Evening Standard had claimed that the Rickman consortium's application was unconvincing 'administratively, artistically and financially'.

The first two were demonstrably not true; so it was an insulting remark to make. And that was what made the affair so acrimoni­ous. "You may think William Hunter is a pompous ass,' says one of the people involved. 'I couldn't possibly comment.'

Yet it's likely that Alan would never have spent enough time at Riverside to be a consistent box-office draw, given a rapidly developing film career that took him all over the world. Rima had found the year a tough one, too. After standing as the Labour Party's parliamentary candidate in the safest Tory seat in the country, she had found that even a power-dressing course hadn't helped for reselection.

Rima plodded on, but Alan had moved on to another movie. Anton Mesmer, the man who invented the concept of animal magnetism, was the subject of a Dennis Potter script about to go into production.

In one of those stories that are the much-embellished stuff of Hollywood legend, Alan was handed the script by one of the producers in the back of an LA cab. At last this was to be the first film of his career in which his character was absolutely central. It would capitalise on Rickman's growing reputation as a leading screen actor; and also his astonishing, unorthodox sex appeal. With Anton Mesmer inducing multiple orgasms in society ladies, it couldn't fail.


11. ANIMAL MAGNETISM                                                                                                      195


Once upon a time there was a fez. Magic acts, however, have come a long way since the days of the homely British comedian Tommy Cooper. This is the age of paranormal TV.

Given the vogue for such glamorous showmen as the Heathclif-fian (not to say werewolfian) magician David Copperfield and the slick, sharp-suited hypnotist Paul McKenna, a feature film about the father of modem hypnotism would appear to have a ready-made audience.

Friedrich Anton (otherwise known as Franz) Mesmer, the German physician who invented mesmerism, was born at Iznang, Baden, on 23 May 1733. He graduated in medicine in Vienna, and later dabbled in the use of astrology and electricity in medical treatment. After finding he could obtain results by treating nervous disorders with the aid of a magnet, he developed the notion that an occult magnetic fluid - which exerted a force he called 'animal' magnetism — pervaded the universe and that he alone had a mysterious control over this force. He believed that disease was the result of obstacles in the magnetic fluid's flow through the body, and that they could be overcome by trance states often ending in delirium or convulsions.

In 1766, he published his first work (in Latin) on the influence of the planets upon the human body.

A portrait shows a fat-faced, bland-looking individual. Despite this unprepossessing appearance, he does appear to have achieved a close rapport with his patients and to have alleviated various nervous illnesses. He cured many people by auto-suggestion; but he used much mumbo-jumbo and was pronounced an impostor by his fellow physicians. Expelled from Austria for his unorthodoxy, he became a favourite at Louis XVI's court in pre-revolutionary Paris. Exactly contemporary with the Vicomte de Valmont . But in 1784, the French Academy of Medicine and Sciences, whose members included such eminent individuals as Dr Joseph Guillotin and Benjamin Franklin, recognised only that Mesmer's fashionable seances exercised a suggestive influence on his patients and denounced him as a charlatan. In effect, he practised an early form

of psychotherapy. Eventually he withdrew from Paris and died in obscurity at Meersbury on 5 March 1815, a man so far ahead of his time that he has almost disappeared into the name he coined.

The early attempts at producing a trance-like state or sleep were a combination of trickery and charlatanism, but the modem scientific study of the process of mesmerism has become better known under the name of hypnotism. Mesmer's consulting-rooms were always dimly lit, hung with mirrors and filled with the scent of burning chemicals. He dressed in the long flowing robes of a magus or necromancer. His methods were inevitably copied by all kinds of swindlers and tricksters, with the result that mesmerism fell into disrepute until it became the subject of scientific study towards the end of the nineteenth century. Hypnotism is an artificially induced state that aims to help people to help them­selves, but its effects are notoriously uncertain and even harmful to impressionable people. There's an old canard that says women are more easily hypnotised than men; certainly Mesmer had a preponderance of female patients. His hands-on methods involved bringing them to a delirious state similar to orgasm.

With the right script to flesh out the story, this faith-healer, miracle man, visionary or Svengali (take your pick) is a natural subject for drama; and Rickman had the right footlights appeal. Mesmer's makers, Mayfair Entertainment International, hoped to capitalise on the paradox of such an attractively ugly man. Once again, it was also a period role for which Rickman is peculiarly suited. On this occasion, he elected to stay true to the eighteenth-century fashion for being clean-shaven in order to put as great a distance between Mesmer and Valmont as possible. The project generated enormous interest, especially when David Bowie became an investor. In May 1993, Alan was interviewed about the role at the Cannes Film Festival for Barry Norman's Film 93 slot on BBC Television. Rickman was banging the drum for Mesmer at a Mayfair Films lunch in his honour; yet he was deliberately dressed down in a blue denim jacket and white vest, as if he were trying to look like a roadie.

'Nobody asked me to make movies until a few years ago,' he admitted cheerfully with a face-splitting grin, looking as if he'd spent his day humping equipment and checking sound-levels.

'I said yes to Mfsmer because of the script. The writers are the least respected people around; they are a service industry. Dennis

Potter is an artist: it's irresistible. You are very glad and lucky to be involved.

'I'm staying on someone's yacht. A driver said, "You come with me, we go to David Bowie's yacht."' Alan grinned again and thanked David Bowie.

It was easy to see why Dennis Potter had been attracted to the theme of one man's sexual power, transmitted by thought-processes alone, over women. Just the kind of thing over which the crippled Dennis had been fantasising throughout his career. His Christabel serial excepted, Dennis did not write substantial roles for women: he saw them as sex objects.

The director Roger Spottiswoode admits the screenplay had been around for quite a time: 'We all came to the project separately; the script was about seven years old.'

Filming took place in Hungary, near the Austrian border. The first thing that hit me when I read the script was the erotic charge of it. It's on every page,' Rickman told Michael Owen in a London Evening Standard piece in October 1993.

