*This article has been updated as of Dec. 28 with new ticket prices. See end of article.
Most moviegoers today are familiar with the Barrymore acting family through Drew Barrymore, best known for her childhood role in “E.T.” and more recently for her standout performance as Edith Bouvier Beale in “Grey Gardens.” The film “Barrymore,” playing this weekend at the MV Film Center, will introduce filmgoers to Drew’s legendary grandfather, John, as played by Christopher Plummer.
Along with brother Lionel and sister Ethel, John Barrymore dominated stage and film in the early years of the 20th century. In his time, he was considered one of the foremost Shakespearean actors in the world, in particular for his performance in “Hamlet.” His movie credits include film classics like “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Dinner at Eight,” “Twentieth Century,” and “Grand Hotel.” By the time Barrymore died at 60 in 1942, he was a physical and emotional wreck, ravaged by alcoholism and other problems.
Director Erik Canuel’s movie, “Barrymore,” portrays the great actor in 1942, the year he died, as he struggles to salvage his career with a revival of his role in “Richard III.” As he rambles through a rehearsal of the play in a theater he has rented, with numerous excursions into his personal life and anecdotes from his career, his prompter Frank, played by John Plumpis, tries to bring him back on track.
John Barrymore comes alive in the movie, thanks to Christopher Plummer, an eminent actor in his own right. Mr. Plummer, whose movie credits range from “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” to “The Sound of Music,” won a Tony award for his performance in the stage version of “Barrymore” in 1996. Mr. Plummer finally won an Oscar in 2012 at the age of 82 for his supporting role in “Beginners,” becoming the oldest actor to win the award. “Barrymore” was not available for review, but critics who have seen it describe Mr. Plummer’s King Lear-like performance as a tour de force and a career best.
Patrick Mullen of Cinemablographer says, “What is greatest about ‘Barrymore’…is Plummer’s negotiation of stage and screen. This is clearly an actor who understands the limitations, nuances and profits of each medium, and he manipulates the polarities of stage and screen when it best suits the mindset of his character. Plummer makes the stagy nature of ‘Barrymore’ work to the film’s advantage.”
“Barrymore,” Friday, Dec. 28, and Saturday, Dec. 29, 7:30 p.m., MV Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. Tickets $18 ($15 for MV Film Society members). For more information and additional film screenings and times, see mvfilmsociety.com.