There’s definitely something different about the highly observant, suffer-no-fools Freddy character in Steven Zallian’s Ripley (Netflix, now streaming).

Played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Anthony Minghella’s quarter-century-old The Talented Mr. Ripley, Freddy is now a gender-fluid fellow played by musician Eliot Sumner, born a biofemale (the parents are Sting and Trudy Styler) and now a non-binary “they.”

Eight and a half years ago Eliot Paulina Sumner, a musician, came out as gay-with-a-girlfriend in a 12.2.15 Evening Standard article.

The Cate Blanchett-resembling Sumner has everyone’s attention now with a Ripley supporting role as the blunt-spoken Freddy, the suspicious-minded writer friend of Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn) and Marge Sherwood (Dakota Fanning)…a sharp-witted fellow who’s an arch-antagonist of Andrew Scott’s Ripley.

There were, of course, no uncertain perceptions about Philly’s gender or sexuality in Minghella’s film but there certainly are with Eliot.

Right away you’re thinking there’s something clearly womanish about Freddy…obviously…his voice is thin and reedy and tartly feminine is a Blanchett-sounding way, and his mid ‘60s Beatle-ish hair style is too long for a dude in a JFK-era realm. (The film announces itself as occurring in 1961.) Freddy has in effect been transformed into an exceptional X-factor dyke.

On one hand it’s fascinating that Freddy is portrayed not as a regular brainy dude but as a brainy lesbian strolling around in men’s clothing and wearing 1965 hair that’s half Blanchett-Dylan in I’m Not There and half Paul McCartney.

On the other hand Sumner’s casting violates our basic sense of what constitutes mid 20th Century guy vibes, traits and mannerisms. It therefore throws a monkey wrench into the Ripley engine, and our belief in Zallian’s carefully constructed reality, our faith in this elegant Italian milieu of 60-plus years ago that seems so right in so many hundreds of ways…our trust is slightly shaken.

The Sumner casting is therefore, I feel, intriguing but unfortunate at the same instant. The perversity of what has to be called an act of stunt casting is oddly interesting (jaded Europeans being ahead of the cultural curve), but it’s also an obvious nod and a capitulation to current woke attitudes and sensibilities in the area of gender and sexuality and whatnot.

Sumner’s Freddy absolutely doesn’t fit into 1961 Rome — that’s for sure.

Decider article, 4.3.24: