The title of ITVX’s biographical miniseries, Archie, has, affixed to it, the tagline of “the man who became Cary Grant”. It’s a rather blunt signpost to the show’s aim of peeling back the carefully constructed mystique of one the most alluring, enigmatic poster boys of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Archie Leach did, in fact, nestle himself within the protective, golden scaffolding of stardom. The man said so himself, in one of his most characteristically dry but pointedly candid quotes: “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant – even I want to be Cary Grant.” Jeff Pope’s miniseries is, therefore, not wholly interested in Cary Grant, but the man who created him.
For the most part, Archie swings deftly between different stages of Leach’s life. We see him as an impoverished child in Bristol, raised by a cruelly disengaged father and an over-protective mother, reeling from the loss of her eldest son, John. We see a 15-year-old Archie join the Pender Troupe for a tour of the US, where he stays in his pursuit of celebrity, eventually worming his way into the orbit of influential movers and shakers, including the hyper-amorous Mae West (Lolly Jones). An effortlessly debonair Jason Isaacs inhabits the fully formed myth in his prime just as he meets his fourth and penultimate wife, Dyan Cannon (an uncanny Laura Aikman), as well as the puffy, fading elder statesman of the entertainment business, who suffers a cautionary mini-stroke on his one-man Q&A tour.
These narrative strands inform one another with intrigue and subtlety, a pleasant surprise given the potential for bumbling kitsch. The cold, brown hues of 1910 Bristol clash harshly with the exotic, Bond-esque fantasy of late 1950s/early 1960s Hollywood. The location, the name, the tailoring, have all changed. The yearning for affection, however, stays put. While the coherence of Archie owes most of its debt to Pope’s writing (he is no stranger to the latter years of Hollywood icons, having penned 2018’s Stan & Ollie), Isaacs is the perfect anchor, embodying Grant’s surface to a tee, while periodically showing you under the hood.
Archie is released on ITVX on 23rd November 2023.
Watch the trailer for Archie here: