Phrase of the day: a double-edged sword

For many years, Hugh Grant was perhaps the most famous English actor there was. He rose to fame playing . . . well, himself, really. In films such as Notting Hill, Love Actually and Four Wedddings and a Funeral, he played the quintessential upper-class Englishman: shy, self-deprecating, slightly socially awkward, and desperate to maintain a stiff upper-lip. These were roles that won him as many enemies as fans at home, but that exported very well indeed. He soon became a household name all over the world.

Indeed, he became so well-known that he started following me around like a strange shadow! Every time I tried to explain to students that my name was Hugh, I’d wince in pain as they mispronounced it as you, huge, shoe, and so on . . . until eventually I’d give in and say “Like Hugh Grant”, at which point all the problems would melt away!

It seemed another reason to hate him. However, it clearly can’t have been easy being Hugh Grant – and his chiselled good looks were clearly a double-edged sword: sure, they got him plenty of well-paid work . . .  but it was always the same kind of work. Nothing seemed to damage his clean-cut image – not even getting caught by police in Los Angeles in a compromising position with a local working girl, Divine Brown! He seemed destined to be forever typecast – given the same kind of roles to play over and over again.

If you describe a situation or a decision as a double-edged sword (or just as double-edged), it means it has both clear advantages and also downsides. It cuts both ways. It’s often used to describe new regulation that the government introduces, all kinds of different social media and – most recently – the weak pound: on the one hand, a weak pound may well boost demand for British goods, but on the other, many UK exporters are also importers as a result of global supply chains and so will now be facing higher input costs due to the weakening currency.

You may be wondering why I’m mentioning all of this. Well, I’ve just finished watching a recent BBC series called A Very British Scandal . . . in which an almost unecognisable Hugh Grant delivers the performance of a lifetime as the disgraced British MP, Jeremy Thorpe. It’s forced  me to reassess  his talents. At 57, Grant is eight years older than me, and seems to have finally thrown off the shackles of his youth. No longer quite the handsome young man he once was, he’s now allowed to play more mature roles with greater depth . . . and excel in them.

There’s clearly still hope for us all!

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  • Can you think of any situations or decisions in your own life that were double-edged swords?
  • Can you think of any other actors who regularly get typecast?
  • Have you ever seen any films or TV programmes with Hugh Grant in them? Which ones? What did you think of them?
  • Which well-kniwn people from your country have become household names elsewhere? How?
  • Have you ever been forced to reassess someone’s talents – and admit that maybe you were wrong about them?
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