'He has a relationship with a blind girl which certainly goes beyond the usual doctor-patient relationship.

'He touched his patients intimately, we see treatment which borders on love-making, but anyone expecting any romping around on a bed will be disappointed. Not my style, I'm afraid.' (His tune changed for An Awfully Big Adventure.)

'Mesmer was a man of moral courage, which always creates a certain aura,' added Rickman somewhat stuffily, clearly psyching himself up to be a serious sexpot. 'He could be selfish and egotistical, but also had great innocence and didn't mind making a fool of himself. I find that quite attractive. He was also close to being an actor. He was very theatrical in his work, used lots of music.'

The minimalist Michael Nyman composed the music, which worked rather better than the film itself. For somewhere along the line, the movie that was to have given Alan Rickman his greatest starring role went so disastrously wrong that it ended up mired in litigation.

Even Rickman was heard complaining to his American agent in a Late Show special on his career in November 1994 that his non-naturalistic bits had been cut out of the film, that someone had pointed out you never get to know the enigmatic Mesmer.

Director Roger Spottiswoode was probably the only person happy with the finished product in the end as slanging matches broke out everywhere.

This was the second project within eighteen months on which Rickman, the ultimate control freak, had lost control. A Mail On Sunday feature by Paul Nathanson on 12 February 1995 was the first to scent blood, sniff out the scandal and tell part of the story, blaming Alan Rickman for being too prissy and politically correct to play the kind of intellectual sex-machine that Potter had in mind. In other words, it seemed to be accusing Rickman of censorship and bowdlerisation.

Nathanson's piece alleged a behind-the-scenes dispute involving ' 57 unauthorised and 'substantial' changes that Rickman and', Spottiswoode made to Potter's original script.

Mayfair Entertainment International, the majority backers of this ' Ј4.5 million movie, also claimed that Rickman's character didn't' have the sexual magnetism that Potter intended and withdrew their Ј3.2 million contribution.

The 57 changes are substantial and were made without any consultation with us,' Mayfair's joint managing director Ian Scorer told Nathanson, complaining that Rickman had turned Mesmer into  a  distant,  inaccessible  figure  rather  than  a  hot-blooded sensualist.

Mesmer's new owners, Film Finances, disagreed, defending Rickman's script changes. 'Obviously he was very proactive as the lead actor. He did have input,' James Shirras, director of legal and business affairs, told me.

'One of Mayfair's complaints was that Rickman's performance was not sufficiently erotic. But if he wasn't then that's the way he chose to play it.'

Mayfair go further, alleging that Rickman refused to lick the eyelids of a young blind female patient because he was concerned that it would make him look like a lecher. And Scorer also alleged that at a private screening of Mesmer in Los Angeles in February 1994, Rickman had wanted to make the ending more political. 'Instead of the final scene between Mesmer and the blind girl being played to piano music, he wanted the sounds of gunfire and helicopter engines from Sarajevo.

'He thought it needed some really punchy, violent noise rather than the lyrical, touching finale. It was meant to make it more



politically correct, but people said, "Whaaat? Mesmer was in Paris in 1780, not in present-day Bosnia!" '

Co-producer Lance Reynolds also rent his garments in anguish at the memory, claiming he had spent five years developing and nursing the project with Potter. The changes were very much done by the director and Alan Rickman, and I was not consulted,' he told Nathanson. 'I would see the rushes, call a meeting with the three other producers and express my concern, but it would be forgotten. 1 was jumping up and down and saying "This is not the film!"

'I was upset as I adored Dennis Potter. That was the point of working all those years on it - and not to have people rewriting his work.'

It sounds heart-rending as well as garment-rending, and certain­ly makes a good story, but it's not the complete picture. Rickman was portrayed as a killjoy Dave Span whose starring role had gone to his head and who was just the kind of humourless lout that would (like the Hackney headmistress Jane Brown) denounce Romeo And Juliet for being 'heterosexist'. It was enormously damaging, and Scorer and Reynolds sounded very convincing.

It was felt at the time that Mayfair seized on an opportunity to validate pulling out of the film. They therefore criticised alterations to the script, which had been made without that much collabor­ation with Dennis Potter because he was too ill.

James Shirras of Film Finances Services Ltd, the new owners of Mesmer, was also acerbic in the spectacular way that only lawyers can be when they cast off the legal jargon, let their wig down and tell you what they really think.

"You've been on my conscience,' he admitted when I contacted him for a second time to try to arrange a talk about the Mesmer fiasco. 'Fascinating is not the word for Mesmer. You need to be resilient to stick with it to the end.

'Mayfair said Rickman was not sexy enough, which is ridiculous. This is a man who has more fans turning up to see him than Hugh Grant at the premiere of An Awfully Big Adventure, which 1 attended. Rickman has a big following.

There were certainly cash-flow difficulties at the beginning, during the first few weeks of filming. Neither Rickman nor Roger Spottiswoode were paid properly until the fifth week. However, the suggestion disseminated in certain quarters that money which

should haw been available to meet production expenses on Mesmer was diverted elsewhere is without foundation.

'The major cash-flow problems at the beginning meant it was difficult for the producers to get their ducks in a row. That caused discontent on the set. Roger and Alan were implored to keep on working; they were extremely good about it.

To some extent, they blamed Mayfair for the difficulties. But they had to be kept sweet, and I understand it was not always easy to do that.'

The budget for Mesmer was eight-and-a-half million dollars There were quite a lot of deferments for what's known as the Talent', standard moviespeak for the director, producer and stars The deferments for Rickman and Spottiswoode were six-figure sums in dollars. The cash budget of approximately six million dollars made it eight-and-a-half million dollars in total for the production

'Film Finances now has the rights of distribution, which Mayfair were supposed to acquire," says Shirras. 'We have now appointed a sales agent and sales are now being made. You would think there would be a lot of interest in one of Dennis Potter's last scripts, but...

