…rly dramatic experience as Old Latymerians. Hugh was also taught English and Drama by Alan's old mentor, Colin Turner, and appeared in many school productions during the 70s. In 2001, Latymer Upper's Head of Middle School Chris Hammond was invited to a party at Mel Smith's London house where he found Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant reminiscing together about their days at Latymer, all rivalry between the first choice and second choice for the male lead in An Awfully Big Adventure apparently long forgotten.

Given his aversion to yet more screen villainy, it's rather amusing to see Rickman briefly donning the mantle of a black-hearted fiend when P.L. O'Hara plays Captain Hook in Peter Pan with Hugh Grant's Meredith taking over after O'Hara is drowned. There is no comparison between the two performances. O'Hara is also an intriguing mixture of hero and villain in his own right, befriending and sexually awakening the heroine without realising - until the devastating finale - that he is in fact seducing his own long-lost daughter. Both Meredith and O'Hara are seducers of the young and innocent; and when O'Hara tries to upbraid Meredith for his treatment of a youth, he is fatally compromised by his own cavalier behaviour.

There was a big difference in the two voices for Captain Hook,' Newell admits. 'Hugh had a thin tenor and Alan a great booming, baritone voice. It's the difference between a film actor and a stage actor, because Alan is very much a theatre animal.



'Alan is very ambiguous and enigmatic, very powerful. He stands still, which reinforces the enigma. He's a calm actor rather than a tumultuous one; everything seems to come from a very deep and solid place. You are constantly invited further and further in, so you find yourself suckered in.

'He's what is known as a backfoot actor, with tremendous weight and talent. He would have been fairly obvious casting as Meredith; he would have been magnificent. He's very difficult to miscast, because he hides everything.

'I do regret not being able to go into O'Hara's previous history before he was presented in the film. I wished I had actually shown his failed life as an actor, his cramped Maida Vale flat.' In the event, however, the sad cast of Rickman's haggard face said it all.

'It was a great moment of revelation for Alan at the end of the film when O'Hara realises that he's the father of Stella, the girl he's seduced. He played the version without words; we had two versions. He said to me, "I know what you're going to ask me, to do it without words." And of course he had this amazing eloquence without words.

We used a Norton motorbike - the biggest bike we could get hold of, 450 cc or 500 cc. I wanted something truly huge, but this was the biggest, meanest bike the English made in those days. He rode the machine for 20 to 30 yards, then a stuntman took over. You are not supposed to notice the join.

'An old bike like that is a cranky thing, and I was concerned about Alan breaking bones. I was very unhappy about him half-learning to ride it. I remember one time that it wasn't quite in control. But he was very game.

'As for the death scene, he fell just nine inches into the water; we showed the cast-iron wheel hitting his head, but in fact it was foam rubber. The sound effects did the rest.'

An Awfully Big Adventure contained Rickman's first film sex scene, with P. L. O'Hara and Georgina Cates's Stella both naked from the waist up for an unusually delicate and tenderly erotic deflowering of a virgin. We see a back view of Rickman, bending over her in bed: he might have been her tutor.

He certainly fitted Bainbridge's description of O'Hara in the original novel: 'in profile, the man appeared haughty, contemptu­ous almost.' O'Hara clings to the rags and tatters of a thing he once called integrity, but the character is so tarnished by his equivocal relationship with Stella - partly paternalistic, partly predatory -



that only Rickman's strong and complex presence ensures he retains our sympathy. O'Hara's doubts and misgivings are evident throughout.

Charles Wood's screenplay was far too episodic to maintain a strong narrative, and most viewers will have been either bored or confused or both. An Awfully Big Adventure was a cinematic flop, going quickly to video.

So much for the dream team of Newell and Grant, with only Rickman and a few other stalwarts - Alun Armstrong as Stella's uncle, Prunella Scales, Nicola Pagett and Carol Drinkwater -emerging with much credibility.

Mike Newell says, rather cruelly under the circumstances, that for the supporting cast of An Awfully Big Adventure, 'I wanted people who were over the hill or about to be over the hill'. And Alan himself admitted in a location interview on Barry Norman's Film 95: 'It's a strange film to be doing in a way, a bit like being a vulture on your own flesh ... we have actors playing actors, using a stage for a film set and using our own lives as raw material. Georgina is remarkable . . . she claims to be seventeen but I'm going to put it out that she's forty-three.'

He reminisced about his own days in rep: 'I had to haul up my own cross because I was Inquisitor and ASM at the same time for a production of Shaw's St Joan. And then I had to put the kettle on. Everyone's memories of rep have that kind of mixture -pleasure and pain.'

There is precious little pleasure in An Awfully Big Adventure, compared with much pain and cynical back-biting, led by a hard-boiled Nicola Pagett and a jaded Carol Drinkwater.

The theme of lost innocence - pace Peter Pan - is brusquely handled in a relentlessly downbeat and depressing setting that should at least dissuade a few cross-eyed daughters of Mrs Worthington from following a hard life on the wicked stage.

It's hard to care about anyone, not least the coldly self-contained young heroine Stella. Little wonder that An Awfully Big Adventure failed to catch fire at the box office, with most people attracted only by the names of Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman.

Variety magazine loathed it, calling the film 'a dour, anti-sentimental coming-of-age story ... a rather disagreeable look at the irresponsible and corrupting behaviour of adults toward youthful proteges'. Austerity Britain, indeed.



Rickman's character was a misfit in more ways than one: he looked anachronistically modem, with a blond bob that inspired a catty story in the London Evening Standard about shipments of hair gel to the location in Dublin (there wasn't enough of pre-war Liverpool left to shoot there).

This unglamorous evocation of his theatrical beginnings fired him up to go back to the stage with a long-held ambition. After one or two forays as a director, he wanted to flex his controlling muscles again. Ruby's one-woman show had been really a matter of editing.

Rickman wanted to join the grown-ups and direct a proper drama, specifically Sharman Macdonald's The Winter Guest - a project that had been thwarted by the failure of his Riverside bid. Even so, for someone who gives the impression of being the epitome of self-control, he was still oddly uncertain about his own capabilities. 'When he wasn't sure if he could do The Winter Guest, he asked me to look at it with a view to me doing it,' says Richard Wilson. 'And while he was directing it, he said to me, "Your name is mentioned often."

'But you always felt Alan should become a director - I'm surprised it took him so long. Alan is always being sought after for his advice. He gives it freely. I have asked him things too; he is a ; son of guru.

'He does go along to an enormous number of productions. He's very supportive of friends who haven't worked for a while, giving encouragement to them during bad spells. Now he's a movie star, it doesn't prevent him going to Fringe shows. And there's no reason why it should.

'My feeling is he would want to do both: act and direct. It's nice  to be able to think about your role and forget everyone else as an actor, because directing is tough. But I would be surprised if he ever left the theatre.'

For a Fringe salary of less than Ј200 a week, Rickman premiered The Winter Guest at West Yorkshire Playhouse in January 1995. A co-production with London's fashionable Almeida Theatre, it starred Emma Thompson's actress mother Phyllida Law. The play had come about through conversations between Alan and his old Les Liaisons co-star Lindsay Duncan. Back in the late 80s, Lindsay would visit her mother, a widow who had become seriously ill with Alzheimer's disease, in a seaside town on the west coast of




Scotland. Not that it was all gloom and doom: when they got together, there was much laughter and mutual comfort. From Duncan's stones, Rickman gradually realised there was the genesis of a mother-daughter play in this: and who better than his old discovery to depict that most intense of all family relationships? Poignantly, Duncan's mother, to whom the film was dedicated, died while Sharman was writing the play whose very title referred to winter's most reliable visitor: Death.

At Leeds, the Guardian's Michael Billington allied it 'a haunting, elliptical play about unresolved lives, beautifully directed by Alan Rickman'. Alastair Macaulay of the Financial Times thought 'Rick-man shows considerable skill as a director, not least in pacing. Nothing rings false'.

Charles Spencer in the Doily Telegraph fell: 'Macdonald's great gift is the ability to persuade an audience that it isn't watching a play but rather the random, remarkable flow of life itself . . . beautifully drawn characters have come to seem like familiar friends by the end of Alan Rickman's superbly acted production.1

The design was so effective at creating an icy seaside-town setting on the West Coast of Scotland that it took me back to marrow-freezing childhood holidays on bleak pebbly beaches in Montrose ... as Mark Twain said of a summer in San Francisco, the coldest winter I ever spent'. Rickman and his designer Robin Don communicated wordlessly by sending each other sketches.

When it opened in London two months later in March, my Daily Express review praised 'the beautifully fluid production that dips in and out of four different couples' lives in an almost cinematic way'. Jack Tinker in the Daily Mail wrote: 'Alan Rickman directs with an unerring sense of place and occasion ... An evening ol magnetic and haunting charm.' And Clive Hirshhorn of the Sunday Express called 'this nostalgic tone poem ... an unflashy little gem'.

Benedict Nightingale's Times review was equally impressed: This is a funny, touching, rather beautiful play: in the most literal sense, a haunting piece of writing.' Yes, we were all beautifully spooked and transported.

Poor Rickman then sat and waited for the directing offers to pour in, as opposed to the acting offers that must have given his postman Repetitive Strain Injury from the weight of the scripts. "We were having lunch at my usual table at the Cafe Pelican in St Martin's Lane and Alan was moaning that no one had asked him to



direct again after The Winter Guest,' remembers Peter Barnes. 'I said, "Alan, don't you realise that people have pigeon-holed you as an actor? They want to see you in front of the camera, not behind it!"' Barnes adds, with some sympathy, 'It's very difficult for actors to become directors; I can think of only three or four who have pulled it off in the past.' Yet he can see only too clearly why Rickman longs to do more directing in order to be in greater control of his career. 'As an actor, you can only do what you're offered. And one of the big dilemmas for any actor working in the movies is, do you actually make every film that's offered to you if you're free and the script doesn't actually offend you, or do you select the scripts?' says Peter. 'Both decisions bring with them certain drawbacks: either you become a hack or, if you select, there are great gaps in your career. And there's never any guarantee that a film is going to be good; you are in the hands of the director and the cast and a script that may seem good but which goes down the tubes suddenly. The problem is that you might have good instincts about a script, but there's an awful long gap between the written word and the realisation on screen. Alan is intuitively good at selecting, but no one ever knows how things will work out. It's a dilemma for intelligent actors.'

'If Alan wanted to direct more, he could,' insists Adrian Noble. 'I don't think he's pining to be a director at all.' And he recalls his 1985 RSC production of As You Like It, with Alan so perfectly cast as the Forest of Arden's dandified drop-out Jaques. "You can't be a Jaques type as a director, you have got to be Duke Senior. You have to say "We have to leave the forest today." You don't dally with being a director.'

Perhaps, then, there really is a hint of Jaques the intellectual dilettante about Alan Rickman. He finds it hard to stay in one place for long: he once told the journalist Valerie Grove in Harpers & Queen magazine that he liked to present 'a moving target'. Hence all the obsessive travel, never happier than when on trains and boats and planes, from one film location to another.

'Alan has a terrific visual sense; he gets cross about designs sometimes. He endlessly goes on about design not happening till rehearsals begin,' adds Noble. 'In fact that happened with our design for As You Like It, which didn't materialise until six weeks after rehearsals started. And it was awful.

'He is a fantastic collaborator: he has a peculiar blend of terrific analytical skill plus improvisational or group effort. He has a strong



visual sense, and a sense of the function of theatre. But being pemickety is  an actor's prerogative, of an intelligent human being Alan is careful.'

Rickman even hoped that he could turn The Winter Guest into a movie, perhaps encouraged by the critical use of the word 'cinematic'. His big ambition was to direct on screen, and he had talks in Los Angeles with his old friend Niki Marvin over possible ideas.

But the general consensus on The Winter Guest was that this was a fragile tone poem unsuited to the wide sweep of cinema That didn't stop him from directing a film version in late 1996, however, with Phyllida Law and Emma Thompson

He certainly loved the change of pace in directing on stage, 'He has a wicked sense of humour, and he had a brilliant relationship with the younger members of cast, says an Almeida Theatre worker. 'He behaves like a born father; I'm surprised he hasn't got children of his own. But he's not into small talk He's not frightening exactly, though he could be. He knows exactly what he wants.

'When I first saw him, I was surprised that he hadn't done anything about his teeth . . , But so many women are fascinated by him. my mother included '

Directing The Winter Guest was an obvious move, given his Riverside ambitions to spread the scope of his talent. He told Michael Owen in the London Evening Standart on 10 March 1995: 'It's been like bringing the two disciplines of art school and drama school - which were both my background - together tor the first time. A complete pleasure, until you come to that moment when, as it should be, the play passes into the hands of the actors Then I feel a bit of an intruder, the guy with the coffee cup who keeps interfering.'

'It was a very important thing for him - even more than winning the BAFTA awards.' says Stephen Poliakoff.

When producer Niki Marvin's film The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for eight awards in the 1995 Oscars, her mother Blanche asked Alan whether he was going to escort Niki to the ceremony in Los Angeles. He smiled but politely declined 'I'll go when it's my Oscar.' he said with some determination

The pull ot acting, however, was still too strong. Emma Thompson had just finished a screenplay for Jane Austen's Sense And Sensibility, commissioned four years earlier after the film



producer Lindsay Doran had seen a comedy sketch about two sexually unawakened Victorian ladies from Emma's BBC TV series Thompson. At the time, Doran was working with Emma and her then husband Kenneth Branagh on the latter's film noir Dead Again. It just so happened that Rickman had made another interesting little film noir called Murder, Obliquely for a 1993 American TV anthology under the series title of Fallen Angels. The play was eventually shown on British television's BBC2 in 1995.

One of the producers of Murder, Obliquely was Lindsay Doran; and the executive producer was the veteran Sydney Pollack. In a passably languid American accent, Rickman had played the part of he wealthy and enigmatic Dwight Billings, over whom Laura Dern's heroine nearly lost her reason. Despite the knowing voice-over and the retro costumes, this stylish exercise was just the right side of camp; and Rickman also gave it a weird kind of rumpled integrity. He looked like a human being, not an idealised eligible bachelor with a dark secret.

There was a hint of Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon about the melancholy anti-hero of Cornell Woolrich's short story, set in the 40s (though, as usual, Alan Rickman's hair lived in a different decade). Cleverly, the role added a sinister overlay to the familiar Rickman quality of sexual danger. There is a moment when the light hits Rickman's left eye (the right one is coyly hidden behind a door), giving it a translucent, X-ray quality. Only then does it suddenly seem feasible that this likeable, vulnerable man, who has been valiantly trying to piece together the fragments of his heart, might have murdered the bosomy trollop who broke it. And who called him Billie, to add insult to injury. The puckered lips, the tight smile, the abject eyes of a man who is a prisoner to jealousy ...he plays, with some subtlety, a pitiable victim turned aggressor.

There is a sting in this tale. And you realise he might just be asking Laura Dem to marry him at long last, after she's given him more shameless encouragement than is strictly decent in a good girl, in order to provide himself with an alibi. Or just to kill her too, having acquired a taste for it. Even his butler Luther was slightly creepy.

For their next project, Doran and Pollack wanted the same 'brooding romanticism' that they had also seen him deliver in Truly Madly Deeply.

Sense And Sensibility controversially cast Alan Rickman as a doormat: the chivalrous, kindly and thoughtful middle-aged Colonel Brandon. It was dangerously close to playing a nonentity. Rickman was there to add gravitas to a cast led by Hugh Grant again, Thompson herself, rent-a-beau actor Greg Wise and new­comer Kate Winslet.

Brandon is almost a feminine role in the traditional mode, in that he must sit back and possess himself in patience while he waits for Marianne, the flighty young girl of his dreams, to grow up and see sense. Eventually he gets his chance to play the hero when he leaps on his horse for a secret mission whose outcome drives the narrative along; but most of the time he's lurking discreetly in the background like the proverbial good deed in a naughty world. If he were a woman, he would be knitting and doing good works; here he stoically cleans his gun as if his life depends on it. (Very Freudian.)

To make a personality like this more than just a gentlemanly wimp represents a considerable challenge for an actor with edge; and no one has more edge than Alan Rickman.

In the novel, Brandon is a rather shadowy figure; Jane Austen's men exist only in relation to her women. In the Taiwanese director Ang Lee's film, Rickman gave Brandon the intensity of a soul in torment.

'He accepts the relationship between Marianne and Willoughby with great grace and dignity,' said Rickman later, explaining his take on the man. 'He doesn't ever assume that Marianne will return his feelings, and he behaves like a perfect gentleman even while watching the woman he loves fall in love with another man.

'Brandon carries a fair amount of mystery with him, because of a long-ago love affair that went very wrong. And he hasn't formed any close relationships since. Brandon is a very compassionate and feeling person. He becomes Marianne's anchor, allowing her to mature from a creature of many moods to a wise young woman. So my job, really, is to present a very steadfast image, the opposite of the more mercurial Willoughby.'

Steadfast on screen, steadfast in life. What the screenplay doesn't say - and Ang Lee ruthlessly cut out a melodramatic scene in which Brandon visits a fallen woman he once loved - Rickman expresses with his eloquent eyes. His face is puffy, middle-aged; at the age of 49, he's playing a man that Thompson's script says is 40

and Jane Austen described as 35. In truth, it gives him an extra dimension of vulnerability; and he immediately wins the sympathy vote.

Austen baldly described Brandon as 'the most eligible bachelor in the county . . though his face was not handsome, his countenance was sensible'. At first Rickman seems distinctly uncomfortable in passive mode as the lovesick Brandon, magneti­cally drawn to Marianne.

The film makes overt what the understated Austen style made coven. And the unfortunate goblin hat in outdoor scenes hardly helps: mere are times when he's in danger of looking like a nineteenth-century Diddyman.

For the first time in his movie career, Rickman was having to sell simple virtue without making it sanctimonious or boring, although it was not the first time that he had played a victim. He couldn't even take refuge in the kind of scathing humour shown by the satirically-minded ghost Jamie in Truly Madly Deeply. And he met his directorial Waterloo in Ang Lee, who is a great believer in the dictatorship of the director (as opposed to the proletariat).

'He likes to participate in the movie-making process, does Alan,' says Stephen Poliakoff. 'He sees himself as a participant.' Alan picked holes in the direction, as is his wont. Do birds fly? Do fish swim? There were reports that Lee immediately warned Rickman not to overact (he also told Emma Thompson not to look so old and Hugh Grant not to be nerdy). And it was back to school for the entire cast as they were set 75-page essays to write on the motivation of their characters. Why I think Colonel Brandon is one of the good guys ... by Alan Rickman. Or words to that effect.

There were dark mutterings of mutiny from Rickman, the most [experienced film actor of all the principals, but nevertheless he picked up Ang Lee's Best Director Golden Bear award for him at I the Berlin Film Festival in February 1996. Clearly there were no hard feelings.

Yet Colonel Brandon is such an insubstantial part on the page that anyone, frankly, would succumb to the temptation to overact in order to bring him to life. Rickman duly absorbed Ang Lee's t'ai chi philosophy of less is more and settled into the rhythm of the strong-and-silent act with grace and authority.

'It's true that I asked Alan to write an essay on his character,' Ang Lee told me. 'Alan was able to bring out the tragic depth and

hidden righteousness of Colonel Brandon to make him an attractive character.

'I wouldn't say that I "warned" Alan not to overact; one doesn't "warn" British actors not to overact,' he added humorously. 'Instead I encouraged him to act less and make Colonel Brandon a genuine man. Alan Rickman is a brilliant performer. His portrayal of life as an actor is maybe too good to be true to modern life, yet brilliant is brilliant.

'His voice possesses a musical quality that produces a lyrical line-delivery. He can read off a telephone book and make each entry sound important, special and attractive.

'He possesses an outstanding look. His presence is so impressive, and so unlike the character portrayed in the novel, that at first I thought casting him would be a risk,' the director admits. 'Alan, however, downplayed the inherent passive and unattractive char­acteristics of the character, as suggested by the novel, to make his Colonel Brandon an attractive man; in essence, he gave a real boost to Austen's character.'

Neither was Rickman's own directing experience an issue, according to Ang Lee. 'Alan's directing experience on stage has nothing to do with his performance as an actor,' he explains. 'Acting and directing aren't related. As a director, you watch people. As an actor, you are watched. Though the two may co-exist in one person, they are definitely two different, separate creatures. I only know him as an actor.'

In one of the most prolonged pieces of foreplay between an actor and the audience in the history of the cinema, it seems an age before Rickman's slow-burn Brandon makes his move and event­ually gets the girl. 'He's the sort of man that everyone speaks well of, and no one remembers to talk to,' sneers Greg Wise as Brandon's spiteful rival Willoughby at one point. That's the one line which doesn't ring true with this casting: on the contrary, Rickman's Brandon has far too much presence to be ignored.

Brandon's air of mystery is second nature to Rickman; and he can also make the memory of grief still seem raw. 'As Alan puts it,' wrote Emma Thompson in Sense & Sensibility: The Diaries (pub­lished by Bloomsbury) on the making of the film, 'it's about a man thawing out after having been in a fridge for twenty years. The movement of blood and warmth back into unaccustomed veins is extremely painful.'

