Hitchcock reputedly sought to make his villains even more attractive than his heroes.
As freelance reviewer and film historian Philip Kemp suggests, it’s an approach which probably goes some of the way towards explaining the effectiveness of Alan Rickman’s fine array of on-screen baddies.
This year’s Chichester International Film Festival at the Chichester Cinema at New Park will include an Alan Rickman retrospective in the year of his death. Philip will be pulling it all together with a talk about the man and his achievements at the venue on Thursday, August 18 at 4pm.
The festival suggested the talk; Philip is happy to say he jumped at the chance: “I love Rickman’s performances. You always know that even in a bad film he will be good.
“Alas, I never met him, but I have met one or two people that knew him quite well, people like Juliet Stevenson who always speak of him with great affection. Like so many actors that made such wonderful villains, he was a very nice guy. People say exactly the same of Basil Rathbone, that he was a very sweet gentle person – and yet one of our great screen villains.
“I first became aware of Rickman in Truly, Madly, Deeply. I think it was an important performance. He had just made his name in Die Hard, his first famous role as a villain, and then this was very different. In Truly, Madly, Deeply it’s the fact that he makes you understand how Juliet Stevenson’s character can feel so completely devastated by his death, and yet at the same time you can see why he is completely and utterly infuriating when he is just sitting around with his ghost friends and making himself a nuisance. I remember thinking ‘Why haven’t I heard of this guy?’”
And then the world heard more and more…
“He does villainy superbly, and I think the important thing is that he does it with class. If you look at James Mason in films like North by North West or in the bodice-rippers he did in the 1940s, Mason in his villainy was always very, very classy – and the same was true of Rathbone. And the same was also true of Rickman. If you just snarl as a villain, that’s boring. It’s what Hitchcock said about making your villain attractive. It’s the Iago thing – ‘That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain’. With Die Hard, I am not a huge Bruce Willis fan, but you can see that Rickman set the template for Hollywood villainy for a generation. After that, they had to be suave and English-accented, and then you have got Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham. It is completely over the top, gloriously over the top, and it is huge fun. Every time he comes on, you just think ‘Oh great!’ And then, of course, there is Rickman as Snape, the is-he-isn’t-he-a-villain across eight Harry Potter films: “There you have got the ambiguity that he brings to it all the time. I know in the end he got a bit fed up being Snape. When the eighth film was over, he said ‘Thank God, I can get back to some real acting now!’ but it was still an important part.”
Philip will also be delving into the lesser-known roles, among them Mesmer: “Mesmer has this slightly-sinister side to him, but he is not a villain. He is a complex character, and Alan Rickman was an actor who could bring great complexity to his roles.”
Philip has been involved with the Chichester Film Festival going back around ten years now: “(Artistic director) Roger Gibson works on a budget which is less than the complimentary champagne at Cannes. It is quite extraordinary!”
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