"Our misfortune was that Mayfair ever agreed to finance the film based on that script. They prepared a legal case based on the divergences between the film as delivered and the original script. The discrepancies are very, very minor. It doesn't amount to a row of beans. They put their case to arbitrators, and the arbitrators believed them, to many people's amazement. I was very surprised

"We knew the script was very, very odd. Mayfair were saying that it had been turned into a doctor-patient relationship as opposed to a man and his lover, but that assertion is so unverifiable.' says Shirras with exasperation.

'Alan had apparently been impressed by the script, though. I think he had found more in it, frankly, than most people did Indeed, one friend says: 'Alan found it terribly significant.'

The originating producer. Lance Reynolds, has been smarting about it all for years. '1 worked for five and a half to six years on Mesmer and it was such a bitter experience,' he squeaks. 'I would like to gracefully decline about commenting on working with Alan Rickman Dennis Potter was very important to me and I was very close to him.'

When I spoke to him in the autumn of 1995. Reynolds alleged: 'I have not even been paid for Mesmer.'

This was disputed by James Shirras, whom I contacted at around the same time. 'It was not true that Lance Reynolds was not paid,' he insists. 'And if he felt things were going wrong, why didn't he do something about it? He was there for the whole shoot. I think it's fair to say that his relationship with the other producers was not all it might have been.

We at Film Finances tend to get involved in these things when a producer needs to borrow money from a bank. They started shooting in September 1993. We were contacted about providing a completion guarantee. We look at the project and the individuals involved and decide whether they can do it. We were familiar with the Hungarian-Canadian producer Andras Hamori, so we were happy with him. Frankly, he was the reason why we got involved in the first place.

'Lance Reynolds was the originator of the project. He got some money for Mesmer from Bowie's business manager Robert Goodale. Goodale had nothing to do with the making of the film; he simply lent some of Bowie's money to the project for development.

'Another producer was Wieland Schulz-Keil, who had recently done John Schlesinger's The Innocent . . . which I believe was a problematic production. Schulz-Keil brought in the German film studio Babelsberg in Berlin, so it became a British-German-Canadian co-production.

'Andras Hamori was the hands-on producer, responsible for managing the production. Schulz-Keil and Reynolds had less clearly defined roles, but were supposed to be around. Someone at Mayfair must have said at the sight of the finished product, "How the hell are we going to get our money back out of this?"

'So they cited the script changes as a reason for pulling out of their contract. Most distributors who want a long-term future in the business would be extremely reluctant to do this.

We lost the arbitration and paid the money back to the bank, so we are now trying to dispose of the territories from Mayfair that we inherited. Selling films is not really our business.

This kind of arbitration is in fact extremely unusual,' points out Shirras. The Mayfair case was so preposterous, to say that this was not the film they wanted delivered. I thought they were trying it on. We didn't agree that the film didn't conform to the script. Their case was utter nonsense, but it had the virtue of simplicity and clarity They must have been incredibly surprised when they won, and the

arbitrators did say that Mayfair should consider themselves fortunate.

'The arbitration was essentially about who was going to pay the hank oft . . , Maytaii or Film finances. It should have been between Mayfair and the producers, but if the producers lost the case, we would have had to pick up the tab. We could have called in the producers as witnesses, but we formed the impression -mistaken, as it turned out - that the arbitrators didn't want the producers to appear.

'Roger Spottiswoode and Alan Rickman both appeared as witnesses. They said it was nonsense about many changes, that film is always a collaborative thing. Roger had in fact been in touch with Dennis Potter, who said "You will just have to work it all out on the floor."

The arbitrators' decision is really very difficult to understand, except on the basis of a very narrow and legalistic construction of the relevant contracts,' he concludes with a shrug. '1 felt from the very beginning that it would have been better in front of a High Court judge. But it was written into the contracts that we should go to arbitration if any difficulties developed, the reason being that arbitrators are appointed by the disputing parties for their knowledge and understanding of the film industry. 1 suspect that if we had been able to go to the High Court, Mayfair would not have gone ahead with the action.'

There are some who question the good taste of a peculiar feature of the film. Director Roger Spottiswoode, of course, sees things differently. 'You can play mad, but there are people who are severely subnormal who still look normal. We did bring some asylum patients out of Bratislava for a couple of days of filming. There are a limited number of things one can do; these people didn't really know what a film is, for example.

'But they seemed happy. You have to be careful not to exploit them, but there are precedents for using real patients: they did that in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.'

Spottiswoode stands by the film he made. The arbitration was an attempt to get out of paying for the film,' he alleges. 'Obviously it succeeded. None of that was to do with Alan or myself.

The main concern was that Dennis had written a very dark script about a very dark character, and the financiers had thought it would be a light, airy, sexy romp. It's about a character who's

ambiguous. They wanted something simpler, nicer, hopefully more commercial.'

As for Mayfair's allegations that Alan tried to turn the film into a metaphor for Bosnia with the sound of gunfire and Sarajevan helicopters, Spottiswoode admits: 'Alan did have an idea that there should be a more modem sound at the end to show people the contemporary relevance. I tried it and I didn't think it would work in the cinema. It's very theatrical. It was hitting the nail on the head too much. But with no ideas around, a film is dead. One discards the bad ideas.

'Alan is a man of strong ideas; you have to work them out with him. He doesn't like to be a tool. The same has been said of Gene Hackman,' he adds diplomatically.

'Mesmer was a very difficult, prickly, complex character, and Alan had great courage to play him. Mesmer was compelling and brilliant, but also extremely difficult and unpleasant. Both ludicrous and expressive. There is a tension there: Mesmer is impenetrable. He's endlessly pompous and arrogant: he married a woman for her wealth and then paid no attention to her. He was quite contrary.

'The movie was not a big blockbuster. It's a small, interesting, dark film. Alan won the Best Actor award in Montreal when it was screened there. But it probably won't make him a big star, it's not that kind of film.

