little romantic comedy
released in 2001, starring Meg Ryan
as a tough senior advertising
executive, and Hugh Jackman
as a duke
from the year 1876, caught up in a portal
in the space-time continuum
and deposited in the apartment above hers.
That pretty much sums up the plot part. She doesn't believe him, she gets on with her own hectic life, he reacts with amazement (though not nearly enough) to the technological innovations he sees around him and the fast, bizarre pace of life in New York in 2001, she is gradually charmed by his old-world genteel manners, and they fall into each other's arms, beds, and in this case centuries.
The acting is not bad, the script is adequate for what it is, some of the scenes are okay (such as when her handbag is snatched by a mugger and he seizes one of those horses that pull carts for romantic tourists and gives chase), but what really had me cringing was the anachronism. But hold hard, you cry, this is about time travel: surely anachronism and paradox are meat and drink to the script? Hm, yes and no.
The set-up in 1876 is that Leopold, third Duke of Albany, is a brilliant but unsuccessful inventor, enamoured of the new world of Brunel and Edison and Bell. He doesn't want to be a duke, doesn't want the party circuit, he sees the true nobility of the age in the inventors. He himself has invented a peculiar device for allowing people to ascend from one floor of a building to another. The Duke has a manservant called Otis. Note the foreshadowing.
The impoverished Duke is at a society party in New York where his uncle wants him to marry some rich American woman, the purpose of the party being to choose which one. Instead, he sees someone doing something strange: it's the wacko scientist from 2001 in 1876 dress but taking photos with a tiny modern camera. (Huge 1876 cameras feature prominently to make the point that this is unusual; but in fact it's so unusual that no-one from 1876 could possibly have connected that titchy little thing with the idea of a 'camera'.)
The Duke chases him, and grabs him just as he falls into the hole in the fabric of time. This leaves them in 2001 New York, in the scientist's apartment. He's not a real scientist (no white coat), just some nut who worked out something about the space-time continuum. (I've now given you the complete scientific explanation as given in the film, not just a summary. It's that good.)
The scientist's ex-girlfriend (Meg Ryan) lives downstairs. The scientist falls down a lift shaft (don't ask) and gets detained in a psycho ward for the rest of the film (don't ask). This leaves the Duke either on his own, trying to work out how to cook using modern appliances, or chatting with hard-bitten Kate, and gradually wearing down her resistance. It's not so much the accent as the politeness and etiquette and so on.
For contrast we have Kate's sleazy boss, who propositions her at dinner, telling her he can speak fluent French, which he learnt from dead cultural stuff like watching the opera La Bohème. Now Leopold and his friend have dropped in on this private dinner by now, drunk, or at least slightly drunk, or at least the friend is.
I never did work out exactly who the friend is. Someone Kate was screwing, I think. He drops in on her apartment and Leopold takes them for brother and sister. There's a bit of almost winking between them, but it would probably contravene the Hays Code even to be explicit about the winking, so I missed what was going on there. Anyway, he's now a friend to Kate and Leopold. I can't honestly say he figures much in the plot, as in, he's there a lot of the time, but it wouldn't make any noticeable difference if all his scenes were cut.
Anyway. Leopold tricks the sleazebag boss by speaking French, then by mentioning that La Bohème was in fact in Italian. He had earlier been singing duets from Pirates of Penzance with the friend, saying that he'd just seen the première.
Finally the scientist escapes and develops his pictures of the ball in 1876, and sees Kate in one of them, and realizes that some horrible paradox has happened and the fabric of time is like a figure 8. He has a big book which prominently names Leopold, third Duke of Albany, as the inventor of the elevator, but now in an elevator the camera pauses ominously on the name Otis. So Kate rushes back in time to... um...
Look, clearly, we're meant to see some sort of twist here, that his appearance in 2001 has changed history and if Kate does/doesn't do something or if he, um...
It just isn't explored. They don't even bother writing a paradox in, they just assume you'll recognize that there ought, logically, to be some kind of time-travel paradox round about here so we don't need details.
La Bohème premièred in 1896. The Pirates of Penzance premièred in 1880. Elisha Otis built the first elevator in 1857. None of these anachronisms can be explained away by any idea that time travel changed historical facts. There was a real Leopold, Duke of Albany, son of Queen Victoria, and as they obviously got the name from him, they must have known that there couldn't have been a different Leopold who was an impoverished third duke of the same, at the same time. Very, very lazy, very sloppy. Surely with this plot premise you'd expect some logic and research?
He's a charming, kind man with integrity. (She gets him to do an advertising campaign and he's furious when he discovers the margarine tastes like saddle soap.) The remaining unexplored puzzle is what he ever sees in her.