Raving about Rickman!
January was a very sad time in my house. A couple of my long-time heroes passed away. In March, I wrote a piece about David Bowie, and I promised then that I’d do another tribute piece about the marvelous English actor and director Alan Rickman who died around the same time.
I first became aware of Alan Rickman when I lived in London in the mid1980s. At that stage, he was a stalwart of the Royal Shakespeare Company who were doing repertory seasons at the Barbican Centre. I saw him in so many plays. He made a memorable Jaques in As You Like It where he did a great Seven Ages of Man speech, and I remember him in a host of other plays including Love’s Labours Lost. The first thing that struck me about him was that velvety voice, and that oddly melancholy, but sexy air that hung about him.
Of all his performances back then, though, the one that has stuck in my mind indelibly is his portrayal of the wicked, but redeemable, complex, witty, doomed Vicomte de Valmont in the original stage production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. I saw this in a very small theatre, which meant everyone was very close to the actors – lucky me. I still remember seeing him walk, and thinking, “That’s what romance writers mean when they say someone prowls like a panther.” The various women he targets in that story didn’t have a chance against him – he was frightening and compelling and ultimately tragic. And when he fell in love much against all his instincts with the woman he set out to ruin, I think every heart in the theatre broke for him. It’s still one of the best performances I’ve ever seen on stage, and I’m only sorry I didn’t get a chance to go back and see it again. John Malkovich was great in the film, but nothing compared to Alan Rickman when he went on the hunt!
I couldn’t find my cast list for that performance, but here’s the one from As You Like It. That time in London was such an artistic feast!
When I came home, I caught him as the wily Mr. Slope in the BBC’s Barchester Chronicles, which was repeated on a Sunday afternoon on our public broadcaster. This is such a treat, if you haven’t seen it. Classic British drama based on Trollope’s books. Mr. Slope is the villain of the piece and he’s such a wonderful slimy toad, you’re almost sorry when he gets his comeuppance.
It’s as a villain that Alan Rickman seemed to make his mark on Hollywood – particularly as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. That velvety voice and palpable intelligence meant he made a memorable baddie!
A lot of people will remember him from the Harry Potter films. I haven’t seen these – I enjoyed the books so much, I didn’t want to spoil that with movies that didn’t live up to the characters in my mind. Although people tell me the films are actually pretty close approximations to the books. He was Severus Snape – and having read the books, I can see him doing a wonderful job in that part. All soft-spoken threat and wary brilliance – with hidden depths nobody suspects!
My favorite films with Alan Rickman are those where he plays a romantic lead (of sorts!). In Truly, Madly, Deeply he’s reunited with Juliet Stevenson, his Presidente de Tourvel from Les Liaisons Dangereuses.This is an unusual romantic triangle, where one of the sides is Alan Rickman as a very appealing ghost. Well worth tracking down if you haven’t seen it. In Sense and Sensibility, he makes Colonel Brandon seriously sexy – which you certainly wouldn’t get from the book! In Love Actually, his performance will bring you to tears. The scenes where he and Emma Thompson spark off each other are virtuoso acting.
Just recently I caught his last directing project, A Little Chaos, about a female gardener working on designing the grounds of Versailles. Alan Rickman makes a marvelous Louis XIV, and again that intriguing melancholy is to the fore.
It still strikes me as so poignant that there won’t be any more to come from this brilliant actor. There really isn’t anyone like him around. He could convey such complexity of character and give a full personality profile to an audience, merely by tilting an eyebrow.
And that voice! That voice was music.
Thank you, Alan Rickman, for your marvelous talent. I hope you’re keeping them all enthralled in heaven!