Blog Post Special: Alan Rickman Tribute
This blog entry is quite different from the proceeding entries - and in many ways is probably very little to do with the original aims of this blog. But, quite simply, I felt like I had to write something in response to the terrible news today.
When I was young, and just starting to get an interest in acting and performance, I, like many kids, had particular favourite actors. Performers whose work would see you switching on anything they happened to be in. There have been several of those actors for me, but one of the leading men in this group was Alan Rickman.
Hearing the news today one of the first thoughts I had was overwhelming sadness. Because there will be no more Rickman performances to come. No more opportunity to see him tackling a part in his distinctive style. He was a gifted actor, who would inevitably be one of the finest (if not the finest) thing in anything he was involved, no matter its overall quality. His range - he could do tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical...
Doing this blog one of the first things that came up was the chance to see Rickman\'s first ever work on screen as a charasmatic, scene-stealing Tybalt in
Romeo and Juliet. So, since this series was the birthplace of his film career, I think its appropriate to run a very personal countdown of Alan Rickman\'s career on screen: my own personal countdown of Rickman\'s Top Ten Performances.
Read about them. Then get hold of these and watch them. You are in for a treat.
10. The Harry Potter Film Series (2001-2011) It\'s probably his most iconic part - and to be honest, like Alec Guinness in
Star Wars one felt Rickman could probably play Snape standing on his head. But the depth Rickman brought to the part (and the respect he treated the source material with) was a testament to his dedication as an actor. Every scene he appeared in had its moment - from wry humour to searing pain. If there was any doubt about his ability to extract emotional heft from any scene, it was the truly moving reveal of Snape\'s love for Lilly in the final movie. Was there a more memorable image in the film than Snape cradling Lilly, weeping in agony? Rickman made Snape far much more than a villain, but a man affected by bitterness, prone to envy and pettiness but whose essential honesty, decency and nobility forced himself to rise above it. Extraordinary work across seven films, Rickman made himself synonymous with one of the book\'s most iconic characters, also making deeper and more real than even in the pages of Rowling\'s books.
9. Rasputin (1996) Rickman was a subtle actor, master of the arch comment or raised eyebrow. But that doesn\'t mean he couldn\'t let rip. And boy when he did it was something to see. In 1996 Rickman tore up the TV as a simply insane Rasputin, his eyes reflecting an inner certainty about his divine mission. Shaggy haired, sweaty and very, very Roosian, Rickman left nothing in the locker room, boozing, whoring and screaming across the whole film. But with that, Rickman also showed the loyalty Rasputin felt towards the Romanovs - and his fatherly gentleness and warmth towards the Tsarevich. A tour de force, but much more than just a simple sketch of madness.
Pushing on a bit of a cheat, as I have never seen this gruelling torture drama all the way through. It\'s terribly difficult to find - though some naughty person has uploaded it to YouTube - but well worth it. Co-funded by Amnesty, it\'s a two hander where Rickman plays the cold, impersonal interrogator of Madeleine Stowe\'s dissident. In many ways the scariest character Rickman ever played, the Interrogator is unrelenting, chilling in his reasonableness and unrelenting in his methods. But the trick is to make this character more than just a "punch-clock" villain - Rickman builds in plenty of depth throughout, showing the emptiness and fear of the torturer. He also skilfully takes on several different personas throughout the interrogation, from lost soul to fellow victim. His performance has been described as "haunted and haunting" - there can be no better tribute.
Romeo and Juliet was the introduction to Rickman, for TV viewers, then his big break was as the odious, ambitious, clerical social climber Obadiah Slope in this BBC adaptation of Anthony Trollope\'s novels. His sneering, smirking, unbearingly self obsessed, vilely ingratiating, manipulative Machiavellian Slope is impossible not to watch - and the viewer delights in his vileness as much as Rickman clearly is. What really marked Rickman out though was the strange attractiveness he gave this vile man (even Trollope wrote that he hated the character), his magnetism as a performer making him hard not to root for (this would certainly help him later on with future roles!) and even a slight vulnerability as he finds himself drawn - despite himself - towards an "unsuitable woman". This is one of those instances where a performance of the character is actually superior to the original source material. A virtual unknown at the time the series was aired, his is the performance that you take away.
6. Michael Collins (1996) Rickman\'s facilities with voices and accents is even more impressive when you remember that his distinctive tones come from training to overcome a chronic stammer as a child. Few films demonstrate his vocal skill more than this pitch perfect impersonation of Eamon de Valera - his gets all the cadences of de Valera\'s bizarre hybrid accent in this beautifully filmed biopic of Michael Collins. But of course the Rickman gifts don\'t stop there. In a film that aims to position Collins as a visionary leader, cut short by death, Rickman\'s de Valera\'s purpose in the film is to be the "conservative" villain - the man who will not allow the violence to end. But of course de Valera is a lot more than that - a curious hybrid of both strong (in his rigid, unbending determination) but also strangely weak (sentimental and tender), simultaneously manipulative and also deeply regretful.
