Prince - Sight and Sound

by Philip Kemp
Sight and Sound
December 8, 1991

With her parents, Jack and Marie, Claudie Morgan visits the grave of their
family Alsatian, Prince, who died twenty years ago. While Jack weeps helplessly,
Claudie recalls her dog-dominated childhood...Jack Morgan. a factory worker in
Bristol, lives only for Prince. To the despair of his French wife, Marie, Prince
tyrannizes the household, scaring visitors and showing particular aversion to
pregnant women. Though gentle with Claudie, he senses Marie's dislike of him,
and often blocks her way to the lavatory, forcing her to run desperately round
to neighbouring houses.

Jack's sole recreation is walking Prince to the pub. along with his friend Ron
and the latter's Doberman, Scamp. Marie eventually persuades Jack to take a
holiday at a seaside camp, leaving Prince in a kennel, but en route Jack stops
the train and rushes back to fetch Prince. Since dogs are barred from the camp,
he and Prince spend the holiday in a nearby boarding-house.

When Jack enters Prince in a dog show, the dog causes an uproar, attacking the
other animals and the judges. Claudie, growing aware of her mother's
unhappiness, tries to poison Prince, but merely makes him vomit. Thanks to
Prince's anti-social behaviour, the family becomes increasingly isolated, and
Marie's misery deepens. Jack even quarrels with Ron, after what he takes to be a
slur on Prince's manhood.

Refusing to admit his dog is growing old, Jack reluctantly leaves for a trades
union meeting in Blackpool. While he is away, Prince dies. Marie and Claudie
spend a delirious week of uninhibited freedom. On his return Jack is agonised
with grief... Musing on her childhood, and on her father's singleminded
devotion, the adult Claudie returns to her luxury high-rise London flat. She is
warmly greeted by an Alsatian.

A wintry graveyard, black-branched trees reaching for the sky. A small group -
mother, father, daughter - father desolately by a graveside to mourn a departed
family member. And on the headstone, the picture of a leering, tongue-lolling
Alsatian dog. It's a good gag, and Julie Burchill evidently thinks so, because
she repeats it, with variations, for the next seventy-five minutes. In a slip
of the tongue, Jack, addressing Claudie, refers to Prince as "your brother". At
Christmas, he produces a piece of mistletoe, and Marie looks hopeful - until he
holds it over the dog's head.

Prince, Burchill has explained, is strongly autobiographical, and "the easiest
and best thing I've written" 'Easiest' can well be believed. Writing it must
have exorcised a great many ghosts, but treated straight the material is too
thin to sustain its feature length. Some other element - and maybe a little work
- was needed to lift it beyond the level of anecdote. There is, it's true, a
perfunctory stab at a political dimension by making Jack a Communist as well as
dog-mad, and giving him some naive dialogue about Russia ("Very cold, very
clean, and everybody's happy"). But all this leads to is some equally stilted
anti-Communist stuff from Marie: "Like all those who believe in the brotherhood
of man, you don't like real people because we can't live up to your ideals".

What is most irritating - especially given the excellence of the acting, both
human and canine - is that there are glimpses of a far more subtle and complex
film, one that could have used the man-dog bond to illuminate a whole tangle of
attitudes around the abuses and fears of entrenched masculinity. But in the end,
Prince backs off, taking refuge in easy banalities. "Quite simply he loved
Prince more than he loved me - more than he loved anyone, Maybe I'm cold and
unnatural, but I can't see anything wrong with that. You make your choices in
this life" And we end where we began - with a neat visual gag.


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