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Bonne Fête, Bujold.

by Seán McGovern

Today we celebrate the 75th birthday of Québécoise actress Geneviève Bujold, one of the lesser-lauded Francophone talents. Apart from having a wonderful name to pronounce (dinner with Geneviève Bujold and René Auberjonois, perhaps?), she has more than 70 films under her belt. Instead of doing a retrospective of an actresses who not all of us might know or appreciate, consider this an introduction to some of her greatest work, including Anne of a Thousand Days, Dead Ringers and of course, not Star Trek: Voyager.


The best place to start is with the film that launched her internationally and gained her sole Best Actress Oscar nomination. Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) pits Bujold against Richard Burton's King Henry VIII. As the young Boleyn, Bujold is the object of the demands and affections of the King, who recently having disposed of his previous wife and grown bored of Anne's sister, places his gaze on the 18 year old. Pauline Kael said at the time that the film "isn't exciting" but made remarks that likely turned Bujold's limitations into skills to come in later films, that she "does wonders with the part, but she's too tight, too self-contained. One admirers her as an actress but does not warm to her."

The 70s was a decade that turned this chilliness into the right roles and subsequent hits followed. 1976's Obsession by Brian de Palma was followed swifty in '78 with Michael Crichton's Coma, two tense and suspenseful films that were also big box office. And credit to Bujold:MGM didn't have confidence that a female lead would work in Coma and considered casting Paul Newman, disregarding the fact that the protagonist in the novel was female. Films like these are such time capsules of 70s cinema and this is where Bujold's style is most confident: paranoid, icy and tightly wrought.

By 1988 came the other film that is always mentioned in the same breath as Anne, Cronenberg's classic Dead Ringers, with Bujold returning to the hospital, this time as actress Claire Niveau who falls foul of twins Bev and Elliot Mantle (Jeremy Irons). The stars of the film are indeed the twins, but Bujold is where the audience directs its fears, with us knowing the manipulation that Bujold is under but no way to let her know. It also gives Bujold a Cronenbergian set piece to play with, tearing apart the brothers in the dream sequence clip below, which although not gratuitous is really, really gross.

Yet it's a role that she didn't play that also drew attention to her for more unfortunate reasons. Bujold was the original Captain Elizabeth Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager but quit after a day of shooting the pilot. Bujold was eventually replaced by Kate Mulgrew and Elizabeth became Kathryn. News reports at the time noted that Bujold's departure put the production of the show in jeopardy, the official statement saying that Bujold "realized that the rigors of episodic television were too demanding." But the clips that surfaced of Bujold may have indicated that she wasn't really into it, echoing some of Pauline Kael's observations from 1970.

Bujold continues to work, mostly in Canada in independent films, but her mark has been made and her legacy of the 1970s and 80s remains. Bujold fans - what do you recommend? Are you a huge fan of Earthquake? Tightrope? Alex & the Gypsy?

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Reader Comments (21)

I am a huge advocate of her Dead Ringers,does well playing a flinty actress.

July 1, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

"Obsession" 's the Bujold film I love best. She and Cliff Robertson are both wonderful in it - what a uniquely sensitive and affecting chemistry they share!. And all to the accompaniment of a beautiful Bernard Herrmann score.

July 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKen

She has a great little part in a Canadian movie called Last Night. Top-notch Sandra Oh, as well.

July 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

House of Yes!

July 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJames from Ames

It's odd to hear Bujold described as chilly. I've always considered her a deeply emotional actress, smart with a febrile quivering of passion and emotion just below the surface. Who cannot be scarred by her calling out "Daddy! You brought the money!" (spoiler to say which film).

Some other favourites are:
"Choose Me", 1984, dir. Alan Rudolph, stylish comedy of the era.
"King of Hearts", 1966, with Alan Bates, in the period where she was cast as a manic pixie girl
"The Trojan Women", 1971, a great acting showcase with wildly different styles. Bujold as the prophetess Cassandra, who is never believed; Katherine Hepburn as Hecuba; Vanessa Redgrave as Andromache; and Irene Papas as the best Helen of Troy ever.
"Still Mine", 2012, with James Cromwell, enduring love.

July 1, 2017 | Unregistered Commenteradri

She played wonderful sensitive parts in three great french movies
La Guerre est Finie (1966)
Le Roi de cœur (1966)
Le Voleur (1967)
She is fantastic in the poetic canadian movie
Entre la mer et l'eau douce (1967)
before she didn't get a deserved oscar for
Anne of the thousand Days (1969)
Then she was again fantastic in
Obsession (1976)
before doing wonderful supporting turns in
Choose Me (1984)
Trouble in Mind (1985)
The Moderns (1988)
and especially in
Dead Ringers (1988) for which she should have gotten an oscar nom

July 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

I think by "chilly" they may mean Gallic. She is a Cancer after all.

1988 was a good year for her! Dead Ringers and The Moderns still very much hold up to this day.

The '70s were such a great decade for actresses of her ilk. Jane Fonda famously tried to back out of Klute and wanted Faye Dunaway to replace her. I wonder though how an actress like Geneviève Bujold would've fared in that part (although Fonda was perfect of course).

Joyeux anniversarie, Mme. Bujold!

July 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I highly recommend King of Hearts. And of course she's also quite good in two small parts mentioned already (in Last Night and House of Yes).

July 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

Oh crap, that show would have been even worse. Voyager is NOT a good show, overall (The best thing I can say is that it's not Enterprise), but this probably would have done what that one did.

July 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

She was very good in "Obsesion"

July 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I can kind of see why the "chiling" comment stuck with her. Her perfance as Anne in 1000 Days is more cerebreal than passionate. Her Anne is no pawn in the palace scemes, but an active player. It is (I believe) the best portrayal of Anne Boyelyn.

July 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

This is very nice. Look at us discussing different actresses from the usuals!

July 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

"Coma" and "Earthquake" are both very 70's thrill rides. Fun!

July 2, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Brilliant actor. One of the top 30 actresses ever.

July 2, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Ha. I don't know french so I thought the headline was something similar to bon voyage or farewell. Gave me a heart attack!

July 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterWoop

@Woop Bonne Fête is actually the particular way to say Happy Birthday in the Quebec dialect of French. At least according to THE INTERNET.

July 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSeán

Last Night is seriously my all time favorite film. Her part is small, but she is lovely - perfectly cast. And if you haven't seen it, YOU MUST!!! An absolute triumph of tone.

July 3, 2017 | Unregistered Commenteryesnomaybe

She is quite lovely in "King of Hearts." Grew up watching that film a lot with my parents.

July 4, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

I'm late to this Birthday party, but thank you for this article on one of my favourite actresses.
Bujold is a gifted actress who deserves to be better known.
Merci Nathaniel.

July 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Bujold is one of my favourite actresses and I am just in awe of her in 'Anne of the Thousand Days', a film I love and she gives a performance that definitely should have won the Oscar. Hers is still the best Anne Boleyn on screen. Whilst highly respected by critics and those in the know, her low profile and tendency to choose less commercial film projects has kept her an unknown quantity to most audiences.
Her best films are:-
Anne of the Thousand Days
Still Mine
She has given many good performances in films that have not been as good as she is.

July 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterM Ridding

We should not forget her amazing performance in Kamouraska, a beautiful film made in Quebec and based on Anne Hebert novel. Great cinematography and acting.

September 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

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