ALAN RICKMAN RIP
HOLLYWOOD’S BEST BAD GUY ON SCREEN; BELOVED CRAFTSMAN IN REAL LIFE:
The news of ALAN RICKMAN‘s death came as a shock to most of us. But the communal expression of admiration for his life and work speak volumes about his talents and creative legacy. He was renowned and revered as an activist, actor and inspirational friend to many.
A trained Graphic Designer (fellow actors PIERCE BROSNAN and TREVOR EVE had similar training in art and architecture before changing career), Alan went onto to study at RADA. His big breakthrough role on television came as OBADIAH SLOPE in THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES (1982).
He continued working on stage too and it was his turn as Valmont in a production of DANGEROUS LIAISONS that made Hollywood sit up and take notice. THAT voice alone was a star in itself! Producer JOEL SILVER and Director JOHN MCTIERNAN cast Rickman as German Terrorist / Bank Robbing mastermind, HANS GRUBER in DIE HARD (1988).
Cue a career as one of Hollywood’s greatest ‘go to’ guys for villains, but also as one of our most versatile and beloved performers and directors on both stage and screen. Many counted Rickman as a valued mentor and many of the tributes paid (notably from DANIEL RADCLIFFE) have been articulate and moving. The best we can do is remind you of some of his greatest works. Some you’ll know. Some you might have missed.
- DIE HARD (1988)
A hero and their franchise are only as good as their villain(s). DIE HARD and BRUCE WILLIS as JOHN MCCLANE prove that rule. Rickman plays HANS GRUBER here. In a complex contradiction of character that only the likes of Rickman could pull off, he is by turns: charming, menacing and funny. A perfectly pitched performance. On the one hand, you never stop wanting Willis’ hero to succeed. On the other, one cannot help but enjoy the caper orchestrated by Rickman’s Gruber.
There is an added layer of texture here in that Gruber is a white collar snob and McClane could not be more blue collar every-man. Their interplay draws on many cultural allusions to bring that point home. Rickman’s clipped, German accent and assured confidence ensure his every scene is entertaining. He was a tough, almost impossible act to follow as the baddie. JEREMY IRONS in DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE comes close, but parts 4 and 5 of the series are essentially redundant and especially when viewed in the context of Rickman’s best baddie here. Rickman’s Gruber is like the best JAMES BOND villain that James Bond never faced.
Interestingly, Rickman was apparently offered the role of ALEC TREVELYAN in 1995’s GOLDENEYE, where the baddie arguably has a similar method to Hans Gruber. He turned it down, as did ANTHONY HOPKINS, so the (equally great) SEAN BEAN was cast. There are rumours that Rickman was considered for 007 himself? Now that would have been a bold casting move and I’m sure Rickman would have been every bit as interesting playing the hero as he was a natural fit for a villain.
- QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER (1990)
This was not a huge hit (I recall its poster decorating video stores, though there was no equivalent fanfare in Cinemas?). It’s a further hint of what TOM SELLECK might have done with INDIANA JONES : all outdoor adventurer and rogue with secret heart of gold.
There are also the beginnings here of Cinema’s love affair with revisionism on the treatment of aboriginal peoples (years later they’d do it better with films such as PHILLIP NOYCE‘s RABBIT PROOF FENCE). But Quigley’s adventure is perhaps most watchable for..you guessed it..another great turn from ALAN RICKMAN.
- AN AWFULLY BIG ADVENTURE (1995)
I remember hearing about this undiscovered gem at the height of the post 4 WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL / HUGH GRANT mania of ’94-’95. It even had the same director (MIKE NEWELL). Grant was being touted as a big star (which he was and is) and possible action hero (which, by his own design, he never was).