'Clearly Mesmer was quite erotic and strange. When he strokes Maria Theresa's breasts in the first scene, we played it as if the characters didn't quite understand what they were doing ... we didn't want to give a twentieth-century consciousness to a pre-Freudian time. I could have made the film more explicit, but that would have been wrong. Sexuality was repressed then.

Our medical ethics are recently come by. Cartoons of the time showed Mesmer's group therapy as orgasm, or what we would call primal scream therapy. It was all about the discovery of the unconscious.

Mesmer disappeared back into the tragedy of history. So did the girl in this film, Maria Theresa. She was supposed to have regained her sight for a few days after meeting Mesmer. but she died blind.

'All this was just around the time of the French Revolution, with the growth of new ideas. It was at the end of the Dark Ages, in a way. There had been almost no medical progress until then. And a man who dared to suggest that the mind and body might be

connected was considered a fool. Mesmer was very much ahead of his time; would that great geniuses were nice people, too. I don't think he was.'

Spottiswoode is as angry as Shirras over the result of the arbitration.

According to Mayfair's allegations, Alan Rickman had a hands-on approach to Dennis Potter's script and a hands-off approach to the sexy side of Mesmer. In fact, a valuable insight into the way he works on a film set was provided by his friend Catherine Bailey's Late Show profile on BBC 2 in November 1994.

Alan is everywhere on the set, as omnipresent as Woody Allen's Zelig even for the shooting of scenes that he's not in.

Spottiswoode is overheard muttering about how long it's taking as Alan paces up and down in front of the camera, talking about options. Rickman is obviously desperate to direct.

'It's difficult to make it specific in that dress without making it obscene,' he worries after a scene with his leading lady, a decollete Amanda Ooms who is prone on top of a piano. He consults with the director and bites his nail nervously (a Rickman habit well established in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves). 'It's getting a bit blurry,' he says querulously of the way he wants to play it in his mind's eye.

Rickman admits to Bailey that he asks questions not because he's trying to be difficult, but in order to be 'clearer. So you know where to place this peculiar energy called being an actor. I enjoy the corporate thing. I would never get involved in a one-man show ... I don't know what that's for.'

As for his famous deliberation over parts: The yeses and the noes are all to do with the script . . . you either want to say those lines or you don't. One is constantly asked, "Just be yourself." ' He thinks for a few moments, waiting several perfectly timed beats before his answer, and smiles mirthlessly. 'Whoever that is.'

Rickman is filmed opening the car-door for the Hungarian chauffeur on location, absolutely unheard-of behaviour from the star of a film. But then Alan always wants to be thought of as the good guy. 'It could be a heap of shit,' he says fatalistically with a nervous grin, discussing the outcome of Mesmer. He takes care to introduce Catherine's camerawoman to members of the cast - Gillian Barge, Simon McBumey and Amanda Ooms - plus even the makeup man. As for his notorious perfectionism, he admits: 'Maybe it's just tenacity or something . : . never wanting to let go. Maybe one



should let go more often. But the work could achieve so much; and so little is asked of it most of the time.' There speaks a frustrated director whom life has cast as a great actor instead. He did indeed throw his weight around in one way. Mesmer cast-member Simon McBumey, the Artistic Director of the avant-garde troupe Theatre De Complicite, recalls being roughly handled by Rickman on set. 'Mesmer married a widow with a son by her first marriage; I play that son, Franz. Franz is a skulker and tells on Mesmer to his mother, who suspects Mesmer of having sex with his patients. Au contraire, it's Mesmer who throws Franz down the stairs for trying to rape a girl.

'So I have a very volatile relationship with him: several days of king thrown back against a wall by Alan Rickman! He really gets into his part and doesn't hold anything back.

'But it was a very happy and enjoyable show. It was difficult because Potter could have no part of it; he was dying at the time. The actors - Alan and Amanda Ooms and Gillian Barge and myself - formed a strong bond together.

'It was the first experience I had had of working with Alan, and I now consider him one of my friends. I was really impressed by his astonishing courtesy. He's polite to everybody. He was genuinely thoughtful about the extras in Hungary, who were paid a pittance and didn't even have a hot meal. He wouldn't work until they had been fed.'

Spottiswoode, however, has a plausible explanation for the great Extras' Lunch Saga: 'Our extras were treated the same as they are on every film. They get boxed lunches prepared in the hotels, while the main cast get hot meals because they have far more work to do and have to be on the set longer.

'But Alan becomes very passionate about causes; it happens with many actors. He is quixotic: it's a sweet side to him. Sometimes he's right - and sometimes he's wrong.'

"When he starts to work, he's very precise and incisive,' says Simon McBurney. 'He's very intelligent and doesn't suffer fools gladly. His concern was always with trying to achieve the best possible scene. He's fantastically rigorous on every level: I found that extremely endearing.

'But he's not difficult in an unconstructive, childish, pointless way. Jeremy Irons was pulling everything his way in the movie Kafka. Alan doesn't do that.

The number of film actors who misbehave on set makes Alan's own position more remarkable. He was always concerned with such things as whether people had a lift to and from the set. On the majority of film sets, it's de rigueur for leading actors to misbehave. It's mistaken for egomania, but in fact it's a monstrous insecurity. This is a preposterously insecure profession because you go down as quickly as you come up. These things don't last for ever. So it makes his attitude all the more remarkable.

'He was a supporter of my and many people's work, he makes it his business to see other people's work. He's one of the few actors at the peak of his profession who does that. We got on well. We shared a love of rollercoasters, and we went to the park in Vienna where they shot The Third Man, the Prater Park. We got on the rollercoasters and screamed our heads off. There was one horrendous one that pushed you up backwards.

'But every time I thought I knew what Alan was like, I found he had changed. He's a very enigmatic and surprising person. He's a giggler, but he's quite imposing. I didn't know where I was with him at first.

'He was very terrifying and scary on set, working with such intensity. Acting is such a strange and curious thing to be doing, it's a very weird job. Everyone has their own methods. Gillian Barge is not an improviser, she learns her lines until she's word-perfect. With Alan, it was much more introspective. He wouldn't necessarily always communicate it, you would have to intuit it. But compared with taking a theatre company round the world, being on a film set was like a holiday. I felt like a dog let off a leash.