Nevertheless, there are still flashes of Alan's old asperity (i.e. attitude) here and there. Brandon stirs himself out of his lovesick reverie when he stares challengingly at Willoughby, with that curdled look of jealousy which Rickman does so well. There is also one early scene in which Brandon immediately endears himself to his lady love's young sister by satisfying her curiosity about the mysteries of the East Indies. In the kind of intimate gesture that is peculiar to Rickman, he leans forward and whispers sibilantly The air is full of spices' with one of his hot hisses. It's a variation on the technique he uses to intimidate a screen enemy: far from being coldly aloof, he's the ultimate in-your-face actor.

Rickman's on-set composure even discombobulated Emma Thompson, as her Diaries records. 'Sometimes Alan reminds me of the owl in Beatrix Potter's Squirrel Nutkin. If you took too many liberties with him, I'm sure he'd have your tail off in a trice.' Since Old Brown the owl held the impertinent rodent by the tail in order to skin him alive, that's quite a menacing role-model. You can even see a distinct physical resemblance to Rickman in Potter's illustra­tion of Old Brown's narrow amber eyes.

It was a remarkably apt analogy. She drew it after a sopping-wet Greg Wise had 'bounded up to Alan and asked, with all his usual ebullience, how he was. Long pause, as Alan surveyed him through half-closed eyes from beneath a huge golfing umbrella. Then, "I'm dry."' Indeed, 'dry' just about sums him up.

Thompson's description of her own character Elinor - 'a witty, Byronic control-freak' - in fact fits Alan exactly. If you want romantic gravity, you reach for Rickman. As Emma gushed in a BBC2 documentary Sense And Sensibility: Behind The Scenes, 'Colonel Brandon is the man of all our dreams: the wounded older man who's a river of compassion and love and strength and honour and decency.' For Ang Lee, 'Colonel Brandon was the only solid man, the real man in the movie.'

Thompson's Diaries recalls how she and Alan talked seriously about the rigours of theatre over lunch in his trailer: 'He was as much put off by two years in Les Liaisons as I was by fifteen months in Me And My Girl.'

But much of the time on set, he earned his keep as the king of the wry one-liners. When Thompson's co-star Kate Winslet complained, 'Oh God, my knickers have gone up my arse,' Alan's reply was: 'Ah: feminine mystique again.'

ET was consequently much impressed by Rickman's mature mixture of gallantry and irony. 'He was splendid, charming and virile . .. (At) the party on Saturday, Alan nearly killed me whirling me about the place.' (As with many big men, he doesn't always realise his own size and strength.)

'Alan's very moving,' she later recorded. 'He's played Machiavel­lian types so effectively that it's a thrill to see him expose the extraordinary sweetness in his nature. Sad, vulnerable but weighty presence. Brandon is the real hero of this piece, but he has to grow on the audience as he grows on Marianne . . . Finish scene with Alan. Me: Oh! I've just ovulated. Alan (long pause): Thank you for that.' She marvelled later about how 'Alan manages to bring such a depth of pain' to what is, in effect, the plot of a penny dreadful.

But the old tartness, thank God, was never far away. It's a relief, in the middle of all these eulogies, to read his reaction to a trespassing moggie.

"Very nice lady served us drinks in hotel and was followed in by a cat,' Emma's journal chronicled. 'We all crooned at it. Alan to cat (very low and meaning it) "Fuck off." The nice lady didn't turn a hair. The cat looked slightly embarrassed but stayed.' Perhaps he was under strain from being so nice all the time . ..

The chance to play against type was a huge relief for Rickman. Sense And Sensibility also reunited him with an old mate, the actress Harriet Walter, who was on brilliantly malignant form as the snobbish Fanny Dashwood, the nearest that Jane Austen got to a traditional wicked step-sister.

After Brandon's nuptials to Marianne, he follows the custom of throwing a handful of coins in the air. One hits the frightful Fanny, and the film ends with a glimpse of her backwards collapse into a bush, a piece of comic business she and Rickman invented.

"We are the envy of other countries because we have the identification with the theatre. It's a heartbeat. In America they really envy it. And for me, Alan is one of the forces of gravity in theatre,' says Harriet.

'It's not to do with throwing a lot of panics. He had that effect on people long before he was famous. He has high standards and he takes you seriously - you feel elevated, you think that someone out there is looking out for you. He manages to keep that interest in other people going.

'You endow people like this with power, but of course you need to be critical yourself. It's up to you to be grown-up. I don't always

agree with him, but we are aiming at the same centre. He has pretty tough standards, and I might rebel for a day or two.

'But he's a very good listener. He takes you seriously, you feel encouraged. That's why we have kept up as friends for so long.'

Movie-making is a schizophrenia-inducing business, however, and Colonel Brandon remains one of Alan Rickman's least interesting parts even though he did his damnedest with it. He went straight from playing the nice guy to portraying that practitioner of the political black arts. Eamon de Valera, the man who is popularly supposed to have ordered the assassination on a lonely country road of one of the great Irish heroes. The career of Eamon de Valera forms a direct trajectory to the career of the current Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams.


13. ROCKET TO THE MOON                                                                                                      233


By 1995, Rickman's old friend Peter Barnes was telling me: 'Alan is now on a rocket to the moon - we are just waxing to him from the launch pad. He has risen into the stratosphere.'

And talking of space-travel, the role of Dr Who could have been tailor-made for Rickman. Even as late as early 1906, there were recurring rumours that Steven Spielberg still wanted him for the part. Mind you, they said the same thing about Eric Idle.

The truth is that Alan Rickman's name is flung into the ring whenever a producer wants to add tone to his project. It's rather like the story of the drama critic who. when asked why his newspaper employed someone to write play-reviews, replied: 'To add tone to the paper.'

