…ering!' he tells Mortiana, insisting that he won't ravish Marian until they are married in the eyes of God.

His biggest weakness is revealed at the marriage ceremony: the Sheriff of Nottingham's Christian name is George, which explains a lot. He desperately tries to unstrap his sword in order to subject Marian to marital rape as soon as they've exchanged their vows. 1 can't do this with all that racket,' he says fretfully, trying to penetrate his bride while a battering ram bashes down the door in hilariously symbolic counterpoint. Geraldine helpfully puts a



cushion under Marian's head - better for conception, perhaps? Whatever, it's another wonderfully funny detail.

'Dew yew mind, Locksley? We have just been married,' he sneers with a look of ineffable exasperation as Robin crashes through the stained-glass window of the tower to make a widow of Marian. Some of Rickman's flamboyant curls are sliced up by Costner's sword, but he hasn't given up the glamour role yet. He kisses Marian violently in front of Robin and pulls the fatal dagger out of his own chest . . . quite heroic, really.

He goes fleetingly cross-eyed again and finally swoons with pain, lying like a broken-winged crow on the floor and looking oddly pathetic. Rickman's full-blooded performance and quirky insights have made the Sheriff strangely lovable: you just know he was bullied at school and passed over for promotion. Yet the perform­ance is never sentimental.

Neither was he to succumb to sentimentality in a film that would make a stone statue weep without recourse to any religious miracle. The Sheriff of Nottingham is a troublemaker with a murderous streak, all right — but goodness, this is a costume melodrama, not Shakespeare. I believe this particular villain needs to be a little laughable, lest we mislead the audience into taking things too seriously,' said Alan in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegraph in 1991, adding plaintively that he wished more people knew about his performance in another movie called Truly Madly Deeply. I'm looking to defy as many expectations as I can, in case the people who liked my turn in Die Hard should take that character as the only thing I'm capable of doing. That's what I'm doing so much of the broad comedy-villainy for in Robin Hood . .. Kevin Reynolds and I worked out where I could get away with mugging the camera and sticking my nose into the audience.'

It was the modestly budgeted Truly Madly Deeply, which made £20 million  from  its  cinema  release,   that  established Juliet Stevenson as an international name; unlike Alan, however, she has not yet followed up that initial impact on the international stage. Anthony Minghella directed and also wrote the screenplay for the BBC funded film, which is the most personal, autobiographical work of Alan's career.

‘We used our own relationship in the film,Juliet admitted to DQ magazine in July 1992. 'I really am the Nina character, juggling

a hundred balls in the air at the same time and driving Alan potty with my scatterbrained way of doing things. He is much more selective and sure in his tastes, which can be equally infuriating. But he's a great anchor in my life.'

The enigmatic Juliet, whose forthright independence had lone made her an idol of the Sapphic community, now has a little daughter by her husband, American anthropologist, Hugh Brody. Director Jonathan Miller nicknamed Stevenson, Harriet Walter and Fiona Shaw 'the nuns' while they were at the RSC; and all three are great friends of Rickman. Such good friends, in fact, that he felt relaxed enough to remark years later, 'Actually, I've kissed some of the greatest actresses around - Fiona Shaw, Harriet Walter, Juliet Stevenson', without making it sound like a vulgar boast. And he was to claim that he and Stevenson had - with the aid of the famous BBC radio sound effect department, of course - performed 'the first oral sex scene on radio in an Anthony Minghella play, A little Like Drowning'. With bonding like that, no wonder Alan and Juliet went on to make Truly Madly Deeply with Minghella. The actor and director Philip Franks is another Stevenson buddy, and even he felt the need to explain himself thus: 'I'm not gay ... but I have a number of strong friendships with a number of women.' Alan is just the same: a man who attracts all kinds of women, straight or gay. They are easy in his company because they enjoy being treated like equals.

Socialism is another common denominator for Rickman and Stevenson, a brigadier's daughter who went to Fergie's old school, Hurst Lodge, and has been trying to live it down ever since.

Both Juliet and Alan took part in the Labour Party TV broadcast for the General Election in April 1992, and she joins him on crusades: they hosted a party at the Red Fort Indian restaurant in London's Soho to help black South African children. They are embarrassed by what they see as the trivia of showbusiness, and they're forever trying to prove that they are serious people. Inevitable, then, that they would make a film together . . .

It's true that Juliet, with her fierce, offbeat beauty, is what the French shrewdly call a jolie-laide (in its literal translation, pretty-ugly) . . . very much like Alan himself. And there are other similarities.

Truly Madly Deeply was filmed in Bristol and in Juliet Stevenson's Highgate flat in North London. Minghella encouraged the actors to

draw on their own experiences, introducing their own quirks into the film. Thus Juliet is a scatty, highly strung woman; and Rickman is the calm, slightly caustic control-freak in her life.

This scaled-down British version of Ghost tells the story of how Juliet's character Nina leams to come to terms with the sudden death of her lover Jamie, played by Rickman. What makes it particularly difficult is that he returns to her several times in the guise of a ghost, accompanied by his friends from limboland. ' The movie begins at Highgate Tube station and the long climb up the stairs from the underground tunnels into the wooded, slightly spooky exit. Nina is talking to herself: 'If I'm frightened, then hell turn up,' she reassures herself. 'He always was forthright. I would have been feeling low and hopeless . . . and he's there, his presence, and he's fine. And he tells me he loves me ... and then he's not there any more. I feel looked after, watched over.'

This almost makes him sound like a Christ figure, except that the film has far too much humour for that. In fact, it exactly replicates Alan's central role for his mates. 'He's an important figure in the lives of all his friends,' says the playwright Stephen Davis. We realise that Nina is in fact talking about Jamie in this intense way to her psychiatrist. Then the camera cuts to Alan, feigning playing the cello (the sounds are not his). He frowns in concentra­tion, his hair long, bleached fair and floppy and his moustache dark. The contrast suits him. The mourning Nina is surrounded by solicitous men who are desperately concerned about her: her language-laboratory boss Bill Paterson; a lovestruck, slightly mad and totally unsuitable Pole called Titus; Michael Maloney as the psychologist she meets in a cafe; and even the elderly oddjob man who has come to sort out the rats in her flat.

Indeed, Jamie is the only one who is never sentimental about her; and this is very much a Rickman characteristic.

He's into the Tough Love Department,' says Davis, who plays lead guitar in his own rock band and tells the story of how Alan told him to pull himself together during a panic attack for one gig. I played live to an audience at London's Pizza On The Park for three nights, and it was the most nerve-racking thing ever. 1 said to him, "This is killing me, I'm so nervous." He looked at me and said, "No one's making you do it." We share each other's troubles a lot. He says, "Don't be negative". But he is, too ... and I listen to him. It's a one-way street.'

Nina finds herself crying without warning, and they are real, uglifying tears that make her nose drip and her face flush red. This is very Juliet Stevenson. '1 miss him, I miss him, I miss him, I miss him ..." Her pain is so raw that it hurts to watch. She's angry with him for leaving her, a typical reaction of the bereaved. '1 can't forgive him for not being here.'

But this mood is counterbalanced by tantalising moments of fleeting happiness, such as when she is with her beloved young nephew. 'You aren't getting posh? Say bum and Trotsky twice a day,' she teases him, joking but deadly serious at the same time.

Juliet is so committed that she was reported to have left the Labour Party in 1995 because she felt its modernist stance was compromising its politics. Alan, so far, stays firm.

Nina won't give her nephew Jamie's cello, however. It's all she has of her dead lover . . . and she won't let go. As she plays the piano, Jamie materialises behind her, playing his cello. He stands motionless as she cries, her face scarlet with grief. Then he hugs her as she weeps piteously. '1 kept thinking,' he says drily, 'just my luck . . . dying of a sore throat. Maybe I didn't die properly, maybe that's why I can come back. Didn't hurt.' She gingerly feels him to see if he's real.

'Are you staying?' she asks meekly. 'I think so.' 'Can 1 kiss you" Your lips are cold.' This is a terrible fiat,' he grumbles. 'And you've got RED bills. And you never lock the back door . . . driving me crazy.'

This is pure Alan, who keeps his flat in Westboume Grove incredibly tidy and would lecture Ruby Wax about monitoring the central heating when they shared a flat together. Thank you for missing me,' Jamie says morosely, but not without lugubrious humour.

Tour pain ... I couldn't bear that. The capacity to love that people have . . . what happened to it? I blame the Government. 1 hate the bastards,' he ends with a growl.

'You died and you're still into party politics?' she says, amazed. 'I still attend meetings,' says Jamie defensively.

He makes himself scarce as Titus arrives at the door and invites her to Paris for sex. 'Now I'm depressed. I book tickets. Man with big emotion, big heart. I love you,' says this ghastly character, a sexual harasser by any other name whom well-bred women are too polite to rebuff. When she comes back after tactfully getting rid of

him, Jamie has apparently gone. 'Who was that?' he asks, emerging from underneath the bedspread and laughing almost evilly as she screams with fright. He warms his lips for her by breathing on his hand and then touching his mouth. They kiss.

They sing at each other, rather raggedly in that cracked, ironic way of close friends, droning their way through a Sixties/Seventies medley: The Walker Brothers' The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore', Buddy Holly's 'Raining In My Heart', Joni Mitchell's 'A Case Of You' and Bob Dylan's Tangled Up In Blue'.

They play the childish games of lovers as they vie with each other to declare their passion: 'I really-truly-madly-deeply love you.' He pushes her away playfully then pulls her back imperiously into his arms.

Rickman plucks a guitar and sings again with that strangely musical cawing-crow voice of his, slightly reminiscent of the late Jeremy Brett, the definitive incarnation of Sherlock Holmes. Stevenson dances wildly. The rats have gone, perhaps terrified of his ghost - or their singing. Later he drips a glass of water on her face to wake her up and pushes her out of bed in his benignly bossy way. This is the essence of Juliet and Alan's relationship; indeed, his relationship with everybody. He has tidied up and lit the fire for her. Jamie comes and goes with no warning. Nina's handyman friend George, played by David Ryall, confides that he still talks to his wife who died in 1978. 'And death shall have no dominion,' he quotes sombrely.

Jamie next pops up in the most surreal way when Nina is in the bath with a face pack on; he appears over the edge of the bath. He pokes a plastic toy animal in her face, and it whirs as it sticks its tongue out at her. 'Oh come on, don't be coy ... I know you shave your legs,' he says, asking casually whether he can bring some guys back to watch videos. Bizarrely enough, the spirits turn out to be huge film buffs who wrap themselves up in duvets and watch Brief Encounter intently before taking a vote over whether to see Five Easy Pieces or Fitzcarraldo. Jamie huddles up in bed next to her:

You smell so nice.' He even brings a string ensemble back to play a Bach suite. She fetches him a hot-water bottle because he feels permanently cold, the only sign of his otherness.

These quirky interludes are beautifully handled, though the contrasting 'real life' episodes with Michael Maloney have a slightly embarrassing whimsicality as he tries to jolly her along and bring

her back into the land of the living. Rickman seems more real than any other man.

Nina briefly glimpses Jamie again, but it's just another cellist on the South Bank next to the National Film Theatre. Her dead love is then discovered sitting by the fire at her flat again. Nina is driven to distraction by his disorganised friends, who are playing chess and generally causing mayhem. Alan is even taking up the carpet to expose slightly mildewed floorboards, just as he did in their relationship. 'Could everybody just go?' she finally says. They all waddle out like offended penguins in the John Smith beer commercial on TV.

She asks Jamie to remember their first meeting, and there's a real intensity between them. 'I want a life,' she says; it is her bid for independence and freedom from his memory.

Suddenly you notice that Rickman is grey at the temples. 'Do you want me to go?' Jamie asks softly. 'No, never, never, never,' says Nina fervently, thinking she means it. But the fraternity of ghosts does go; and she is finally over him as she rushes off to Maloney's class to meet him.

The rat is back; a pet one called Squeak, supplied by a company called Janimals. It's a sign that the ghosts have truly gone. They come back briefly, with Rickman at their centre, to stare out of the window at the sight of Juliet kissing her new man in the garden.

Rickman has never looked more romantic than here, like some sulky Russian dissident artist, but he made the part an anti-romantic one. The tug of nostalgia is very powerful, but his astringent personality gives the ghost of Jamie solidity. By contrast, though Maloney's character lives in the real world - and you can't get much more real than someone who works with Downs' Syndrome adults - he has a gentleness about him that offers Nina an enticing escapism. As ever, Rickman's instinct is to play against the character he is given, to introduce surprise and tension.

By contrast, his next project was a big mistake. The low-budget Hollywood film Closetland was written and directed by a woman, Radha Bharadwaj; and, as with Kathryn Bigelow's ultra-violent Strange Days, perhaps only a woman could have got away with it.

Rickman plays a Fascist interrogator trying to break the will of Madeleine Stowe, the nearest he has got so far to the kind of Torquemada figure that some fans crave. All the action takes place in one room, a gleaming, high-tech affair that bears no resemblance to the moth-eaten Gothic dungeons favoured by the Sheriff of

Nottingham. The victim is blindfolded, so that Rickman's voice, slipping into different parts, confuses her. His character, according to the Variety review of 11 March 1991, is no brute, however, but 'a complex, highly civilised man who displays a range of emotions and talents'.

Stowe plays a children's author whose work stands accused of feeding subversive ideas to infants in the guise of innocent stories. Rickman is an agent of the oppressive government. It becomes a contest of wills, with Stowe determined to awaken his conscience and Rickman trying to break down her resolve. Variety made the point that it is an essentially theatrical piece, difficult to sell to cinema audiences and perhaps better suited to TV. Amnesty International was the consultant and participated in the film's marketing campaign, so it's easy to see why Alan became involved.

Rickman was praised for his multi-faceted performance; but he was very unhappy with the end result. 'He said it was awful after it was edited, and he told me not to look at it,' says his old Latymer Upper English teacher Edward Stead. 'He hoped it would never open in England.'

It had been a gruelling year. On the back of that disaster, he made Stephen Poliakoffs incest drama Close My Eyes, taking the part of the betrayed husband that Poliakoff created specially for him.

Poliakoff had first come across him in 1976 when Alan played one of two middle-class drug addicts in Stephen's play The Carnation Gang. 'I then ran into him at the RSC during his second time with them in the mid-eighties. I did a starry workshop with Alan, Tilda Swinton and Juliet Stevenson. I was interested in doing a play about dreams, so we did a workshop. He and Juliet were very compelling as a weird, dark couple: brother and sister. She was druggy, he was dragging her down into a dark spiral. Essentially it was a portrait of the 70s and the 80s.

I gave Alan quite a lot of space when I was directing him for Close My Eyes,' adds Poliakoff. 1 made him feel secure; and I got the impression that not a lot of people had done that. Actors are always being judged on their physical qualities, so they're very vulnerable.

Alan has big vulnerabilities. He worries that people are doing the work intelligently, and he and Juliet are big smellers of bullshit. It was the combination of Close My Eyes, Robin Hood and Truly

Madly Deeply that finally made him known to the man in the street. With success, he expanded enormously in terms of his confidence. For an intelligent man, it's difficult to sell yourself. Improvisations for directors are very tough for someone who's intelligent. At least a writer doesn't have to sell himself physically to a complete idiot.

'Alan didn't make any suggestion for the dialogue in Close My Eyes, but he did suggest wearing a baseball cap in the garden-party scene. And some of his sister's children played the kids running around. 1 offered him the role of the husband Sinclair before I cast the brother and sister, and he's renowned for being one of the longest drawn-out yes-noers in the business. He came in halfway through the shooting, and Clive Owen was slightly terrified of him. Sinclair has an opinion on everything; that's slightly true of Alan, too.'

Close My Eyes is a (very effectively) overheated tale of incest between a brother and sister, separated when young and only meeting later when both are grown up. Their grabby intensity could be taken as a metaphor for the Yuppie 80s, particularly as parts of the film were shot in the fashionable surroundings of Docklands London. Clive Owen plays the brother and Saskia Reeves the sister, married to Rickman's watchful but enigmatic Sinclair.

He's supposed to be a high-powered City solicitor, though Alan j was careful not to include any detailed clues to the character.

Alan used his own artistic background to collaborate closely with the costume and production designer so that Sinclair could not be put into any rigid social pigeonhole, according to an interview with Sean French in GQ magazine. 'I didn't want people to learn anything about him through where he lived or who his friends were.' In other words, he is creating an archetype in this morality tale for our times.

In his own quiet way, Sinclair is having the big adult breakdown while Owen and Reeves indulge in the screaming, shouting, childish melodramatics. He finds their relationship intense, but at first he doesn't suspect... or doesn't want to. At one point, we see him pushing a cart round the supermarket and questioning certain details that don't quite make sense. Then he sits abruptly on the floor of the shop as the truth registers. It could almost be a scene from a Woody Allen film. There is another scene on a riverbank in which Rickman's long look at Owen says everything he dare not

quite admit to himself. It's a devastating combination of suppressed rage and vulnerability.

As Sinclair's suspicions fester behind that outwardly calm facade, the tension becomes palpable ... as James Delingpole pointed out in the Daily Telegraph, 'You suspect that at any moment he might be about to commit some monstrous act of violence.' This is a one-dimensional reading of the performance, however. It is Sinclair's tremendous restraint that impresses: you know he knows, but he's holding back all the time and trying to be civilised, not just for the sake of his dignity but because he feels like a clumsy, helpless outsider between the siblings. He is powerless to intervene

. in a kinky Greek tragedy. Anyway, who wants to admit that you've been cuckolded by your brother-in-law? Particularly if you're as rich - and as suavely attractive - as Rickman's well-heeled character. Indeed, the only surprise is that Reeves finds Owen more attractive.