'Alan and I went out to the wine district for one day, and we also went on some incredible walks. I have a lot of friends in Vienna, so Alan and I were hanging around in cafes and cooking meals with them. He was very sweet. He was helping an Austrian friend of mine with his role as the father in my production of Lucie Cabrol. He's considerate that way.

'He has a seriousness, not an aloofness. When the project was conceived, it was conceived with his name attached to it. He's the principal actor holding the whole thing together, and he would spend a lot of time behind the camera as well as in front of it.

'I think that kind of thing can be quite intimidating; but Roger is not a tyrant director like Coppola, his style is much more

collaborative. Alan brings his own allure to the film. He treated the entire script with enormous respect. He was concerned to portray the complexity of Mesmer as a man who was out of his time. To portray him as a sexual philanderer is not true to the intentions of Potter. Mesmer came to the conclusions that only Freud came to a hundred years later.

'Medicine was enormously politically dominated: it was divided between healing and surgery, and surgery won. Mesmer was stumbling upon an early psychotherapy, and this was illuminated by a confrontation with sexuality. The ambivalence of that is what's fascinating.

'There is a very strong sense of the loneliness of this man, and there were some very mesmeric sexual moments in the film ... a simmering sexuality there. Potter brought out a lot of the wry humour and humanity, and we almost revolve inside Mesmer's head. It's a very internal drama - a man trying to make sense of the world. He develops an unspoken sexual relationship with Amanda Ooms as a patient who has been sexually abused by her father. There's an ambivalence about her character, and my spying on her sessions with Mesmer adds to that.

'We filmed in a wonderful castle at Period in Hungary, a sort of Versailles in semi-ruins. It's now up for sale. We also filmed in a medieval town called Sopron. I enjoyed myself terrifically.

'I think the finance people in films are sometimes psychopathic,' is Simon's final verdict. 'It's just a great great shame that Mesmer was never followed through. Having so many co-producers didn't help; they were always turning up on the set.'

So what of the movie itself? The cinematography has a luscious integrity, perfectly in keeping with the period; and all begins well as two dainty eighteenth-century clockwork figures revolve on a music-box to the lush sounds of a Michael Nyman composition in unusually romantic mode. The image could be taken as a metaphor for the way so many competing interests chased each other round in ever-decreasing circles.

The whiskerless Rickman looks youthful and vulnerable in the role. His theories of animal magnetism are mocked by the surgeons from the Royal Society of Medicine, which has summoned a special assembly to examine his claims. One can't help thinking of the Inquisition. They question him about his visit to a lunatic asylum with a sympathetic fellow doctor. 'We walked through the pillars

of misery and Dr Mesmer wept. I saw him take away a seizure,' testifies the colleague. A dropsical leg has also been cured. Mesmer has persuaded people that a cure lies in their own hands, can be part of their own experience.

We see a flashback of a girl having fits. Mesmer strokes her face and chest, encouraging another sceptical physician to follow suit. She raises herself up after what looks like a faith-healing session. The other doctor disputes the cure and insists on bleeding her instead. 'Open up one of her veins.' He thinks Mesmer's methods are pure superstition. 'Passion and medicine do not mix. The moon is a symbol of lunatics.'

Rickman's Mesmer, moving around as if in a dream or trance, insists: 'I have made a discovery that will lift pain and misery.' In the role of his wife, Gillian Barge conveys a most ambivalent attitude towards her man: she jeers at him, yet boasts of him to others: 'My husband has an original mind.' Nevertheless, she describes him as 'the son of a shitarse gamekeeper. Don't 1 pay the bills and give you some sort of entry into a better society?' And she calls him 'a genius living on his wife's charity'. His only defence is sarcasm, referring to her 'generous spirit, tact, charm and missing back teeth'.

Most of the time he seems in a world of his own, and the interior life of Mesmer is never satisfactorily explored by the script. The man is little more than a romantic ideal, despite all Rickman's efforts to give this sketch some depth.

He tells a shallow woman on a balcony: We could hear the music of the heavenly spheres if only we strained to listen.' He also informs her, in one of the script's more stunning non sequiturs, that man is the only animal to know it will ultimately die.

The next scene shows a blind girl in a veil, playing the piano. She then has a fit, writhing on the floor as if in the grip of a grand mal. She is Maria Theresa, played by the extravagantly beautiful Amanda Ooms. Mesmer watches, transfixed. The surgeons are about to bleed her when Mesmer rises and says: This young woman is in urgent need of the attention of Franz Anton Mesmer.' He shoves them unceremoniously aside. They should never cover such an exquisite face.' A distressing tendency to refer to himself in the third person is the first sign of Mesmer madness.

Ooms lies moaning on the piano; Rickman raises his hands like a conductor. When he places his hands on her face and body, she

screams. He runs his fingers down her bodice. His nostrils dilate and he flings his head back as she goes quiet.

He mumbles about the sun being a magnet that draws us out. There's an unseen force ... an animal magnetism moving from me to you,' he whispers. "You can feel it, you can feel it. Here is your patient. She has not been harmed.' Then he stalks away.

As is his wont, Rickman wears no wig; he dislikes too much artifice. His hair is swept back from his face, and he reeks of repressed sensuality. Everything in the film conspires to turn him into an enchanted figure, the focus for all female eyes but not quite in touch with his own urges. There's an air of wonderment about the character, who seems to be working out the plot as he goes along. Of course he's ridiculously idealised. We hear the music of magical prisms from a chandelier in his study where he holds court, a Copemican globe in the background.

As his colleague applies an instrument of torture to a weeping Maria Theresa's sightless eyes, we see a flashback to the girl being sexually assaulted by her father. 'If only you knew my ache,' he says, his hands on her breasts, 'you can have anything you want.' She asks to be taken to Mesmer. In a glib piece of camerawork, Mesmer's face dissolves into a shot of the moon.