So I thought this would see Grant as the romantic lead and Rickman as the villain. No. Quite the opposite. This is a contemplative, selfless and haunting performance by Rickman and Grant plays the antagonist. There is also arguably a meta-textual dimension / in joke of sorts here, as Rickman’s character is an actor who is set to play a big villain (Captain Hook). Beautifully filmed and brilliantly acted by all: this is a must see if you can hunt down a copy.
- CLOSE MY EYES (1991)
WARNING: This film is NOT for anyone under 18 and neither should it be seen by the easily offended or faint of heart. But it’s like watching the early 1990s in a kind of snapshot. The fashions, the emerging changes in social economics and class dynamics: all present. There is also a sub-plot involving attitudes to AIDS which at the time was a controversial subject area to even touch upon.
The subject matter is, by its very nature, uncomfortably upsetting (an incestuous relationship between a brother and sister). But the performances are excellent: notably a young CLIVE OWEN and..yes..ALAN RICKMAN (as an eccentric and endearing cuckold). Beautifully shot, too (a common feature of Rickman’s many movies: perhaps his artist’s eye was a lucky charm?).
- MICHAEL COLLINS (1996)
LIAM NEESON takes centre stage here as the eponymous hero. But Rickman’s EAMON DEVALERA is a masterclass in biopic acting. He captures the very difficult County Limerick accent as well as the uncompromising attitudes and hints of Machiavellian calculation that define ‘Dev’ for many in revisionist histories.
Rickman was critical of what he called a ‘Hollywood ending’ to the film. But don’t let that deter you from viewing a great work from director NEIL JORDAN. MICHAEL COLLINS manages to boil down the politics without actually ‘dumbing’ down and it has a romantic quality without ever sanctifying or simplifying the murky morality of the Irish rebellion against the British and the subsequent tragedy of Civil War. That it does so within a relatively concise running time and with a consistently pulp thriller tone is a further marvel. Great score and soundtrack too, especially the poignant rendition of ‘She Moved Through The Fair‘.
- LOVE ACTUALLY (2003)
RICHARD CURTIS is sometimes criticised for never really including a villain in his movies, other than a hero’s struggle against their own ineptitude (nb: that’s still conflict and the basis of any good story). But in LOVE ACTUALLY he arguably broke that pattern, with a little help from Hollywood’s favourite go to baddie (Yep: ALAN RICKMAN).
Rickman plays Harry, who begins the movie as an avuncular Manager, offering romantic advice to colleagues. But he struggles with an attraction to a predatory Mia (HEIKE MAKATSCH). Harry gives into temptation and his deception of his wife (played brilliantly by EMMA THOMPSON) is heartbreaking.
Only Rickman could deliver the line ‘Joni Mitchell’s greatest hits..to complete your emotional education‘ and evoke such discomfort and disdain. He genuinely thinks he has gotten away with an expensive affair in every sense, until his wife lets him know that she knows. Watch Rickman’s face in that revelation scene. One look. Brilliant. If that’s not sold it to you? THAT scene with Rickman playing against ROWAN ATKINSON: Priceless!
- SNOW CAKE (2006)
Another one you might have missed. It’s a tender, raw, emotional and challenging but heartwarming performance piece. Like RAIN MAN before it, the film deals with autism in a sensitive and educative manner, while preserving drama and character beats. There is a pastoral quality to the film’s sense of mission beyond the screen and that matches the real life Rickman (he was among the most caring of actors, always taking care of his colleagues). It’s also a great showcase for SIGOURNEY WEAVER‘s versatile talents.
- A LITTLE CHAOS (2014)
This is one of Rickman’s final films and showed what a good Director he was. This is both small and epic, somehow. It’s a personal film and his eye for production design is clear. Rickman also gives a fine performance as LOUIS XIV. If that’s not enough for you? It has KATE WINSLET. In big costumes. Available on NETFLIX now in some territories. Worth a watch.
This is of course just a SELECTION. Alan Rickman left a diverse and brilliant body of work with something to enjoy for everyone and every taste. And that’s just one reason why he will be remembered so fondly by so many.