get Birthday Girl on DVD from
Article added on March 23, 2003
The film is about an ordinary, shy bank clerk, John Buckingham
(Ben Chaplin), living a rather dull life in St. Albans, a sleepy London commuter suburb in the
Hertfordshire countryside. In England, he has "about 20 million girls to choose from".
However, as John remarks, "if you live in a small
town and work long hours, you're just not going to get a chance to meet them
all." Therefore, lonely John decides to "mail-order" a bride from
the "From Russia With
What he gets is not a James Bond girl, but Nadia (Nicole
Kidman). She is a
shy, chain-smoking and head-nodding enigma who seemingly does not speak a word
of English, contrary to her website profile. Cross-cultural tensions are
inevitable. And there is much more which does not turn out as expected.
The film dramatically changes after Nadia's "Russian cousins", Yuri
and Alexei, played by the French actors Mathieu
Kassovitz and Vincent Cassel, show up for her birthday. John
is even forced into robbing his own bank to seemingly save Nadia's life.
Everybody involved in the story comes up with a few surprises. The result is a
Directed by Jez Butterworth and written by Tom and Jez Butterworth, the film's
twists and turns, which include sexual entanglements, and its black humor
catch the viewer from the beginning.
Three of the film's main characters are heavily accented Russians for which
the Butterworths cast an Australian and two Frenchmen because none of the great
Russian actor's they approached spoke word of English, even though
the Butterworth's had been
assured that they were fluent. This inspired the
first joke of Birthday Girl.
Kidman, who won a Golden Globe Award for her performance in Gus Van Sant's
black comedy To
Die For, said about the film and her character: "I am always drawn to black
comedies. And I was also
interested in playing a Russian woman, because she's obviously so far from
me and it allowed me to really create her character from scratch."
After her glamorous part in Moulin Rouge and
her elegant look in The Others,
Kidman plays a totally
unglamorous part in Birthday Girl, proving once more that she can be
physically transformed and transform herself in almost any
character. Her Oscar nominated performance in The
Hours is a further testimony to the fact that she has become the
world's most versatile actress (probably only matched by Meryl Streep).
Although the Butterworths try to capture authentically the atmosphere of St.
interiors of Birthday Girl were mainly shot in Sydney, Australia. It
is not only Nicole
Kidman's hometown, Ben Chaplin's family also lives there. As for the
choice of St. Albans as the film's setting, Jez Butterworth, explains: "What I like so
much about Hertfordshire and St. Albans is that the beauty is there, but you
have to search for it. ... They may be beautiful people deep down, but they have been
overridden, alienated and separated from themselves. The surface shows one
thing, but there's a lot happening underneath."
Writer and director Jeremy Jez
Butterworth made his feature film directorial debut with Mojo, a drug
underworld gangster movie about greed and amorality, based on Jez's stage play of the same name which
opened at the Royal Court Theatre in 1995. Mojo won five major theatre awards,
including the Olivier and the Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright
in London in 1969, Jez Butterworth grew up in St. Albans, the setting of Birthday
Girl, and was educated at Cambridge University. With his brother, Tom
Butterworth, he co-wrote the The Census Man as part of Carlton Television New
Writer Course. This led them to being commissioned in 1993 to make David Giles'
Night of the Golden Brain, a short film about a pub quiz team, as part
of the Going Underground series, co-written by the brothers, as well as Marc Munden's
Tom Butterworth Tom Butterworth was an associate producer on his brother Jez's first film Mojo
and on Tim Roth's controversial directorial debut The War Zone.
Chaplin first played an important part in Michael Lehmann's romantic comedy The Truth About Cats and
Dogs, opposite the co-stars Uma
Thurman and Janeane Garofalo. Ben Chaplin has received critical
acclaim for his performance as Private Jack Bell in Terence Malick's World
War II drama The Thin Red Line. His credits also include Janusz Kaminski's
Lost Souls, Agnieszka Holland's Washington Square, Chris Menaul's
Feast of July
and James Ivory's The Remains of the Day. Among his latest projects
is Barbet Schroeder's Fool
Proof with Sandra Bullock and the Hong Kong action film The Touch.
credits include John Burgess' The Neighbour at the Royal
National Theatre, James McDonald's Peaches at the Royal Court
Theatre and Sam Mendes' The Glass Menagerie at the Donmar
Warehouse for which Chaplin was nominated for an Olivier Award.
Mathieu Kassovitz wrote and directed La Haine (Hate), for which
he won a Palme d'Or for Best Director at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival as well as Cesar (French Academy) awards
for best Screenplay and Editing. He also directed French films such as The Crimson
Rivers, Assassins and Métisse. As an actor, Mathieu Kassovitz won the Best Young Actor Cesar for his performance in A Self-Made
Hero. He has appeared in such films as Luc Besson's The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc and
The Fifth Element and in Peter Kassovitz's (his father) Jakob the
Liar. Mathieu also had a part in Amélie, 2001's most
charming film, which was nominated for five Oscars and did not
win a single one - a shame (get Amélie on DVD from Amazon.com,
Cassel starred, among other films, in
Mathieu Kassovitz's critically acclaimed Hate and The
Crimson Rivers, in Luc Besson's The Messenger: The Story of Joan of
Arc, in Gilles Mimouni's brilliant L'Appartement (together with his
later wife Monica Bellucci) and in the horror move Le Pacte des Loups (Brotherhood of the
made his English language debut as the effete Duc d'Anjou in Shekhar Kapur's period drama
Elizabeth. He also played in the English language film The Reckoning
Dafoe. As a director, Vincent Cassel made the short film Shabbat Night