The journey back to childhood, where the watching, waiting, eavesdropping child is the father of the man, is integral to a Dennis Potter screenplay. The film shows us the young Mesmer, perched on a rock and listening to the beat of the universe. The adult Mesmer is still haunted by him.

A pretty waif adores Mesmer and tells him outside his door that she loves him. "You think you do,' he says gently. When Maria Theresa is brought by her father to Mesmer's house, they walk in the garden and the besotted waif watches jealously from her window as she plays her music box. This is Francesca, the young cousin of Mesmer's wife.

'I can hear the turn of the world,' says Maria Theresa. 'And can you hear the human heart?' Mesmer asks her whimsically. 'When I was a boy, I too could hear the turn of the world.' There follows a very intense scene in which he strokes her lower arm and holds her hand, telling her that she would never want to see for herself the contamination of the world.

There is a mob at the gate: the rabble invade the house and Mesmer meets them on the stairs, saying like the man of destiny he

is: 'I'm the one you seek.' They have all come for healing. The halt and the lame follow Mesmer down stone steps for an experiment in electrical impulses. He tells the crowd to join hands in a] charmed circle: this is the scene that used real inmates from an asylum.

‘You poor people,' he says compassionately. 'Poor, sick, pitiless world. Where shall we end the abuse and cruelty?' He goes round the circle, strengthening the force between them. This force needs pain, and pain will resist.' There is much agonised crying and lamentation when he uses the cane as a kind of lightning rod. They break the circle and all have fits. He hugs some of them, trying to pass on his energy. They quieten down. The storm has passed over you. Each of you has gone some little way towards harmony,' he says; perfectly on cue, we hear the music of the spheres.

Then the clamour begins again: they berate him, because their illnesses are still there. "You have to look in,' he says defensively, but he is assailed by self-doubt.

Back in his study, Mesmer encourages Maria Theresa to be tactile. He clasps her face and asks her to breathe, his lips very close to hers. His wife bursts in, as wives tend to do, and accuses him of kissing his patient. This is a moment of pure farce, clumsily introduced. It's a pity that we see so little of the volatile home life of the Mesmers, apart from the laying on of threatening hands around her neck as he says sarcastically, 'Light of my life, leave us.'

The sexual tension is almost tangible as he meets Maria Theresa in the gardens for a Braille version of sex. Her fingers travel over the prominent Rickman lips, getting to know him. Back in his study, he runs his hand along her neck; she (and by now? presumably half the audience) is almost brought to orgasm. 'No, father,' she suddenly blurts . . . and her secret is out. Her father has been molesting her.

'Don't be ashamed,' he whispers, hugging her. Mesmer shows tremendous restraint, but it's clear that he's overpoweringly attracted to her. He runs a silk scarf across her throat in an intimate gesture and then blindfolds her with it.

Days later Mesmer takes off Maria Theresa's silk bandages; she still insists that she sees only darkness. 'What is to be is out of our hands; he insists. 'We make our own lives.' He is trying to make her assert her will-power.



A lucky fall, somewhat unconvincingly choreographed. restores his vision. The pains in her head have gone 'Now my head sings instead

There follows a scene of extraordinary erotic intensity, all the more powerful for the way in which Rickman carefully reins himself in 'I knew before I met you,' he says, as if this is their destiny, and their kiss creates the most exquisite frisson. He has awakened every one of her senses. Mesmer knows he is falling in love, but the erotic pull ot the universe is irresistible. 'Oh let it go, let the arrow fly.' he says testily to a stone Cupid with us hou poised to strike at human hearts.

The character is instinctively gallant, which must be a first lor Dennis Potter. Seeing Francesca molested at a window by his sly stepson Franz-, Mesmer rushes up the stairs in order to fling Franz down them. As he explains venomously to his wife, 'I'm cleaning the house' But alas, it's chucking-out time all around. The action movesforward to his expulsion from Vienna, when Mesmer and has baggage are flung out ol a coach. ' You know the orders . . keep out of the city'.

'This is a day of infamy and outrage that shall long be remembered,' says an outraged Alan Rickman, his moon face so caked in mud that he looks like a B- movie monster from a very black lagoon It's a great moment ot unintentional hilarity which rather undermines all the self- conscious Romanticism that has gone before.

And so on to Versailles in the Dennis Potter time-machine, where Mesmer has developed a reputation for curing paralytic fits An over ripe beauty asks him to cure her backache. She says that it hurts 'at certain times' . 'Your nerves are out of alignment.' he says smoothly, extricating himself subtly from a tricky situation.

He asks a group of ladies to form a circle. ' The force in me comes flowing into your flesh, your nerves, your bones ' They are asked to clasp a series of rods suspended over a larige barrel of water. There is a chorus of ladylike moans as he puts his hands on naked shoulders, telling them to place the rods upon whatever part of the body ails them most. 'It surges,' he says, and the group groan 'Your body is now a battlefield .' There is a cacophony of orgasmic shrieks.

This is the infamous scene of mass  hysteria, straight out ot Ken

Russell.  One woman writhes on the floor in a fit,. while another's



head plops foolishly into the barrel of water. It's absurd and grotesque. Are we supposed to assume Mesmer, the misunderstood idealist, has now become a cynical charlatan? The film sends out conflicting signals, unable to make up its mind.

'I cure the sick because I can reach into their souls . . . This is just play-acting,' he tells his friend Charles. 'One day we shall come to acknowledge that our emotions and our bodies are not separate.'

There are sounds of civil insurrection outside, presaged by that film-maker's cliche: a runaway horse. 'When society is sick, all its members are too,' Mesmer says to the medical assembly that is about to denounce him.

'Gentlemen, you are in the veriest danger of losing your lives,' continues Mesmer, who appears to have extraordinary extra­sensory perception, aware that the mob are approaching with their lighted tapers. Is this the first stirring of the French Revolution? We are never told.

