Local Prestige and Christopher Priest enthusiast John Gradoville gives us his review in this guest blog post.
Very few works of art and entertainment have such an illustrious pedigree as The Prestige. The novel is a critically acclaimed bestseller by one of England’s greatest living writers, Christopher Priest. The movie The Prestige was directed by Christopher Nolan and is widely considered to be one of his best.
Both novel and movie share a story, two Victorian stage magicians, “The Professor of Magie” and “The Great Danton” who become each other’s nemesis, wreaking havoc in their increasingly psychotic attempts to outdo each other.
Christopher Priest has an amazing gift of creating protagonists who seem normal. They are gradually, almost imperceptibly, drawn into strange worlds that they (and us, the readers) have no clue how to navigate. The novel starts in the modern world, and is by turns introspective, eerie, chilling and shocking. Part science fiction, part character study, part horror, the story uses the found diaries of the feuding conjurers to lead us down a dark path of old sins and evil not yet redeemed.
Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige is set in the late 1870s and early 1880s, when Victorian stage magic was at its height, stage magicians being the rock stars of their day. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play two apprentice stage magicians. One day a terrible tragedy at the end of their act sets the two against each other and they go their separate ways to become “The Great Danton” and “The Professor of Magie” of Priest’s novel.
The movie opens out the two men, with Hugh Jackman as “The great Danton”, handsome, clever, a great showman but lacking a natural aptitude for stage magic. Christian Bale as “The Professor of Magie” is coarse, boorish, arrogant, but with a talent to create the most mystifying illusions.
And for anyone who has wanted to see Hugh Jackman really act, instead of running around in latex superhero costumes, this is the movie for you. Jackman reaches into himself to display a wonderfully complex and flawed man. This is easily Jackman’s best performance.
Bale is superb as a man who lives his life with terrible secrets. Almost as important are performances by Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson, making the world of stage magic feel very real. There is a clever and unsettling performance by David Bowie as Nikolai Tesla, the inventor of modern electricity. Just when you think you have the mystery figured out, Bowie’s Tesla upsets the whole applecart.
This is a gem of a movie, an intelligent character study that is also a beautifully shot thriller, with evil intentions and terrible crimes. It’s a must-see, but do not tell anyone the ending.