On the BBC's Gloria Hunniford show in 1991, Rickman said the film showed 'how uncertain our lives are. It's a story about Britain in the 90s, and my character is an arch-Yuppie.' All the torrid sex is reserved for Reeves and Owen; Rickman admits to Gloria that he kept his knickers on and Saskia her nightie during a bed-scene. 'I remember us all giggling a bit at that point,' says Poliakoff. 'I've done a lot of hopping in and out of bed naked, but this was my first actual sex scene,' recalled Alan. 'Saskia whispered to me, "Did I have any knickers on?" 1 did. I mean, God forbid there should be any real contact.'

The female screams and whistles from the studio audience when he nude his entrance on Hunniford's show suggested that perhaps the wrong guy got his kit off (not that anyone in full possession of their faculties would kick Clive Owen out of bed). Rickman took the homage with gallantry and humour; despite the explicit letters, he tries to be polite to his fans and always signs autographs at the stage door.

'We hadn't even had a conversation; we had only just met again; and suddenly Alan was in bed and we had to begin that scene. It often happens like that if you go into Makeup and then straight on to the set. So I said, "Sorry, I'll keep my underwear on."' remembers Saskia Reeves, who first encountered him at a play-reading at the Royal Court Theatre back in 1988. So Alan decided to preserve a bit of decorum too

'I like being around him because he's such an extraordinary individual. He's calm and extraordinarily eccentric - so different to anyone else I know.' she says. 'He makes me feel very relaxed. He always brings out a cheeky side in me: I tease him to make him laugh. He was very sturdy and confident and helpful on Close My Eyes. He's a great socialiser. I invited the cast over to my flat and we sat up till all hours. I was quite surprised: he stayed the distance for lunch the next day and left in the evening.

It's nice to find a kindred spirit. He's a latter-day philanthropist, he brings people together. He's not a parent figure, he's my playmate. I tease him. I think he's great.

'hi many ways, I sometimes wonder if there's a hidden agenda with Alan. He can be quite removed: he's like a character in a Pinter play, where the strongest person is the one who says least. I do that childish thing of teasing and tickling him. 1 teased and tickled my granny's dog and eventually it bit me on the chin. But Alan has never bitten me yet ... I try to make him laugh. I try to give him what I see him giving to others. He has this huge support-network whereby he supports and looks out for other people.

'Sinclair in the film was a calm, solid, eccentric, tender man, rather like Alan. I'm not shy of him. I have never found him intimidating; that's Alan. He and Rima came to see me in Stephen Poliakoffs play Sweet Panic at Hampstead Theatre in 1996, and he's the kind of person who always knows nice places to eat. That sort of thing fascinates me about him, though I couldn't begin to say what he's about. I always feel very positive about him; I never feel intimidated by him.

'Sometimes I feel as if he's playing a game of being aloof on purpose, but it's just the way he is. Sometimes he takes his time before he's worked out what's going on.'

After wall-to-wall filming, Rickman was ready to head back to theatre with the Japanese play Tango At The End Of Winter, the story of an actor in crisis. His old friend Peter Barnes adapted it for the Edinburgh Festival and the West End stage, with the legendary director Yukio Ninagawa directing it.

Rickman played Sei in the Kunio Shimuzu play about a famous matinee idol whose wife urges him to go back to the stage in order to stay sane. 'He has the usual actor's madness,' Rickman told Jessica Berens in the September 1991 issue of Tatler. 'You know,

the voices inside the head. The usual . . . this is terrible, why on earth are you doing this?' What a prophetic question; and very appropriate in these circumstances.

His hooded eyes already looked the part; he was perfect for an Asiatic role. Unfortunately, even Peter Barnes' adaptation couldn't save this ponderous theatrical metaphor for life. Why did Alan do it? Because it was produced by his old friend Thelma Holt, who has been called 'the last true impresario' of the British stage. Like Alan, she's a dedicated internationalist. But ultimately the name of Ninagawa, the Japanese Peter Brook, sold the project to Alan. There is a mystique about Ninagawa, as with Dennis Potter, whose own flawed script for Mesmer would later involve Alan in a major law-suit and creative stalemate for the first time in his career.

Amid much publicity about rehearsals stopping for Japanese tea ceremonies, one sensed a case of the Emperor's New Clothes.

Rickman had seen Ninagawa's Medea and thought: This is what the word "unforgettable" means.' Not everyone agreed: I remember a fellow critic muttering This is the campest thing since Sunset Boulevard' as he and I fled to file copy at the end of the show as though our trousers were on fire.

But Rickman rationalised it to himself in an interview with Peter Lewis in The Sunday Times in 1991: 'If you have such an experience watching someone's work and are then asked to work with him, you are not being true to yourself unless you do,' he said. Usually he's too analytical and too aware of his working-class roots to gush, but this appealed to his quixotic side.

'It wasn't an easy decision. But there's a voice somewhere inside that eventually packs the suitcase. It said, "If you are any good in films, it's only because of what you do in the theatre." Hence the sideways move in what many have seen as a quirky career. But as Albert Finney once pointed out, actors don't ascend a great golden staircase to the heavens - it doesn't work like that.

Rather more prosaically, Ninagawa had chosen Rickman for the lead after seeing him in Die Hard - wherein he shot a Japanese tycoon in the head. He had also caught a preview of Truly Madly Deeply.

Ninagawa is clearly not cocooned from reality, even if he does issue such statements as: The playwright is the mother, the actors

are the father, and between them they bear the child called Theatre. As director, I am only the midwife.'

And the-critics played King Herod. I reviewed the premiere at Edinburgh for the Daily Express: 'Only the legendary status of Yukio Ninagawa can have persuaded Hollywood's favourite British villain Alan Rickman to star in this empty domestic epic about a Japanese actor's mid-life crisis. Yet even he flounders in a cliche-ridden play laden with pretentious symbolism.'

Yet   Ninagawa   had   directed,   in Japanese,   an   unforgettable world-class production of Macbeth, with the fall of the cherry blossom symbolising the death of the tyrant and a Samurai parallel | with medieval Scotland's war-like hordes.

Tango At The End Of Winter was Ninagawa's first production with a British cast of actors. He didn't speak English, so they communicated via an interpreter. Ninagawa did his own casting by making people talk about themselves at their auditions while he watched their facial expressions.

