It is an unashamedly partisan choice, but my favourite memory of Alan Rickman will always be his performance in Sense and Sensibility.
While Emma Thompson’s screenplay was the star of the show, Alan Rickman’s depiction of a character that gets a second chance at life is truly moving. You see Colonel Brandon’s transformation from a man who expects nothing further, to one filled with optimism – exactly as Jane Austen wrote it.
This was Rickman’s interpretation of the male romantic lead. It was the defining characteristic of his work – the ability to find the unexpected in any role, any genre. There was no such thing as a by-the-book performance. His delight in making Professor Snape the dark heart of Harry Potter was plain to see. But in Snape, Rickman found a layer of melancholy I don’t think even JK Rowling had exposed. A villain thwarted by love, in the end, is just a man, and that message was sent to a generation of young cinema-goers. Read further, read deeper.
His film career was so varied, simply because he could do it all. His gift for comedy was abundant, taking him from sly asides in Die Hard, to the frustrated Shakespearean in cult favourite Galaxy Quest. With some actors, you can feel the effort made in trying to make us laugh. Alan Rickman needed to do so little, your reaction was gut-felt and genuine every time.
And there was the promise of more. He had returned last year to directing with A Little Chaos. Great theatre roles, a ground-breaking television series perhaps, another glorious Hollywood baddie: it was all within reach. The awards he would accept with easy grace, the new generation that would gleefully discover his work. Alan Rickman leaves us with memories, far fewer than we would like. But that’s the thing; you always hope there’ll be more time.
Alan Rickman was pure class, no matter what he turned his hand to. As the phantom Jamie in Anthony Minghella’s marvellous British antidote to America’s Ghost – Truly, Madly, Deeply. As the honourable Colonel Brandon in Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility.
But let’s not beat around the bush here. For moviegoers of a certain generation, Alan Rickman will always be best remembered for a brace of superb turns as villains, first as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, then as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. His Hans Gruber was everything you could ask of an arch enemy: smooth, cunning, brutal, poised and – crucially – hilarious. In a film which still crackles nearly 30 years on, he had all the best lines.
It’s tempting to see his Sheriff of Nottingham as a souped-up version of his role in Die Hard, although looking back on it now there is something demonic and hypersexual in this performance which was absent from the previous role. And who could ever forget his barking of the order to cancel Christmas.
He now won’t be joining us for the rest of his life. RIP.
It has been quite a week for celebrity deaths. Whilst I was saddened by David Bowie’s passing I was still very shocked to learn of Alan Rickman’s death last Wednesday. I will certainly be rewatching Die Hard in the coming weeks but I decided to revisit one of his more underrated villainous performances.
In Sweeney Todd he plays the lustful Judge Turpin who at the beginning of the film plots to have Johnny Depp’s innocent Benjamin Barker sent away so he can romance Barker’s wife Lucy. He takes care of their child Johanna after Lucy kills herself and plans to marry her once she comes of age. Compared to his performances in Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Rickman is incredibly subtle in this film. He certainly lends a complexity and depth to the character, especially in the second half of the film where it appears he is trying to make amends for his wrong doings in the past and attempts to woo Johanna in a more conventional way.
However he is still just as vicious as Hans Gruber, he rapes and lusts after women in the first half of the film and there is a short and slightly disturbing scene where he sentences a child to hang for a crime as petty as stealing.
Of course there has been a lot of talk about his ‘voice’. One of the pleasures of this film is that it is a rare opportunity to hear Alan Rickman sing and he’s surprisingly good. Sweeney Todd is a fine example of Alan Rickman’s diverse acting career and he has left behind an extraordinary body of work. He will be sorely missed.
In an age of instant gratification, when one becomes famous for simply being famous, the cult of celebrity catapults the trite and the talentless into the limelight without, all too often, either capacity or faculty. Thereby, more so than ever before, diluting the gene pool of acting talent passing to the next generations… Rickman however was the ‘genuine article’. A founder member of the ‘old school’. Grinding his way up through the tiers of theatre and film by precocious talent and a capacity for sheer hard graft. He served his apprenticeship in the various media without fear or favour and that grounding shone out in the depth and labyrinthine complexity of his characters.
His real genius however lay in his ability to create complex and multi levelled characters of the semi comedic villains he played with such aplomb; he will always be remembered for his gleefully unrepentant and BAFTA winning Sherriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and latterly Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. Creating villains with black hearts and even blacker souls and yet, somehow, imbuing them with a reluctant appeal. Like a joke in bad taste at which we laughed first and then winced at our own tacit approval.
But Rickman was no ‘one trick pony! Blessed with a voice that could cut crystal Alan brought a sinister and prohibitively callous authority to serious ‘wrong ‘uns’ in films such as Die Hard and the towering triumph that was Rickman’s Rasputin – a performance of irredeemable wickedness on a Machiavellian scale. Incongruous counterpoints to pensive and sensitive performances in Song of Lunch and Truly Madly Deeply… Nevertheless: It is my conviction it was his villains that will have caught the imaginations of subsequent generations of cinemagoers, thespians and movie makers… This man was truly a master of his art!
Poet Laureate to the City of Plymouth