The greatest challenge for anyone making a miniseries dramatization of the life of Cary Grant is finding someone who can pull off the seemingly impossible task of playing him.
Let’s start with the way Cary Grant looked. He surely must have been one of the handsomest men ever produced by humankind, and one of the two or three handsomest men to ever find a career a Hollywood.
His looks were one thing. But the other characteristics that set him apart from mortal men included his grace and agility, his distinctive voice, his talent for playing both comedy and drama, the clothes he would wear and the part in his hair.
But the producers of “Archie,” a four-part miniseries premiering Thursday on BritBox, have met this challenge and triumphed over it with Jason Isaacs, who plays Grant in a way that can only be described as uncanny.
It is no insult to Isaacs, 60 (pictured above as Grant), to say that he is not exactly Cary Grant’s twin, although he holds his own in the looks department.
More importantly, the longer you watch him, the more convinced you become that he is Cary Grant. It is the finest performance I have seen anywhere on TV this year.
“Archie” takes its title from the name Cary Grant was born with, Archibald Leach. He grew up in England, where he spent his formative, childhood years in a household that was dysfunctional and nightmarish.
Whoever titled this miniseries “Archie” could just as easily have titled it “Cary,” which, in a way, would have made more sense from a commercial standpoint because it is likely a lot more well-known than Grant’s original first name.
But the producers made the courageous choice to call their series “Archie” because one of its themes is the tension between Archie Leach and Cary Grant, a new persona -- or new role, if you will -- that represented a clean break from Grant’s past and the beginning of a whole new life as one of movie history’s biggest stars.
He reportedly changed his name from Archie Leach to Cary Grant in 1932 -- a change thrust upon him by Paramount, where he had just agreed to his first movie contract.
The miniseries has him looking back on his life from at least two vantage points, 1961 and 1986, the year he died.
The movie has him admitting in a speaking engagement in 1986 that he still sometimes wondered who “Cary Grant” really was -- himself or a role he played.
“Archie” is based mainly on the memoir written by his fourth wife (out of five), actress Dyan Cannon, now 87. Her book, “Dear Cary: My Life With Cary Grant,” was published in 2012.
Cannon and her daughter with Grant -- Jennifer Grant, 57 -- are listed as executive producers of “Archie.”
Grant’s celebrity peers and movie co-stars appear throughout the series, including Audrey Hepburn (Stella Stocker), Grace Kelly (Lily Travers), Mae West (Lolly Jones), and directors Stanley Donen (Jamie Chapman) and Alfred Hitchcock (Ian McNeice).
But the co-star of “Archie” is Laura Aikman as the 1960s Dyan Cannon. The physical resemblance between the two is as uncanny as this whole series’ re-creation of the life and times of Cary Grant.
“Archie” starts steaming Thursday, December 7, on BritBox.