The Pyramid Texts (2015)

An old boxer returns to the ring one last time to record a video message to his son. It’s an award-winning, moving monologue from veteran star James Cosmo in the Shammasian Brothers’ The Pyramid Texts.

The Weight of the Soul

by Alexa Dalby

The Pyramid Texts

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

James Cosmo grips your attention in a tour-de-force performance of self-flaying honesty. Transferred from the stage to film in foreboding monochrome, The Pyramid Texts is the searing monologue of an old boxer, alone with a video camera in the raised ring of a deserted boxing gym. First we see him set it up to record himself and what turns out to be a message on video to his estranged son. Then, as he starts to talk, we see the small, deliberate, visceral details of his life – the making of a cup of tea, his careful instructions on how to the bandage a boxer’s hands, as he explains how he teaches young boxers the importance of protecting their hands, the tools of their trade, and the damage that can be done if you don’t protect the bones, a symbolism that recurs throughout.

James Cosmo (Game of Thrones, T2 Trainspotting, Braveheart) is a veteran, award-winning actor. The tone of his monologue in The Pyramid Texts is reflective, meditative, melancholy, and also self-flagellatory. He faces the unforgiving lens of the camera on the tripod as if the ring is a confessional. His story unfolds as he talks through the failures and successes of his boxing career, his drinking, his family and most of all his fear – the fear that he was afraid to admit – and that he realises now it would be been OK to. As he reminisces about the birth of his son, the way he encouraged his son’s boxing career and the circumstances that led to their estrangement, he rails against the self-doubt and fear that poisoned their relationship.

The Shammasian Brothers (Paul and Ludwig) have cleverly transposed the original stage play to the screen in what amounts to the recital of 90-minute poem that encompasses love, guilt, religion, birth and death and everything in between. Filming it in black and white (by cinematographer Sam Brown) gives a bleak, retrospective, ominous quality to the single claustrophobic set, though they break out into flashbacks of past-remembered boxing bouts and, as Cosmo’s emotions rise to a catharsis, extreme close-ups of his mouth as he makes his unsparing confessions and his eyes as he sobs pitifully at his realisations. Stephen Hilton’s music glides in and out so subtly that it almost seems like dialogue and outside showers of rain and street sounds come and go as time passes.

James Cosmo’s real son Ethan Cosmo has a non-speaking role as the son. The Pyramid Texts is not obviously cinematic yet it works brilliantly as a film that takes its audience on an emotional journey that will leave them wrung out by the force of James Cosmo’s performance.

The Pyramid Texts premiered at EIFF, where James Cosmo won an award for Best Performance in a British Feature, and was nominated for Best British Feature. Following its cinema release, the film is released digitally on 28 April 2017 on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.

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