Article from a 1995 issue of Tatler

Innocent Bystander section
In February 1992, I was sitting in a hotel room in LA, amused by the 24-hour news coverage of California's reaction to the rain – car crashes, drains exploding and general lunacy – and bored by the unspeakably banal fodder that passes for the majority of scripts I have the misfortune to read. A knock at the door brought another large brown envelope, this time from my agent in England. The phrase 'coals to Newcastle' could never have been more appropriate. 'Ring me when you've read it darling: I think it's wonderful. Love Caroline.' I put down Lethal Terminator 12 and began to read Kabloonak. It was the story of how Robert Flaherty came to make Nanook of the North in 1922. It was indeed wonderful and I rang Caroline for more information.

She told me that the project was to be shot on location in the Russian Arctic. Home would be an ice-breaker on the Bering Sea for four months. I knew there'd be a catch.

At the beginning of April I flew to Nome, Alaska, where the old gold-prospecting town greets unsuspecting new arrivals with the welcoming sign, 'Nome Is Where The Heart Is.' Here, after a day or two's wait spent in the com- pany of a team of Japanese balloonists, who were, like me, waiting for favourable weather conditions, I crossed the Bering Strait into Russia and joined the good ship Kiev at her home port of Providenja. The details of the ensuing voyage are not suitable for publication here. Suffice to say that in July 1992, this bystander returned to England with his innocence somewhat tarnished and his film unfinished. My fellow Inuit actors and I had endured some four months of gastronomic, physical and spiritual privation aboard this Arctic 'love boat', only to be beaten by the premature arrival of spring. So plans were made to resume filming a year later, this time in Arctic Canada.

As I continued to 'follow in the footsteps of Flaherty', I repeatedly questioned the wisdom of my decision in declining Martin Scorsese's invitation to join him in The Age of Innocence. In the meantime, I managed to put three more films in the can. The last of these three was the Arnold Schwarzenegger block-fizzler The Last Action Hero. With the aroma of Big Arnold's cigars still stinging in my nostrils, I headed north again to rejoin my colleagues in what I feared was going to be Karry on Kabloonak. In the next six weeks, we shot more film than we had done in four months in Russia. We finally wrapped it up in June 1993, 15 months after the first slate. Claude, the writer/director, went to Provence to lick his wounds, the producer and investors went off to hang themselves (metaphorically) from stout lengths of rope, the Inuit returned to hunting and I left for the bosom of my family and the green and pleasant fields of England.

After months of frustrating non-communication, I heard the joyous news from Pierre, the French-Canadian producer, that the film had been invited to open the Montreal Film Festival.

By 24 August 1994, I'm in the familiar film festival circus: doing back-to-back interviews, having my ego stroked. I've seen the film, a paying audience has seen the film, and it's wonderful. Take my word for it. Or rather, don't take my word for it, go and see it.

God forbid that I should ever share the sentiments of Ebeneezer Scrooge on the subject of Christmas, but I must admit to having mixed feelings about the whole affair. The way that this sceptred isle of ours effectively shuts down from Christmas Day until New Year's Day plus one serves only to extend the post-festive tedium and to put an even greater strain on the ingenuity of household chefs, as they demonstrate their (and the poor turkey's) versatility.

Mind you, in California, where I had the misfortune to be film-bound a few years ago, Christmas is practically all over and done with before you've had time to rifle the contents of your yuletide stocking. The Californians' reluctance even to mention the word 'Christmas' in their greetings – 'Happy Holidays' they cry – is a sure sign that Santa no longer comes down their ventilation shafts.

They do, however, put a lot more energy into celebrating Thanksgiving, which seems to me to be one of the few civilised things that that country has to offer. It's not about spending vast amounts of money, getting hopelessly drunk in the dubious company of the last few remaining members of one's family, or slumping in front of the Network Centre's choice of Christmas television fare for the masses. It's one day, spent in the company of the people you most like to be with – be they family, friends, or lovers – and giving thanks for being there. No matter that its historical significance is probably no more borne in mind than that of the poor Jewish chap whose birth in a barn we are supposed to be celebrating.

Nevertheless, I wish us all peace, happiness, and the merriest of Christmases, and if it snows, as it did last year, then I shall be a happy man. Simple pleasures, you understand.

Charles Dance is resting.

© 1995 Tatler

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