Tango was a popular hit in Japan in 1988, but the predominantly female audiences there worship actors. A play on such a subject was bound to succeed, whereas in the West we see it more as a self-reterential indulgence. The action was set in the shabby auditorium of a defunct cinema, with tattered curtains fluttering at the entrance to symbolise the transience of life. Figures from the actor's past appeared and reappeared as if in a dream, summoned by memory, as he struggled with his madness. Acting styles varied wildly, given the language barrier between director and cast. Sylvia Syms' talented daughter, Beatie Edney, played Rickman's mistress, having appeared alongside Alan on Broadway in Les liaisons Dangereuses. Friends believe that Beatie had a big crush on Rickman; an impression strengthened by the fact that later she dated his lookalike, a morose young actor called Ronan Vibert who is frivolously known as 'Moanin' Ronan'. He has never quite forgiven the London Evening Standard for calling him the poor man's Alan Rickman in the BBC bodice-ripper The Buccaneers. Ronan certainly has a piratical smile but not, as yet, Alan Rickman's gracefulness and subtlety.

The elliptical Tango was not popular with either reviewers or public at the Piccadilly Theatre, at the time a somewhat jinxed venue that had had more than its fair share of flops (it has since recovered its fortunes with a string of hits).

David Nathan in the Jewish Chronicle wrote: 'Sei's plight is not gripping, especially as conveyed by Alan Rickman, who .

declines from his usual melancholic lassitude into terminal leth­argy.'

Benedict Nightingale in The Times thought it lacked coherence as Rickman reeled about, 'filling the stage with his sardonic self-absorption', in the role of the actor who goes mad because he fears he has lost his talent. Could this be a dry-run for Hamlet?

' "This is embarrassing," announces Alan Rickman halfway through, and the guy ain't joking,' wrote Lyn Gardner in City Limits. Jack Tinker in the Daily Mail found Rickman 'languid to the point of torpor'.

Yet Michael Billington in the Guardian felt that 'the play is a dense tissue of allusions to Hamlet, Six Characters In Search Of An Author, Casablanca, Limelight and an old Ronald Colman movie . . . Rickman exactly captures the Hamlet-like melancholy, the doomed romanticism, the exquisite narcissism of this falling star. It ... makes me hope someone will cast Rickman as Shakespeare's gloomy Dane forthwith.' Someone did: Thelma Holt a year later.

Although the finale featured a beautiful transformation-scene, most critics, nevertheless, felt the journey there wasn't worth the effort.

The lack of narrative drive made it a difficult vehicle for the West End, which at least demands a good story from its artier endeavours. So the production was a commercial failure, despite a strictly limited season that turned out to be something of a loss-cutting exercise. Alan's old English teacher Ted Stead feels strongly about it to this day. 'Alan was very disappointed with the reaction to Tango At The End Of Winter," says Stead, who took a party of schoolboys to see Alan's performance. 'Alan found eight performances a week very trying and demanding, and the recep­tion was lukewarm. He was going to do Peer Gynt with the same director, but that never materialised.

'I'm convinced it flopped -because Alan wasn't allowed to have star billing in the West End; it was the director who got the billing,' argues Ted, who believes that the crowds would have come if Alan's name had been prominently displayed. Certainly, Peter Barnes testifies to the enthusiasm of the Rickman fans that did make it to the stage door. But Thelma Holt explains: 'Alan specifically didn't want star billing. It was an ensemble company, therefore the billing was alphabetical.' And Alan himself had gamely told the Sunday Times' Peter Lewis on 4 August 1991: 'I'm

trying to make myself like an empty vessel, a piece of equipment labelled actor.' This was test-tube theatre.

In Japan, Ninagawa is a god whose word is not questioned. For once, Alan didn't argue; and he was also obliged to submit to the strict regime of the Taiwanese director Ang Lee on the film Sense And Sensibility five years later. All very noble in the cause of good global relations, but such self-effacing modesty just didn't make commercial sense in the West End where Alan Rickman would have brought the faithful flocking to theatre's equivalent of Eric Cantona, had the billing deified the right guy. Alan's fans had to search for his name near the end of the list underneath the banner headline The Ninagawa Company'. In retrospect, it was pointlessly purist of him. His talent and personality elevate him.

In a curious twist ten years later, the Texas frontwoman Sharleen Spiteri was to recruit him as her dancing partner in the video for 'In Demand' and thus enhance his street-cred even more. As she explained, 'I thought it had to be someone who would rip your coat off and pull you into the tango, so I thought of Alan Rickman.' Well, quite. Who wouldn't? He does rather throw himself into these things, as Emma Thompson found out when he whirled her round the room at a Sense And Sensibility location party.

But the bold experiment in international theatre was not to be the last for Alan and Thelma. They had taken the hint about Hamlet.



9. IMMORTAL LONGINGS                                                                                                      157


The foyer of the Royal Court Theatre in London's Sloane Square is well accustomed to the odd loud-mouthed wino who comes in from the cold steps outside. No problem. Even after it reopened in February 2000 with an urban-chic redesign which included .1 front-of-house revamp that left the box-office looking more like the maitre d's desk at a fashionable restaurant, the home of the theatrical angry brigade can still cope with noise pollution on any scale. U the evening - either on or off the stage - has been completely devoid of what Dr Feelgood used to call firkin this and firkin that, I never feel I've had my money's worth from the Court. The old 70s chocolate-and-orange decor of the main house used to scream at you, of course; and if you're a sensitive vegetarian, the gorgeous new leather seats now scream at you instead. And even after its refit, the late-Victorian building that first introduced George Bernard Shaw's loquacious jaw-jaw to British audiences Mill regularly rattles to the sound of the tube trains entering and leaving the underground station next door. It's not a place to go for a quiet time.

However, a public shouting-match between the actor Alan Rickman and the theatre director Jules Wright over their rival bids to run the Riverside Studios arts centre shocked even the hard cases. Three years later, everyone at the Court still remembered the row.

The acrimonious confrontation took place on 28 November 1993, the night of departing Artistic Director Max Stafford-Clark's fund-raising party for his new Out Of Joint theatre company. That well-known character, 'Arfur (Half of) London', had been invited to send Max on his way; all the more amazing, then, that the furious exchange of views between the irate Alan and lutes was never leaked to the outside world.

