In Peacock, Cillian Murphy stars alongside Ellen Page as a small-town man with one huge secret. To his neighbours, John Skillpa (Murphy) is a shy and reserved bank clerk living in the small town of Peacock. But behind closed doors John has a secret personality, ‘Emma’, who cooks and cleans for him at the beginning of every day.
When a train crashes into his back garden and Emma is revealed to the neighbours, John is forced to tell them she is his wife. Consumed by Emma and his secret, John’s life begins to spiral out of control as he battles the pain of his past, and present, with the help of a Maggie, a young mother (Page).
To mark the January 20th UK release of Peacock we take a look at the Top 5 cross-dressing movie thrillers as homage to Cillian Murphy’s outstanding performance as John (and Emma) Skillpa. Beware spoilers ahead!
1. Psycho (1960) – Anthony Perkins
Psycho is something of a precursor to Peacock and it’s rightly considered to be one of Hitchcock’s top masterpieces. What happens when the mother-son bond goes too far? Motel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is tortured by the death of his mother – a grief which not only dominates his whole life, but eventually becomes his whole life. After the investigation into the death of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), who stops off at the Bates Motel after a night on the run, we discover that Norman has a suppressed personality surfacing as his own mother – wearing her clothes and becoming completely locked in her identity. Perkins stated that he has “A lot of affection for Norman Bates and a lot of sympathy… he’s not just a monster. He’s tortured”. And he is truly brilliant in the role. Psycho set the standard for all blockbuster shockers in the future.
2. Dressed to Kill (1980) – Michael Caine
Michael Caine revealed that he was sceptical about his cross-dressing role in Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill due to fears of enjoying wearing women’s clothes too much – fortunately these concerns were relieved when he realised dressing in tights and a bra with hip and bosom pads was particularly uncomfortable, describing it as “Going skiing, but there’s no snow!”
Caine stars as psychiatrist Dr. Elliot who wants to be a woman, but is held back from a sex-change operation by his ‘male personality’. When aroused by a woman, ‘Bobbi’ emerges as Elliot’s ‘female personality’ – a tall, blonde woman always hidden behind dark sunglasses, who has a somewhat deadly quality…
3. Silence of the Lambs (1991) – Ted Levine
The cross-dressing theme took perhaps a more sinister form with the character Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) in this intense psychological thriller. To prepare for the role of a psychopath who skins his female victims to make skin suits, Levine studied serial killers’ profiles, which he admitted was a disturbing experience that led him to “Never do a character like this again”. Buffalo Bill considers himself transsexual, and so Levine visited several transvestite bars and interviewed their regular customers to gain a better insight into the world. It’s an often overlooked but captivating performance, although one that was the subject of some controversy from some activists at the time. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation claimed,” The movie implied that men who dress up as women must be sick and deranged” and crashed the New York Film Critics Circle Awards to protest against the film. Despite this, Silence of the Lambs was a huge box office smash and went on to win 5 Academy Awards.
4. The Crying Game (1992) – Jaye Davidson
Dil’s (Jaye Davidson) reveal as a transgender woman in Neil Jordan’s psychological thriller The Crying Game came as a huge surprise to unsuspecting audiences in 1992. Davidson himself was discovered while at the bar of the after-party for the film Edward II, originally thinking the offer was a joke, and later accepting the role so he could pay for some new leather boots he saw in a copy of Vogue. Despite stating that he “Never, ever did drag” and “Does not own any feminine clothing”, Davidson admits that people often mistake him for a woman. The latter was certainly true in The Crying Game where audiences worldwide were fooled by the compelling performance.
5. Breakfast on Pluto (2005) – Cillian Murphy
Cillian Murphy is not new to the cross-dressing domain. Studying women’s body language and frequent meetings with a drag queen were just some of the preparations that went into the character of Patrick ‘Kitten’ Braden, a young transgender woman searching for her birth mother in 1970s Ireland. Murphy explains that it is ‘the roles that stretch an actor’ that are the most satisfying, and the role of Kitten can certainly be placed in this category. He says there were many ways in which he identified with the character, but that the physical and sexual elements posed the greatest challenge. Is he up to this challenge when he takes on another cross-dressing role in new thriller Peacock? Watch this space…