The Prestige: London Fish and Chips

Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, David Bowie, Scarlett Johansson
(PG-13, 128 min.)

"Malice sucks up the greatest part of its own venom, and poisons itself." Michel de Montaigne

A chilling brew of whispering ambition, seething revenge, and unbridled obsession, The Prestige is filled with as much deceit, cunning, and trickery as the onstage magic of Victorian London. But does it perhaps attempt to pull one too many rabbits out of the hat?

The stylish thriller tells the story of two magicians, onetime apprentices and comrades forever separated by an onstage tragedy that seems to suck the soul out of each man. They play out their bitter feud on the public stage as well as behind closed doors, and each bears the scars of their battle.

Hugh Jackman is the suave Robert Angier, handsome and courtly with a stage presence to sway the crowd. Helping to make him look good is his sage ingeneur, Cutter, played by the always worth watching Michael Caine, a kind of Victorian Q, a Cockney Merlin whose simple wisdom is sometimes more dependable than his elaborately engineered stunts. “Obsession is a young man's game,” he warns Angier as the youthful magician abandons all to best his rival.

Borden (Christian Bale), with none of Angier’s polish, is a diamond in the rough with more talent than his urban rival, and what appears to be the domestic harmony Angier believes has been stolen from him.

In a reprisal of her blonde bombshell role of the recent Match Point and The Black Dahlia, Scarlett Johansson plays Olivia, first Angier’s and then Borden’s comely assistant on stage and in the boudoir. While her glamour is certainly on an upward spike, her acting remains rather flat and without range. One might be tempted to fault a script that doesn’t give her much room were it not for the memorable job Rebecca Hall, playing Borden’s long suffering wife, does with her underwritten part.

Echoing the rivalry of the two illusionists is the one between real life electrical wizards, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla, in what might be called the great AC/DC wars. Isolated on Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs, the lesser known Serbian born genius illuminates the city and heights above it with a light show that even rock stage veteran David Bowie, who incidentally plays the reclusive inventor, would appreciate. What Angier wants from Tesla is some real science to create his “magic,” and what he gets costs a great deal, but not just in cold, hard cash.

One wonders if the magicians’ taut rivalry would have been so intriguing had we viewed its catastrophic consequences at the film’s close rather than its opening, where we find Borden on trial for Angier’s murder. The tangled web that leads up to it is presented in a somewhat random series of flashbacks thrown on the screen like the scattered pages of a notebook retrieved from the wind and hurriedly shoved back in. In fact, it is from the diaries of the two magicians that we learn of the ever-escalating competition that has possessed and maimed them both. These diaries are not the heartfelt logs of truth we might expect, but like their authors, filled with false leads, engineered disappointments, and calculated humiliations.

And we, the audience, are also deceived by their cunning, though whether the filmmakers have played fair with us is somewhat debatable. Agatha Christie, the grand dame of who-dunnits, once compared a well-crafted mystery to an intrepid bullfighter, whose cape flutters almost close enough to his body for the bull to gore it. So, too, must a storyteller allow readers nearly to touch upon the hidden truth so that when it appears, the audience realizes it has always been in plain sight.

To some extent, screenwriting brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan do set the stage for the final shocking denouement of The Prestige, but still one cannot help but wonder with which end of Agatha Christie’s hypothetical bull they have been cavorting.

— Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

There’s plenty of magic on the London stages where rival magicians Robert Angier and Alfred Borden risk life and limb to outdo each other.

A different but every bit as powerful magic is found in their pubs, where blazing fires and heavy hewn timbers provide the perfect place to toss back a few pints. What better setting to discuss the secrets behind the on-stage illusions while you keep up your strength with hearty Fish and Chips - crisp, warm, and crackling on a cold November night.

London Fish and Chips

  • Vegetable oil
  • 4 or 5 potatoes, cut lengthwise, into 1/2-inch strips
  • 1 pound fish fillets, cut into 2 by 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • Malt or cider vinegar
  • Salt

Heat oil (2 to 3 inches) in deep fat fryer to 375. Fill basket 1/4 full with potatoes; slowly lower into hot oil. (If oil bubbles excessively, raise and lower basket several times.) Use long-handled fork to keep potatoes separated. Fry potatoes until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain potatoes; place in single layer on cookie sheet. Keep warm; repeat.

Pat fish dry with paper towels. Mix flour and 1/2 tsp salt. Mix baking soda and 1 tbsp vinegar. Stir vinegar mixture and water into flour mixture; beat until smooth. Dip fish into batter; allow excess batter to drip into bowl. Fry 4 or 5 pieces at a time until brown, turning once, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Set oven control to broil at 550 degrees. Broil potatoes 6 inches from heat until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with vinegar and salt

Recipe Source: Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook