Damien on… Mr (Rowan) Bean and Johnny English
Rowan Atkinson’s big-screen career has – like everything else he’s done – been extraordinary.
Various roles in various movies have peppered his also-extraordinary TV career. But here, the writer wishes to concentrate on his biggest MOVIE triumphs – Mr Bean and Johnny English. Thus far, two of each.
The character of Mr Bean was dreamed up for a highly successful TV series, while Johnny English came from a series of Barclaycard TV commercials.
However, the two are very different. Mr Bean is essentially a child in a man’s body, having apparently been dropped off from a passing spacecraft – while the originally unnamed secret agent is a pompous blunderer.
Parallels have been drawn between Mr Bean and Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton – while Johnny English owes something to Sellers’ Clouseau and Nielsen’s Drebin.
But they all share one thing in common – VISUAL comedy. Indeed, parallels have also been drawn between Atkinson and Chaplin.
And that is fair enough. But Chaplin had one thing over Atkinson – success in AMERICA.
The Mr Bean and Johnny English movies have enjoyed extraordinary success around the World – but done ZIP in the States.
Typically, a movie that does well in what Hollywood calls the Foreign Market grosses about twice as much there – as in what it calls the Domestic Market. But not Bean and English.
Bean cost a mere US$22M to make and netted only that, in America. But the Rest Of The World netted it another NINETY-odd million (the gross being double that figure – the theatres get the other half).
Six years later (Atkinson never RUSHES things) Johnny English was released, having cost US$35M – and netted just 14 Stateside. But the Rest Of The World returned SIXTY-FIVE big ones.
Another four years and Bean’s sequel emerged, costing US$25 to produce and the US gave it just 16. While The Rest Of The World came across with ninety-two.
And now, four MORE years down the line, Johnny Reborn (featuring agents Barclay and Carte) has (so far – it’s still out there) turned US$45M into just a piddling FOUR in America – but seventy-three large elsewhere. And counting.
All of which is bizarre. Yes, the characters are British – but then, so was Chaplin. Why doesn’t America GET Atkinson?
Granted, The Rest Of The World is BOUND to love Bean – it’s great comedy, with no language barrier. And while English has dialogue, most of the COMEDY is still VISUAL.
And while many of the foreign issues of the English movies have Bean in their titles (which is a cheat, since the two characters are entirely different, but hey, you have to PROMOTE – in any case, ultimately a movie sells on its APPEAL, not its title) their success is a result of word-of-mouth. They’re FUNNY.
Here in Thailand, Britain means two things – Manchester United and Mr Bean. And this scribbler suspects the same is true elsewhere.
But over in The Land Of The Free, Rowan is still largely unknown. Of course, reportedly being worth over a hundred million quid (POUNDS, not US dollars) he may not care.
He lives a comfortable, but not ostentatious life. One wife. A couple of kids. His sole indulgence is owning and driving (and occasionally crashing) fast, expensive cars.
He is only a couple of years younger than this reporter, but wears it well – he still has HAIR.
He has campaigned for free speech in comedy. Manages to conceal a stammer by emphasising his Bs. Is by all accounts a charming if rather unassuming chap – some would even say boring.
But for over FORTY YEARS, he has turned out a brilliant, consistent body of work that should have earned him a frickin’ KNIGHTHOOD, by now. Maybe if America had understood him…
Footnote: ROWAN Bean? Yes – the name is glimpsed in his passport, in Mr Bean’s Holiday (Vacation). So now you know!