What Jules now describes as 'a fairly monumental row in which everyone else was extremely entertained' was the culmination of five months of tension and acrimony directed towards Jules Wright

The so-called 'Rivergate' affair in the summer of 1993 led to a furious campaign in the Press by the supporters of Alan Rickman

and the producer Thelma Holt, who headed a starry consortium to take over a dilapidated white elephant in West London's Hammer­smith. It was their ambition to turn it into a new Royal National Theatre.

Among the allegations were stories about a missing - perhaps stolen -- document that was leaked to the Press, plus the extraordinary sight of Alan Rickman handing a queue of bemused theatre-goers copies of a published letter of support from leading theatre critics. That kind of activism hardly goes with the languid image of a man who likes chaise-lounging around.

The previous year had begun exceptionally well for Rickman's career, but Rima's political ambitions were to be bitterly thwarted. On 26 January 1992, Alan was named Best Actor in the London Evening Standard Film Awards for his threefold triumph in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Close My Eyes and Truly Madly Deeply. For her performance in the latter, his friend Juliet Stevenson deservedly won the Best Actress trophy.

'Now I know it's possible to win an award for over-acting,' quipped Rickman, referring to that witty old slimeball, the Sheriff of Nottingham.

He was busy, busy, busy. Rickman and Ruby Wax had formed their own production company, Raw Produce, to develop ideas that would exploit their shared sense of humour. It was Alan who put a shape to the Ruby Wax phenomenon, bringing her one-woman show into London's West End for a short season in April before a provincial tour. Rickman was turning out to be quite a Svengali with his American Trilby.

At the same time, he was also quietly helping Rima with her General Election campaign. A slightly scowling Rickman could be spotted lurking modestly at the edge of a photograph of Labour candidates and their supporters in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

He turned out by her side on polling day, although he was spared the rigours of door-to-door canvassing. Other celebrity Labour supporters recruited by Rima included Lord Longford, Baroness Ewart-Biggs and the novelist, Ken Follett. Yet Rima is very protective of her boyfriend's privacy. 'It wouldn't have been fair on Alan to ask him to canvass for me before. He's got such a famous face,' she told the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph's Peterborough diary, whose 7 April edition mischievously published the most

unflattering picture of a glowering Rickman that it could find. 'I might have produced Alan before if it was more of a marginal seat,' she conceded. 'But he may sway the odd wavering voter on polling


Indeed, four years later she was to explain to the Daily Mail's Nigel Dempster on 3 March 1996: 'Alan is committed to the cause and he gives me a lot of moral support, but he doesn't come face to face with voters. He just delivers leaflets and then leaves. It could be embarrassment which stops him, I don't know. I won't push him. Not everyone enjoys being questioned on policy detail.'

The constituency was split in two for the purposes of the election: Ann Holmes was the Labour candidate for Kensington, standing against Conservative holder Dudley Fishburn, and Rima Horton was up against 58-year-old Sir Nicholas Scott's massive majority in Chelsea - the safest Tory seat in the country with an average of 60 per cent of the vote.

A somewhat strenuous private life had nearly led to Sir Nicholas Scott's deselection. In 1987 he was appointed Minister for the Disabled, but was to leave the post in 1994 after tabling amendments to wreck a Bill of Rights for the handicapped. In the process, the Tory Wet publicly fell out with his Labour-supporting daughter Victoria, a campaigner for the disabled movement, Rights Now, who had exposed the governmental tactics that halted the Disablement Bill.

It seemed as if nothing would unseat the accident-prone Sir Nicholas Scott, who drove a car that crashed and killed a man in 1957. A verdict of accidental death was recorded. In 1995, he ran off when his car shunted another into a toddler's pram; Sir Nicholas was later breath-tested. He was banned from driving for a year and fined Ј200 with Ј450 costs.

Rima had become the local Labour Party spokesman on education and town planning and, by 1992, she had become a senior lecturer in economics at the Surrey Polytechnic that is now Kingston University. Although she was the youngest, Rima was the only one of the three Chelsea candidates who coyly failed to give her age - 51-year-old Susan Broidy stood for the Liberal Democrats. Rima's manifesto, published in the Kensington News, simply recorded that she was born in Bayswater and had lived in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea for fifteen years. That was the time when she and Alan had first moved into her current flat in Holland Park in 1977.

Her brisk manifesto didn't even mention her marital status or rather, the lack of it. This was surprising, given the residual prejudice from some quarters of the electorate against married women standing for office. A single woman without children had and still has a positive advantage; single men had a harder time of it until openly gay Labour candidates began winning seats and thus made marital status irrelevant. The Tories, though, still tend to prefer their candidates with wives attached.

New Labour had sent Rima on the obligatory power-dressing course for the right business-like image, urging her to put her shoulder-pads to the wheel. Lecturing had taught her all about public speaking. Surprising, then, that Peter Barnes says she tells him that she still finds speech-making difficult. She speaks in a husky contralto with a slight lisp that makes her sound not unlike the actress Frances De La Tour; the effect is decidedly sexy. Rima owes her deep, rather thrilling voice to her smoking habit: she can be a bit of a Fag-Ash Lil and has been known to puff away during speeches. In argument, she's forceful but not strident. Of course there's nothing like the line 'when 1 was talking to my MA students' to impress fellow Kensington & Chelsea councillors . . . those not covertly reading their horoscopes or Private Eye or playing with their pocket calculators at die time, as happened during one meeting in the council chamber that I attended.

Alan Rickman is frequently to be found in the public gallery, taking an active interest in Rima's latest pronouncements on pelican crossings or guardrails. Not that this chic and attractive figure with her distinctive dark-brown bob appears to need any moral support. She's incisive and highly articulate, pitching her arguments some way above certain heads in the council chamber who find themselves getting a free lecture on economics.

'She's not rent-a-quote,' said Ian Francis, at the time news editor of the then Kensington News when I first contacted him back in 1995. 'She's not on the phone to us straight away about some local issue. She usually waits to be approached, so she doesn't set herself up to be a great local media figure. She tends to stick to what's going on in the council chamber, so she's not a great public person.