In fact the American enthusiasm for making a television movie about the eccentric British hem with two hearts, thirteen lives and a virginal girl companion came from Philip Segal, a self-confessed Dr Who nut and Steven Spielberg's head of production at his former company Amhlin. Eventually Paul McGann assumed the Einstein hairstyle and Regency dress sense of the latest Time Lord incarnation in 1996.

On the advice of his agent, Rickman is wary of cutting himself down to sue for the small screen: it seems a rctn.igr.ide step. He did. however, make two exceptions for American television. The production values of Murder, Obliquely had been particularly high; and Rasputin was premiered on American television in March 1996. although us makers Home Box Office also hoped the film would have a theatrical  release  in  the  cinema when  they sold  the distribution  rights   So  far  as   British  television  is  concerned. however. Rickman remains aloof, much to the chagrin of Jonathan Powell and other moguls at home.  He was even suggested for new incarnation of the dandified John Steed in a remake of ultimate secret-agent spoof. The Avogm, but bowler hats do exactly become him As his former co-star Sheridan Fitzgerald say 'The face is us own statement ' In retrospect, it was just as well that he didn't play John Steed; despite Ralph Fiennes in the role, the big-screen version of The Avengers was  a flop.

'I had the impression Alan won't do television at the moment because his agent thinks he should be available for film,' says the playwright Dusty Hughes. To Dusty, this is a shame.

'Maybe it's because I'm writing more and more for TV these days. But the situation is changing: the status of TV is going up in America, with series like ER. Quentin Tarantino directed one episode: there's much more kudos about television out there now.

'I absolutely adore the theatre, have done since I was fourteen. Alan is the same. I think he'll always do theatre and also directing, if he can: he loves it all. I think he wants to direct films.

'But one of the dangers with people who do stop being actors pure and simple is that they might completely stop acting one day.'

With Rickman in so much demand, there seems little chance of that. There's so much he has not done that one suspects the best is still to come. His Hamlet and Antony were very belated assaults upon the great Shakespearian roles, though he did briefly consider taking the offer of Oberon, king of the fairies, in a film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Just as he was never one of life's Romeos, so he would not make an ideal Henry V. On the other hand, he would surely make a magnificent Macbeth; and, of course, Prospero. His maverick talent is best suited to slightly off-centre parts.

The real truth is that this fascinating oddity is a natural Iago, the second-in-command who steals the limelight from Othello. Or a Cassius, upstaging Brutus. He is the hidden agenda who surprises us all, who emerges from the shadows. There is a lot of sense in what Peter Barnes says about villains being good stand-bys if you want a long career, a canny piece of advice that seems even cannier after Alan's doomed attempt at playing ageing heroism in the National Theatre's Antony and Cleopatra in 1998. But Dusty Hughes argues: 'He can do the villains standing on his head - and probably yours too. Knowing Alan, he'll always try to do the things that aren't easy.'

The year 1995 was another exceptionally busy year for Rickman. He went straight from the Sense And Sensibility set to Dublin for director Neil Jordan's new picture Michael Collins, shot that summer.

Liam Neeson played the martyred Republican hero Michael Collins, The Big Fella', with Rickman cast as his calculating adversary Eamon de Valera. At least, that's the simplistic view.

Rickman reverted to type, yet he still retains that ability to startle us out of our seats.

The myth of Collins is that he was the bluffly heroic reincarna­tion of Finn MacCool, Cuchulain and other legendary Irish supermales. The Big Fella was a shrewd manipulator of men, with the devious silver tongue of an Irish Lloyd George. And Collins came up against that other Celtic smoothie when he entered into negotiations with Lloyd George over the establishment of the Irish Free State.

Wily and ruthless though Collins certainly was, he cultivated a hail-fellow-well-met persona that made him an immensely popular folk-hero.

By comparison, Eamon de Valera seemed a cold, charismatically-challenged figure; but Alan Rickman was determined to find the latent passions in this rather clinical, fastidious character. De Valera was a paradox, not only in having dual nationality - he had a Spanish-American father and an Irish mother - but in being an almost frigid intellectual among the poets and playwrights of the early republican leaders. He was a mathematician with ecclesiasti­cal ambitions who involved himself in the passions of a nationalist uprising. He even dressed like a clergyman, with his long coat and hat. His lengthy tenure of office had as much to do with the clerical control of Ireland as the very priests themselves: he became the church-in-state. Historically, he was the Robespierre and Collins the Danton of Ireland. De Valera escaped the firing-squad after being condemned to death for taking part in the Easter Uprising; the British reprieved him, for devious reasons that have never been fully explored. He became the spokesman for the republican movement, just as Gerry Adams is today. De Valera made a speciality of touring America, whipping up support, holding out the fund-raising begging-bowl and meeting statesmen. Here, then, was an inscrutable strategist with a curiously contemporary appeal who cloaked himself in mystery; Rickman was in his element.

Casting director Susie Figgis had already worked with Rickman on An Awfully Big Adventure and was later to cast him as Scverus Snape in the Harry Potter films. 'The indisputable thing about Alan Rickman is that he has strength. You notice him if he walks into a room: that's what makes him a leading actor,' she says.

'I cast him in Michael Collins because we needed someone who had real weight, an intelligent political figure. He has to still a

crowd of 2,000 people: Alan was  the man to do it, without shouting.

'He's a big fish in a rather pathetic little British film pond. I can remember him in Les Liaisons; he's one of only five and a half people or so in this country who can get a film on the road to' finance . . . They are what's known as The Money.