5. Sense and Sensibility (1995) A lot of morally dubious characters so far in this list. So it\'s wonderful to see Rickman play against type as a pure, noble, decent, moral, softly spoken, gentle and honourable Colonel Brandon. Can there be anyone alive watching this film he doesn\'t love Brandon? Behind his straight backed exterior, you can see the deep love for Marianne in his eyes - just as you see later the pain at his unspoken rejection. Throughout the film you get the sense of a sad childhood and an overwhelming sense of loneliness in Brandon, a man you can immediately sense has loved and lost already, and for whom the scars may never heal. Rickman also gives him a quiet romantic quality - his heart slowly ruling over his head, allowing him to dream that he might have another chance at happiness. His humanity and undemanding love truly moves the audience, in an exceptional film: "Give me an occupation Miss Dashwood, or I shall run mad".
4. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) For people of my generation, this quite simply is one of
the films of the 1990s. I\'ve lost count of the number of times that simply beginning a quote from the film, leads to it practically being finished by the person I\'m talking to. The main reason for that is Rickman, who allegedly took the part on condition he could play it anyway he wanted. On BAFTA winning form, Rickman simply rips the film apart, his Sherriff an outrageously comic turn, laced with a sadistic quality, his verbal dexterity and physical accomplishment wringing every inch of scene stealing insanity. Write some of the lines down by the way and there is nothing inherently funny or memorable about them: "Because it\'s dull you twit, it will hurt more", "I can\'t do this with all that racket going on!" but you can hear the delivery of them. Rumour has it many of the films best lines emerged from a late night restaurant session with Ruby Wax and other friends: "Bring a friend" and of course the iconic "Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings...and call off Christmas!". It\'s pantomime brilliance with an edge, brutal, hilarious and simply sensational.
3. Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990) Most of Rickman\'s best known work was on the edges of the extreme. But he was also an intensely soulful and sensitive actor, and this was perhaps seen best in his moving and sensitive performance as the recently deceased ghost Jamie in this small scale, tender and heartfelt movie from Anthony Minghella about grief and moving on (with an equally exceptional Juliet Stevenson as the bereaved Nina). Rickman is romantic, loving, gentle, capable of selfishness but it\'s his simple tenderness that makes it clear why Nina can\'t let him go - and the final sequence of the film is impossible to watch without a lump in the throat, as Rickman quietly reveals his increasingly overbearing haunting has been an attempt to push Nina to carry on with a life. The film expertly demonstrates Rickman\'s range as both a light comedian and a romantic lead and makes you wish he had been offered more roles like this.
2. Die Hard (1988) Rickman has two iconic out-and-out villains on his CV: Hans Gruber and the Sheriff. No doubt he could have earned a fortune, if he had chosen, from playing many, many more had he not decided that the Sheriff would be the last time he would ever play a straight villain. Of the two, I think Hans Gruber is simply extraordinary - Rickman\'s influence hangs over every actor who has picked up the nemesis batten in every film series since - and it\'s even more striking when you remember this was Rickman\'s first ever film. Gruber is cultured, calm, arrogant and ruthless but Rickman\'s you-just-can\'t-bottle-it charisma makes him a character many people find themselves rooting for despite themselves. He\'s ruthless but fiendishly clever and above all extremely cool. He\'s magnetic in the film, impossible to look away from, giving a superior edge to each of his lines, and tipping a covert wink to the audience, his increasingly quiet exasperation at everything from McClane to his own crew (who can forget his weary "Shoot-the-Glass."). "I\'m an exceptional thief Mrs. McClane and since I\'m moving up to kidnapping you should be more pilot."
1. Galaxy Quest (1999) And so to number one: "By Grabthar\'s hammer, you shall be avenged!". Rickman\'s comic timing and sardonic humour has its best ever vehicle as frustrated would-be Shakespearean Alexander Dane, haunted by a catch-phrase from a long dead SciFi show that definitely wasn\'t
Star Trek. Every line is delivered to maximum effect, every raised eyebrow gets a chuckle, the career frustration seeping from every pore as Dane moves from opening supermarkets ("By Grabthar\'s Hammer... (sigh) what a saving"). It\'s a hilarious performance, but it works so well because Rickman plays it so straight: you really get a sense that Dane is a real person, and most of all you also get the sense that underneath the cynicism, he cares deeply for his friends and colleagues. And that\'s the reason, for me, this goes in at number one - because Rickman brings not only the comedy but also a great emotional depth to the film when it is needed, without ever seeming heavy handed at either point.
To see what I mean watch the "pay-off" scene for the "Grabthar\'s Hammer" joke. All the way through, Rickman delivers the lines with a combination of reluctance, bitterness and loathing, resenting every moment he\'s been forced to say it. But, late in the film, his number one fan Quelleck lies dying. This character, who Dane has treated with a weary impatience throughout, who he has snappily prevented from quoting his line, lies dying in his arms. And Rickman delivers the line at last - with a quiet, emotional force, a fatherly tenderness. It takes a great actor to create the most moving part of the film from the culmination of a running gag. It\'s the scene I think I\'d keep from all of Rickman\'s work. And it\'s the final proof, if you need it, of his gifts as an actor - I can\'t think of any other actor who could be so hilariously comic, but yet so true and real in one film - and both complementing each other perfectly.
So let\'s end the article with that scene (at 1:43). Watch it. Then all these films above. Then anything else he was in.
Alan Rickman. Taken from us far, far, too soon.