The Watchers

The Watchers

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Alan Rickman (1946-2016)

Like many, we at The Watchers were deeply upset to hear of the sudden and unexpected passing of the great Alan Rickman who has died at the age of 69.

Born in Acton in 1946, Rickman did not start acting until he was 28 and graduated from RADA in 1974. One of his earliest TV roles was as Tybalt in the BBC Shakespeare version of Romeo And Juliet. He was always very comfortable on the stage, playing Mark Antony opposite Helen Mirren as Cleopatra and playing the Vicomte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses onstage to great acclaim in both London and on Broadway.

Die Hard was Rickman's first feature film role and his performance as Hans Gruber is one of the most indelible villainous roles in action cinema, even though Rickman himself never thought of Gruber as 'the villain'. He was cast by the producers on the strength of his stage performance in Les Liaisons Dengereuses. However, director John McTiernan found it necessary to cut away from Gruber whenever he fires a gun, as Rickman had an uncontrollable habit of flinching whenever he pulled the trigger. 

After playing Gruber, Rickman then went on to play a romantic lead in Anthony Minghella's tearjerking Truly Madly Deeply as a cellist who dies and returns to his grieving partner as a ghost. He is easily the best thing about Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, bringing a broad almost campy swagger to the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham, clearly relishing some of the more pointed lines in the script (such as the oft-quoted 'I'll cut your heart out with a spoon' and 'call off Christmas'). The film comes alive whenever he's on screen. He won a BAFTA for the role.

In Sense And Sensibility, Rickman went back to the romantic lead role as Colonel Brandon, delivering a wonderfully sensitive performance. He won a Primetime Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award for playing Rasputin, and then appeared as Irish politician Eamon de Valera in Michael Collins

One of his best roles, as far as I'm concerned, is in Dogma, where he plays the Metatron (the voice of God). I remembered thinking at the time how, if God was real, you'd want him to have the voice of Alan Rickman. As the Metatron, he's flippant and incredibly funny, throwing out some delicious one-liners like 'do you go around drenching everybody that comes into your room with flame-retardant chemicals? No wonder you're single!' But there's also a sensitivity there, especially in the later scenes with Linda Fiorentino where he discusses talking to the young Jesus. 

However, if pushed to choose just one, I think my favourite Rickman film performance would be Galaxy Quest. He is just superb as Alexander Dane, a bumptious old luvvie sick and tired of trotting out the same old tired catchphrases as Dr Lazarus. There's something wonderful about his hauteur about falling so low- he played Richard III, there were five curtain calls- but yet he steps up and becomes the character again when needed. 

In 2003, he appeared in the British comedy-drama Love Actually. I've got a few issues with the film (it could do with a damn good edit for a start) but the strand involving Rickman and Emma Thompson as a couple whose relationship is tested when he is tempted to stray is one of the most compelling and well-acted parts of the film. It feels authentic against some of the broader stuff. 

He's the perfect fit for the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in the 2005 version of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and puts in a menacing turn as Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. He's also great as the voice of Absalom the Caterpillar in Alice In Wonderful (and had already recorded his lines to reprise the role for Alice Through The Looking Glass). 

Other great Rickman performances are in the video for 'In Demand' by Texas (dancing with Sharleen Spiteri in a petrol station), as a disembodied head in the TV adaptation of Samuel Beckett's Play and reuniting with Emma Thompson as a pair of old flames who meet for dinner in The Song Of Lunch. He was also a director, directing Emma Thompson and Phyllida Law in the 1997 film The Winter Guest and the 2014 film A Little Chaos, starring Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts and in which he also played King Louis XIV.

But for many people, it will be his role as Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise for which Rickman will be most remembered. He was J.K. Rowling's first choice- indeed, she wrote the character with Rickman in mind- but he was only given the role after Tim Roth (who was the studio's preferred choice) backed out. Rowling even told him more about Snape's character than had been revealed in the books at that point to better inform his performance. In a franchise that's stuffed to the ginnels with the cream of British acting talent and so many wonderful performance, it takes something to stand out - and he does. Sneering, sarcastic and dry, like all the best characters, he has another side to him and throughout the course of the eight films, Snape moves from out-and-out antagonist to something more like a hero, albeit with some shades of grey. 

As an actor, Alan Rickman was often typecast as a villain (thanks to his superb roles in Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves) but was equally adept as a romantic lead, in comedic roles, in period pieces and contemporary ones. Many will feel the fact he was never nominated for an Oscar as an egregious oversight.

He is survived by his wife, Rima Horton, who he was with for over fifty years and who he married in 2012. Our thoughts and with her, his family and friends at this time.

for The Watchers

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