'Alan's certainly not the lavender thespian type. He went through a stage of not wanting to be a smooth villain, anyway. He brings intelligence to the role.

'As de Valera, he was concerned to make the man multi­dimensional with a point of view. He's very astute that the character should be brought forward. The first script was rather underwritten. He is the villain of the piece, but Alan would be anxious to play him not as a villain but as de Valera would have seen himself. With his own passionate beliefs and delusions.

'His height helped too: de Valera was six foot two in real life. He was the really Big Fella of the two. Although he and Collins were originally brothers-in-arms, the main theory is that de Valera shafted him.'

In 1922, during the Irish Civil War, Collins was ambushed by waiting gunmen on a country road eighteen miles outside Cork. Some think the British ordered the killing; but the finger of suspicion still points at de Valera. With his ascetic, bony face and aquiline nose, Rickman even looked like the man.

As for the role of Rasputin that followed, what took such an ideal candidate for the Siberian Holy Devil so long? A delay by America's Home Box Office in getting the wherewithal together. Yet from Mesmer to Rasputin was an obvious progression: both were highly charismatic, much demonised and much misunderstood characters who exercised an extraordinary power over women. By November 1995, Rickman was knee-deep in snow on location in St Petersburg. Greta Scacchi took the role of the Tsarina Alexandra, whose fanatical beliefs in Rasputin's mystical powers contributed to the fall of Russia's Imperial family. Ian McKellen was rather astutely cast as the ill-starred last Tsar, with Uli Edel of Tyson fame directing a production bolstered up by fine British character actors.

The role of Rasputin was just the sort of part Rickman had been avoiding for years, but there are times when it is necessary to give in gracefully to one's destiny. It was too good to miss.

Most people's hazy notion of the Mad Monk is of a long-haired, heavily-bearded orgiast with the most sinister powers of persuasion



- in short, the Charles Manson of his day. Photographs show an altogether more sensitive-looking individual garbed in the robes of a wandering holy man, of the dubious kind that were two-a-penny in Imperialist Russia.

Rasputin had become a member of the Khlisti, a strange ' sex-based religious sect whose name means 'whippers' or 'flagel­lants' in Russian.. Their leader kept a harem of thirteen women, whom he liked to pleasure en masse. As there are so many Greek words in the Russian vocabulary, it is possible that the Khlisti were also millenarians who believed Jesus Christ would return to earth and reign for a thousand years in the midst of his saints. Whatever, Rasputin certainly had a Christ-complex, strongly reflected in Peter Pruce's screenplay and Alan Rickman's impassioned performance.

Obscurantism reigned at all levels in the benighted society of turn-of-the-century Russia, particularly among the ruling Romanovs who were in-bred and not very intelligent. There was every opportunity to make a glorious career out of charlatanism.

The monk Rasputin was a self-styled mystic whose influence was based on his personal magnetism and alleged power as a healer; he had alleviated the sufferings of the haemophiliac Tsarevitch, the Crown Prince Alexei, hence the royal favour. Shades of Mesmer, indeed. Rasputin's drunkenness, debauchery - said by their enemies to have involved the Tsarina herself - and shameless nepotism in promoting friends to high office produced more than the usual crop of foes. Some even convinced themselves that he and the Tsarina acted as secret agents for the Germans in the First World War, such were the hysterical stories surrounding him.

Rickman approached the role with his usual analytical zeal, very much concerned to be more than just a pair of mad staring eyes and a matted beard. Rasputin is too complex, too controversial, indeed too poignant an historical figure to be played - in the style of the Sheriff of Nottingham - as a manic cartoon. Tempting though it must be. The murder of Grigori Efimovich Rasputin in peculiarly horrible circumstances by a group of noblemen was taken as a fatal omen, since he himself had made the prophecy: 'If I die, the Emperor will soon after lose his Crown.' And so it proved. Moreover, Rasputin's legend was considerably enhanced by the fact that it took him an inordinately long time to die. He survived a large dose of cyanide before being buggered, then shot and slashed to death. Since his curse came true with the

subsequent assassination of the royal family in a cellar, Rasputin could be said to have possessed an almost vampire-like vitality Alan Rickman is one of the few actors who can suggest that kind of power from beyond the grave without resorting to the risible excesses of Hammer Horror. Rickman's performance as Rasputin makes one long for his eagerly-awaited Aleister Crowley - if writer Snoo Wilson can ever get the go-ahead to make the film. And Rasputin also won him three Best Actor awards: an Emmy in 1996 and a Golden Globe and a SAG Award in 1997.

The film opens in a Siberian forest in 1991, where the bones of the Romanovs are being disinterred. The Crown Prince Alexei is the narrator, apparently speaking from the tomb. 'He was my saviour, my wizard. Father Grigori was magic,' pipes the boy.

Pruce's script concentrates on the mystical side of Rasputin's story, more or less ignoring the complexities of the political dimension. Rickman responds with an old-fashioned star perform­ance that keeps Rasputin's mystique intact. There is no fashionable deconstruction here to strip away the myths, just Rickman hypnotising the camera, and most of the cast, with his strange, kohl-rimmed, Siamese-cat eyes.

He is first glimpsed on the snowy steppes of the Siberian lowlands, pulling a cart as if he were Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage - as ambiguous a figure as Rasputin in her way.

Rickman looks authentically Asiatic. He is whipped by jeering horsemen who say that he has lost his soothsaying gift, but he doesn't crouch down like a beaten dog for long.

