Kate and Leopold

Kate & Leopold. Konrad Pictures 2001.

Before watching the movie:

This is such a minor detail in my memory of the time and all that I’m not sure if I remember any promotional material that would have said this is about a time-displaced nobleman in modern times or if I more surmised it from the way the title makes a point of highlighting the difference in their names and extrapolating. Extrapolating very, very far. And also he dresses very nicely, but the basics of men’s formalwear haven’t changed in the last few centuries. Anyway, I know that that’s what this is about now, but since I don’t directly remember being told that before I selected this now, I’m not entirely certain if I was ever told that.

Turning my thoughts to “person from history is now transplanted to the modern day” movies, I’m particularly interested in the fact that I can’t think of any stories that were contemporary to before the 80s (Specifically, Time After Time). I’m sure there were some, and now I’m pretty interested in what the early part of the 20th century would’ve imagined the people of earlier centuries would have thought of them.

After watching the movie:

Junior marketing executive Kate McKay is desperately hoping her boss will promote her and/or date her. Living in the apartment below her ex-boyfriend Stuart’s, she discovers him one night taking home a man that Stuart claims is Leopold, Duke of Albany, whom Stuart accidentally took out of the year 1876. Inventive, restless Leopold would rather do anything else but live the responsibilities of a duke, and was on the eve of being forced into announcing his marriage to a suitably wealthy American family when he followed Stuart through the portal. Kate of course believes none of this story, and doesn’t heed Stuart’s urgings to keep Leopold from going outside into 21st century New York. With Stuart trapped in the hospital from an elevator accident, Kate and her unemployed thespian brother Charlie become Leopold’s only contacts in this new world. “Leo” brings his 19th century charm, grace, and education to bear in all he does, not only impressing Kate, but also charming her firm’s marketing client in a margarine commercial audition that earns Kate the position she’s dreamed of, even as her dreams start to feature this bewitching man who claims to be from another century.

I rather appreciate how the story addresses Leopold’s culture shock without taking much of any time making him a fish out of water. Stuart simply happened to be followed home by an intelligent empiricist with enough sense to quickly make peace with the fact that something impossible has happened. Also he’s let alone with Stuart’s research notes for long enough that even if the physics may be beyond him, he can grasp the concept of what happened. He does of course get a while to goggle like a tourist sent to the wrong country, but it’s entirely dealt with in a few minutes of story time and he’s unpanicked once he’s satisfied with the explanation, even if it is storywise not far removed from “why did this guy show up 125 years from when he’s from? Not important, we’ve got a story to tell”.

I didn’t feel like our era was being judged all that much at the time, but Leopold’s greatest answer to what modern society needs is Sincerity. Leopold is honest and constructive in everything he does (aside from one scene where he’s selfishly brutal with a rival), and the lives of the people around him are bettered for it. I didn’t really see it because Sincerity isn’t dead, nor is it a foreign concept. It’s just an underutilized skill. Leopold has the luck of the writer’s moral intent that it works as it’s meant to rather than getting him taken advantage of, but that just makes it that much more of a satisfying story.

The honesty and care that goes into the title relationship makes it similarly refreshing to watch. Nobody’s really hiding their intentions, they’re just exploring what those intentions are openly, and finding them highly complementary. The relaxed etiquette of their honorable courtship makes sense in either time (abstracted from censorious gossips) and seems to come naturally to both. Nobody’s trying to impress anybody, they just naturally intrigue each other.

There are very many love stories that don’t add anything to anything. This is a love story that may not feel genuine, but feels like what we may wish to be genuine. It is memorable for not really seeming to try to be. The story of two people who never should have met who were meant for each other.
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