Maria Theresa has lost her faith and is back in the darkness again. 'You abandoned me,' she says. T cannot see.' 'Do you want to see?' he asks her rhetorically.

Mesmer dreamily relives his boyhood; Potter is forever rewind­ing the tape of life. 'When I was a boy, I could see from one horizon to another. Everything was in harmony, in balance, except human beings. And I could not bear to do nothing about it.'

The last shot shows Mesmer and Maria Theresa, side by side but apart, in an abandoned hall from which everyone else - horse, mob, fellow physicians - has vanished. On balance, even anach­ronistic Sarajevan helicopters might have helped.

No wonder the project ended in frustration for all concerned. It's a fragment, a tantalising might-have-been that provides little more than a sumptuous showcase for Rickman's sexuality.

Nevertheless, Alan Rickman's performance as Mesmer did win him the Best Actor award at the 1994 Montreal Film Festival. And at Dennis Potter's memorial service in November of that year, Alan kept faith with the writer's memory by reading from the script of Mesmer. It seemed as dead now as Dennis.



12 'GOD DIDN'T MEAN HIM TO PLAY SMALL ROLES'                                                                                                      213


The celebrity of an actor, hired to recite other people's words, is a source of agonised embarrassment to Alan Rickman. Not only does he long to direct more, but he is acutely aware that the writers don't get the credit that the performers do. Actors should be the servants of the writers, as he once put it, but they get promoted over the heads of the playwrights instead. As Peter Barnes wryly remarks, 'A lot of people haven't grasped that actors are not making up the words as they go along.'

Stephen Davis once told me how Alan had stood up at an awards ceremony while dishing out the acting prizes and said, 'Can we please spare some thought for the writers?' Davis added: 'It is extraordinary that we are such a visualising culture that we are now living in the cult of the actor. In Hollywood, they are the ultimate royalty; and Alan is embarrassed at the amount of publicity given to actors. I think he is very conscious that he is an actor who profits greatly by success and fame and charisma but who is very careful that he doesn't use people as a grandstand for his career, because he's a man of very high principles. But it does cut both ways: you create a tremendous amount of mystique by being Garboesque. It's a win-win situation to be in.'

Alan Rickman routinely rejects so many roles that Ruby Wax says she feels sick every morning at the thought of the amount of money her purist friend is turning down every single day. Dusty Hughes' story of the ceiling-high piles of script in Rickman's flat suggests a crazy paper factory. No wonder Alan has to be fanatically tidy. He is famously faddy and principled, but that doesn't stop him being offered first choice on countless projects. Perhaps that hard-to-get quality simply whets producers' appetites: they know he's not to be bought for any price. Indeed, you could dine out for years on revelations about the major roles that Alai Rickman has declined. Nevertheless, he is contrary enough moan about the parts he doesn't get.

When he reached 50, Alan Rickman found himself at a crossroads whose three-fingered signpost behaved like u demented



weathervane according to mood. One direction pointed to conti­nuing film stardom, another to heavyweight theatrical roles and the last to directing.

He risked typecasting in the first, he was often too busy to pursue the second and he was a relative newcomer so far as the third option is concerned. No wonder he was frustrated. He had never been more in demand for major movies; yet Alan Rickman faced a quiet mid-career crisis.

Before the Rivergate controversy drove a wedge between Rick­man and his old colleague Jules Wright in 1993, he complained to her one day that nobody asked him to go on stage anymore. The problem is that people become inhibited about asking him and assume that he's not available. Maybe Alan is lost to the theatre now, like Gary Oldman,' said Jules to me in 1995.

This exasperates all those who would like to see more o: Rickman in what they say is his natural habitat on stage: 'He is the most complete man of the theatre I know,' insists his old RADA contemporary Stephen Crossley.

'I ask Alan Rickman every year to rejoin the RSC; I ask him to name his parts,' Adrian Noble told me in 1995. 'But it's difficult when you enter the film game to find the time; with film, it's not only the actual filming that takes time, but the hanging around beforehand while they find the money.

'Once you move into film seriously, it's very hard to carve out the time to do more theatre. It's much more risky - you stand to lose more.'

Peter Barnes agrees. 'It's difficult to return after you leave the theatre, because theatre is hard. And you get more exposure in movies, so theatre becomes something you do only for yourself. I have always done movies to finance my theatre work. With theatre for actors, it's very much a case of working for yourself.

'He's obsessed about not playing villains. I can understand why he doesn't want to do them, but for a long career it's pretty good to have a stand-by like that. You will never be too old to become a villain. He's more a character star than a star star. And Gene Hackman doesn't go out of fashion.

'Alan turned down the Lytton Strachey role in Carrington before Jonathan Pryce was offered it. He's since moaned to me about turning that down plus the role of the baddie Scar in Disney's The Lion King, which then went to Jeremy Irons. He had second



thoughts, but it was too late. He was too proud to admit it, when he should have done it.'

Indeed, it's tempting to conclude that Alan had his regrets only after Pryce and Irons were seen to have made such tremendous successes of Strachey and Scar; a dog-in-the-manger attitude is only human, after all. After much humming and haaing, Sir Anthony Hopkins finally agreed to play Richard Nixon on film only after director Oliver Stone craftily asked him what he thought of Gary Oldman for the role. 'I think Alan is much better than Tony Hopkins, who has never been the same since he gave up drinking,' is Peter's opinion. 'One doesn't wish for artists to self-destruct, but in giving up one must be brutal and say they lose something.'

'I certainly discussed the role of Lytton Strachey with him,' says Christopher Hampton, writer and director of Carrington. 'When he came with me to the screening, I think Alan was upset that he hadn't taken it. He said, "Oh my God, what have I done!" '

'He was also offered the role of Peron opposite Madonna in the movie version of Evita, which then went to Jonathan Pryce,' says Barnes. At this rate, Pryce - yet another friend of Packman's - will be learning to read Alan's fingerprint profile on every script he's sent.