There's no gimmick with her. Perhaps she hasn't mastered the public aspects of local politics - or has chosen not to.'

Certainly Rima is highly sensitive to Alan's phobia about the Press in general and critics in particular. If she were elevated to a

political position at a national level, it would make life very difficult for him which is why she has forced herself to be philosophical about election disappointments.

'She's very feisty and no-nonsense: she doesn't suffer fools gladly,' added Ian. Nevertheless, he criticised the Labour Opposi­tion in Kensington & Chelsea for being 'exceptionally inactive. They're active on things like roofs leaking on local estates. But the council tax has just gone up, and there was no outcry whatsoever from the Opposition.'

Certainly it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the political scene is just a little too cosy in this Royal borough with its cast-iron Conservative majority. With Labour in a minority group there's a limit to what the Opposition can do with its numbers. Certainly Rima, whose politics are Centre Left and whose understated glamour is very much New Labour, is not about to woman the barricades.

'It's a very boring political scene in Kensington &r Chelsea,' was Ian Francis' verdict on the Nicholas Scott years. 'Scott will .give you a quote, but he won't be proactive.

'Rima strikes me as a bit of a do-gooder. The ambitious ones are on the phone to us all the time; those who are more sanctimonious just get on with their work.'

She's certainly popular with colleagues from both sides of the political fence. She can be glamorous and she has a certain style. She wears chic, expensive-looking clothes, and, unlike many of the other councillors, her official photograph looks as if it was done in a studio

Indeed, the serious-minded Rima is almost a Sharon Stone in comparison with one (male) councillor, whose rugged features have been unkindly likened to a 'Wanted' poster of an escaped convict and who is affectionately known as Magwitch behind his back.

She has a big voice and a glint in her eye, but it has been suggested that she's not a natural politician who maintains eye contact. This might come from being an academic, but she tends to fix on a point on the wall instead and her language can sometimes be a little high-flown.

Most Labour councillors are not exactly gad-about-town figures, but a sophisticated woman of the world like Rima adds a little local colour: she's a great fan of restaurants off the Portobello Road. Even

Tories like her: when I contacted him in 1995, the late Conserva tive councillor Desmond Harney swooned with old-fashioned gallantry at the mere mention of her name.

Nevertheless, her time had not yet come in 1992: the Kensingtor News' pre-election coverage was forced to conclude that Sir Nicholas Scott remained the firm favourite in the opinion polls fo the General Election.

Ruby's show, Wax Acts, opened on April Fool's Day, 1992. The Election was held on 9 April, but Kensington and Chelsea, unlike most other constituencies, didn't start counting until 9 a.m. on 10 April. It would be another 24 hours before the results of Rima's bid to become an MP were known.

The public and most of the critics liked Ruby a lot. She had been directed by Alan only once before at the Edinburgh Festival in 1986, but the formula clearly worked for the grander stage of the West End.

Since Rickman and Wax had worked together at Sheffield Crucible in Peter James' production of As You like It, they rehearsed her one-woman show on the Lyric Hammersmith stage where Peter was by then the Artistic Director.

'Alan Rickman was the creator of Ruby Wax,' confirms Peter. 'He suggested a format for her on TV. There was always something unlearned and spontaneous about her thing. Scripted stand-up was not as good for her as the spontaneous stuff.

'Even Ruby doesn't know what she will do when she steps on stage. She starts with a clip-board and nothing else. Her career was greatly shaped by him. Yet there's nothing of the extrovert in Alan. In performance terms, she goes to get 'em while he waits for them to come.'

Alan himself told Valerie Grove in the April 1995 issue of Harpers &> Queen: 'People assume she just stands at the mike and delivers routines. But she is the most deeply serious person about her work, tussling with very personal material about herself and her parents. It was achingly funny, but you can't be alone on stage for two hours without a sense of structure and lots of bloody hard work.'

Perhaps he allowed her a little too much leeway, according to Anthony Thomeycroft in the Financial Times: 'Her show is discreetly directed by Alan Rickman, who might try to sharpen up the first twenty minutes.'



Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph, however, emerged as a convert: 'I'd only seen her fleetingly on television and approached her one-woman show as an agnostic. After two hours in her company, however, I'm convinced that Ruby Wax is one of the finest comic talents of her generation . . . Constructing wonderful crescendos of fury and indignation . . . She has a splendid way with words, and her sheer vitality breaks down all resistance.'

Though a virtuous woman may be priced above rubies,' quipped Evening Standard reviewer Michael Arditti, 'an outrageous Ruby produces a jewel of a show.'

She did have her detractors. 'I ended the evening pummelled rather than entertained,' moaned Tony Patrick of The Times. And Jack Tinker of the Daily Mail was coolish, wondering if Ruby's well-developed self-esteem needed any support from him. Why do I not fall down and adore her like the rest of her fans?' he asked rhetorically. They were very much in a minority.

Lucky Ruby, unlucky Rima. Nicholas Scott was returned with an overwhelming majority of more than 13,000.

The Kensington News reported that Labour candidate Rima Horton, accompanied by her actor friend Alan Rickman, was defiant. She proclaimed that Labour would fight 'again and again' to change the future, echoing a famous speech by Hugh Gaitskell. Labour blamed a hostile Press and 'lies' over its tax plans, and ten days later Rima was still fighting, urging a policy of non-cooperation with the hated Red Routes parking restrictions on main roads.

Rima subsequently made it onto a women-only Labour shortlist for the new seat of Regent's Park and Kensington North, but she lost out to Karen Buck, described rather graphically by the Kensington News' chief reporter Jonathan Donald as 'a mighty political machine who fires off press releases'.

In early 1996, Robert Atkinson - Rima's fellow councillor from St Charles Ward - was selected as the Labour Party's prospective parliamentary candidate for the newly named Kensington & Chelsea seat from a shortlist of men and women that did not include Rima.

Rima simply didn't relish facing certain defeat for a second time in a General Election. Sir Nicholas Scott had been reselected for the Tories, only to be followed by the equally controversial Alan Clark on January 25, 1997. Kensington & Chelsea remains staunchly Tory, even after Labour's landslide victory in the 1997

General Election that prompted Alan to growl 'About bloody time too'Yet Rima won something of a consolation prize in 1995 when she became one of several councillors to write a monthly column on local issues for the Kensington News for a. few years. 'It's typical of her that she didn't approach us to write it,' said Ian Francis. 'We approached her.'

Alan was profoundly depressed by Labour's 1992 election defeat in general and Rmia's in particular, moaning about how unbearable it was, but he was too much in demand to mope around in this country as his Hollywood film career continued apace. Bob Roberts, which marked Tim Robbins' directorial debut, was a political satire on the rise of a right-wing politician with the unearthly, sancti­monious aura of a religious evangelist (as, indeed, so many right-wing American politicians are).

Robbins played the title role of this smooth paragon and Rickman was his sinister campaign manager, wearing pomogra-pher's brown-tinted glasses that would make even Snow White seem seedy. The movie was a very effective satire on the Svengali-like spin doctors, the sound-bites, the campaign-bus briefings and all the paraphernalia of a modem politician on the move. So true-to-life were these acute observations that Bob Roberts seemed more like a documentary than a drama, with the inevitable distancing effect. Never was the audience drawn into Bob Robens' heart or mind (we assume he had no soul); as for Rickman's character, he was a clever amalgam of all the shifty fixers in the world. So much so that you could swear you'd seen him somewhere before.

Barry Norman's Film 92 reported on the making of Bob Roberts. Its screenwriter Gore Vidal was interviewed, claiming rather shakily, 'It's a bit like Dr Strongelove.'

Alan himself said defiantly: 'I hope it will resonate loudly as the scramble for power goes on.' When asked, rather superfluously, if people would say it was a film put together by a bunch of left-wing liberals, he replied with a slight snort of laughter, 'They would be right. That's the kind of mud that will be slung, of course it is.' Robbins and his partner Susan Sarandon, with whom Rickman had become buddies while working on The January Man, have long been the most politically active liberal couple in Hollywood. Given Alan's own political leanings, it was only a matter of time before he worked with Robbins as well.

The same mud was slung on what one journalist called the Brown Rice Tour, when Alan joined up with Thelma Holt and the Russian director Robert Sturua to play Hamlet at the Riverside Studios in the autumn of 1992 before taking it around the country.

'I'm too old, but what the hell,' shrugged a 46-year-old Alan disarmingly, trying to forestall the critics. He was hardly the oldest Hamlet in history, of course. But Alan still hadn't told the Press his exact age; he let them guess (wrongly). Couples who do not have any children can play Peter Pan indefinitely; there's no hulking teenaged offspring hanging around to betray the years.

Rarely does a Hamlet amount to the sum of his parts, of course; it's such a massive challenge to make the character credible on stage, as opposed to page. Thelma told Valerie Grove in the July 1995 issue of Harpers & Queen: 'Darling, I've seen more Hamlets than I've had hot dinners; I spent eighteen months of my life playing Gertrude. I know that play better than any other, and with no disrespect to any of my other Hamlets, Alan Rickman was the Hamlet of my life. He did something rare: he told a story, and it was as if it was a new play.

'People always wonder what will he do with "To be" and '"Rogue and peasant slave"; yet I could not have predicted how he would say them. Everything was new.' Well, the producer would say that, wouldn't she?

In the event, she was right. I felt he brought his own unique and angry world-weariness to the role, with the controversial voice the ideal vehicle for delivering that message. His Hamlet looked like the eternal middle-aged student, still studying the meaninglessness of life after all these years. There was a sense of self-disgust that gave the production real tension.

'Inevitably he stresses the dangerous appeal of amorality in Shakespeare's great revenge tragedy. This is a sarcastically amusing Hamlet who can smile and smile and be a villain, taking a lesson from his wicked stepfather Claudius,' I wrote in the Daily Express on 16 September.

There is a harsh erotic energy in his encounters with Julia Ford's sexually repressed Ophelia, who is horizontal within minutes of meeting him.   And  yet   he   plays   Hamlet   as  a   world-weary, existentialist   bookworm,   too   dangerously   fond   of   Geraldine McEwan's Gertrude and forced to be a hero against his will. It is a

fastidiously intelligent reading of the role that confirms Rickman as a leading talent with the power to pull in the crowds.'

I hated the slow production, however, which seemed to have been dressed by an Oxfam shop and made the court of Elsinore look like a refugee centre.

The reviews were decidedly mixed: his performance divided the critics. Alan maintained his usual scornful mien, but was deeply miffed by some of the comments.

'O! What a noble play is here o'erthrown!' declared Clive Hirshhorn in the Sunday Express, calling Rickman's 'not-so-great Dane ... a posturing, sulky, overgrown schoolboy.'

Clive even picked up on Rickman's speech defect, which can usually be turned to Alan's advantage: 'He swallows some of Shakespeare's most exquisite poetry as though he was ashamed of it. If it is humourless brooding introspection and a total denial of the voice beautiful you want, Rickman delivers in spades.'

If you are forced to conclude that Clive and I saw different shows . . . well, we did. I attended the final preview and he the first night. Perhaps Rickman's stage fright was manifesting itself again. Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph wrote of Rickman's 'bad attack of the clinical depression . . . this is a Hamlet who seems to have just returned from Elsinore's psychiatric day centre .. . There is hardly a trace of Hamlet's wit and vitality . . . you feel like giving him a good shake. This is a modishly perverse Hamlet that almost entirely fails to touch the heart.'

Michael Coveney in the Observer, however, found his 'sly and secretive mature student' thrilling in his 'rampant morbidity ... This sense of standing apart from himself is a quality unique to Rickman's acting.'

On the other hand, Michael Arditti in the Evening Standard thought 'he totally lacks passion' and also talked of Rickman 'swallowing the words ... he lacks the nobility and pathos of a romantic Hamlet; but he fails to recreate him in his own image'.

Even Michael Billington in the Guardian found himself regretting having urged someone to cast Alan as Hamlet. He hated the way that Elsinore had b… Продолжение »

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