'Alan was also told that he was second on the list after Anthony Hopkins to play Hannibal Lecter in Silence Of The Lambs. If Hopkins had decided not to do it, then Alan was the next choice,' explains Peter.

The funny thing is, Alan said that that one couldn't be turned down, that it would make him the biggest and most powerful star in Hollywood. It would have been a stellar leap. I think Alan would have been extraordinary, though I can't understand why it didn't go to Brian Cox- who played Hannibal Lecter originally in the film Manhunter.'

Silence Of The Lambs did finally make Hopkins a British superstar in Hollywood. He won the Oscar for Best Actor and was also awarded a knighthood, though many felt that the Queen's honours system should not have rewarded an actor for playing a serial killer who disposed of the bodies by eating them.

Still, it was a testament to the sheer size of the part, which Hopkins seized with tremendous relish. 'But it was a one-note performance,' said one film critic in exasperation. One can only sadly speculate on the insidious power of Alan Rickman in the role.

'I think Alan is much better than Tony Hopkins, who has never been the same since he gave up drinking,' is Peter's opinion  'One



doesn't wish for artists to self-destruct, but in giving up one must be brutal and say they lose something.'

Some of the stories about the scripts on which Rickman has first refusal are almost farcical, though not particularly funny, of course for the actors that unwittingly took his leavings. 'In The Lost Action Hero, the villain was played by Charles Dance. He agreed to it after seeing an early script. Then he happened to see a later script with the words "Alan Rickman" in brackets after the name of his character . . .!

'Alan takes endless time to decide about which scripts to accept goes through the whole Hamlet routine and cogitates for ever about whether to take a part,' adds Barnes fondly. 'He often rings up friends. He rang me up about playing Colonel Brandon in Emma Thompson's film of Sense And Sensibility - he said to me, "The thing has got Hugh Grant in it."

‘I think he was worried at the time about all the attention on Hugh Grant. Plus I have the impression they didn't get on in An Awfully Big Adventure.'

The director Mike Newell was a modestly successful film-maker who unexpectedly hit the jackpot with the low-budget British movie Four Weddings And A Funeral. It became the biggest-grossing UK film of all time and turned Hugh Grant into an international star, charmingly knock-kneed and sweetly stammering. The over-grown-boy-next-door image was, of course, far too good to be true. An over-tired Hugh sullied his escutcheon when his idea of in-car entertainment at the seedier end of Sunset Boulevard excited the prurient attention of the Los Angeles Police Department. The rest is mugshot history.

Grant was signed up for Newell's follow-up project, a screen version of Beryl Bainbridge's story of a post-war Liverpool repertory theatre company and its struggles to stage a production of Peter Pan. The title, An Awfully Big Adventure, was a quote from a poignant line in J. M. Barrie's play about the little boy who didn’t want to grow up: To die will be an awfully big adventure.'

By general critical consensus, the lightweight Grant was disas­trously miscast as the manipulative and vitriolic theatre director with whom the naive young heroine falls in love without realising that he is homosexual. (The word is not in her ken.)

Not many people know, however, that Alan Rickman was offered the role of the waspish, cold-hearted Meredith first. The



casting would have made a great deal of sense. 'I asked Alan's agent if it was the case that Alan doesn't want to play villains,' remembers Newell. 'He said yes, that was the case, but that Alan would like to play the part of P. L. O'Hara instead.'

O'Hara is the film's equivalent of the cavalry, riding to the rescue of the heroine (and the movie itself) on an old Norton motorbike. Just when you feel the story couldn't get more leaden, along comes Rickman to wake things up. The result is a broken-backed piece of work that is fascinating only for a few well-observed cameos and for yet another of Alan Rickman's scene-stealing performances.

'He is not a chameleon actor, because he is very noticeable,' says Peter James, principal of the London drama school LAMDA. 'It seemed to me that Mesmer was the next logical step for him. You can't cast him in absolutely anything, although he's managed to cover a surprising breadth of roles. But it would be very difficult for him to play a plumber. He looks so elegant, so aristocratic.' As opposed to Kenneth Branagh, who is forever being told (despite the kings he has played) that he looks like a plumber. Both Ken and Alan come from similar backgrounds - if anything, Branagh's origins are more bourgeois — yet you would never associate Rickman with the tradesman's entrance.

'God didn't mean him to play small roles,' is Newell's classic observation. 'But I don't agree that he couldn't play a plumber; he would just make you feel that the plumber was a leading part.

'In theatrical terms, he's absolutely a star. But on film he's a leading actor, a great big leading actor who graces any film he's in. He's financially very useful because people feel easier about investing in a film he makes.

'Alan feels he's a leading actor; in the theatre, he's allowed to play a huge range of parts. In Hollywood he played villains before heroes, thus he has been typecast in villainy. That way he's going to have a boring time; it limits him.

"His villains are in fact warped tragic heroes. But he's very canny, and doesn't get that across in a wrong-headed way as some actors do. It's difficult to get actors to play motiveless malignity; they want the devil to be understood, at least. On the contrary, I want to be satisfied in my villains, not for them to be understood!

'Alan is pernickety sometimes; but then famous old actors like Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier were also pernickety about getting something absolutely right and pat. There is a sense of



rhythm and fitness and being in the right place at the right time. But 1 had a harmonious relationship with him.

'Affection is important to him,' adds Newell. 'He wants to have the sort of authority where people take advice from him. He's a guru.'

Newell denies the rumour that there was a rancorous atmos­phere between Rickman and Grant on An Awfully Big Adventure-Hugh's encounter with the prostitute Divine Brown was to occur later, duly recorded by Emma Thompson's Diary (' "All right for some," I thought') on the filming of Sense And Sensibility.

Rickman and Grant are, however, completely different types, though Newell insists, There was no coolness. But Alan does have a bit of Eeyore in him, though he would be puzzled if you pointed that out. It doesn't strike him that he's pessimistic.'

The one thing Grant and Rickman indisputably do have in common, of course, is their invaluable ea… Продолжение »

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