For Rasputin has attitude. Hearing a heavenly sound, he raises his arms to the skies in a self-consciously messianic way. The 'felonious monk', as Variety magazine wittily called him, has the striking, silvery pallor of a consumptive, or an elegantly wasted rock star with too much Gothic makeup. With his mossy brown beard and moustache, Rickman lurks under more facial hair than a hobbit, but those burning orbs and hawkish nose make him instantly recognisable.

As usual, he refused to wear a wig; his blond mop was darkened and bobbed in a shorter, scruffier style than the Yogi-like Rasputin of history. In truth, Rickman's Rasputin looked rather like a hot-headed revolutionary on a bad-hair day - an effect heightened by the Maoist-style collarless jackets of Russian tradition. It was an inspired image for the religious and political ferment of the period.

In her book about her father, Maria Rasputin wrote of Grigon's 'potent animal magnetism ... an almost aphrodisiac aura' Edel's film shows remarkable restraint in the sex-scenes; instead it's the man's alluring personality that Rickman projects. He begins by spiritually seducing Peter Jeffrey's Bishop, who falls down and worships this tatterdemalion scarecrow from nowhere.

All the great risk-taking actors can give florid performances that verge on the vulgar. Sometimes Rickman's thick Russian accent is comic, particularly when Rasputin is ingratiating himself with the ailing Alexei. The man is part mountebank, part mystic; and not quite in control of his gift. The oily richness of his voice luxuriates  in such lush lines as 'her voice blooms like a kiss in my ear'. He's talking of the Virgin Mary at the time, but it could, of course, be any woman. He has an hypnotic effect upon Greta Scacchi's Tsarina at their very first meeting. It is a soft-focus, discreet attraction that provides a marked contrast to the gross peasant appetites he displays elsewhere. If Rasputin really did entice the Tsarina into ways of wickedness, the director and screenwriter are certainly not going to tell us about them.

Rickman's Rasputin is no common lecher; there is a strangely playful, childlike innocence about his greedy sensuality. The character feels helplessly dominated by his senses, something with which the highly sexed Rickman strongly identified and which attracted him to the role in the first place. 'God blast desire! The lust of my flesh has tormented me." shouts a drunken Rasputin as he goes wenching late at night. It's as  if he is possessed by a demon of lust. But he can't resist a dangerous flirtation with the royal princesses, asking them: 'What do you know about love?' as they walk in the grounds of the palace.

There is a naivety as well as a native cunning in this holy devil. The soul may belong to God, the flesh belongs to us.' he announces to the Romanovs over dinner.

He slurps his soup, handles the potatoes and starts to toll such a dirty-schoolboy story about two homosexual monks that he i expelled from the table by Ian McKellen's shocked Tsar, who appears to have led a very sheltered life of monogamous rtv. bliss. For if Rasputin is depicted as the innocent victim of destiny, so too are the Romanovs

'I didn't choose to be a holy papa ... it frightens me too explainsRasputin as if he were a guileless child visited by God, an
unworthy vessel into which is poured a divine power. It is his sheer force of will that appears to send Alexei's illness into remission, though David Warner's royal doctor explains in utter exasperation that the rogue is simply slowing down the flow of hlood hy hypnotising the boy.

We have been kept waiting a long time for evidence of Rasputin's notorious orgiastic endeavours, which begin halfway through the film when he is treated as a marriage-guidance counsellor by a comely woman whose husband is failing in his marital duty. Rasputin woos her with honeyed words, but one never feels that the man is cynically faking his ardour. Rickman's performance has the fervour of one who genuinely wishes to make a convert to the doctrine of free love.

'The greatest gift in the world is love . . . only then can we enter the gates of heaven. The greatest sin of pride is chastity. Before we repent, we have to sin,' he tells her throatily, his voice thick with desire.

He takes her in his arms and demands she kisses him, then indulges in an orgy of china-smashing 10 show off his passionate Russian temperament. '1 would cut these wrists if it would give you a single moment of happiness. Think of God, my angel ... he gave us this pleasure.'

He lifts up her long skirts and whispers to her. Moments later, he's kissing her neck on the bed. 'God is love.' He fumbles at his lower clothing and two prurient gentlemen in the building opposite raise their binoculars to catch sight of her legs wrapped round Rasputin's neck. The next scene shows him besieged in his apartment by respectable ladies who all want to 'come' closer to God ... the rest is left to our imagination. As ever, Rickman is flirting most of all with the camera ... a gloriously old-fashioned seducer who understands the art of dalliance and knows how to take his time. No wonder so many women are intrigued by him.

He goes further in a restaurant scene, where he is dancing wildly in a red shirt like a revolutionary who has unexpectedly won the election. Rasputin is as drunk as a skunk; yet Rickman skips lightly and deftly in his black boots, Fred Astaire at last.

Here is the latent exhibitionism that is integral to the passive-aggressive syndrome. He sees the sex-starved woman whom he serviced so expertly and kisses her violently in front of her astounded husband. Rasputin is asked to leave (without the patronage of the Romanovs, he would have been challenged to a

duel) and he roars, 'The Empress kisses my hand ... I'm her saviour and angel.'

The Tsarina's handsome young nephew Prince Feliks Felik-sovich Yussupov rises angrily to his feet in the restaurant. Rasputin puts his face close to his and says provocatively, Very pretty but I prefer women.' Maria Rasputin's highly coloured account of her father's rise and fall portrays the married Feliks as an aggressive homosexual who is mortified by Rasputin's rejection of his advances. There is no such suggestion here in this sanitised account, but Feliks is to prove Rasputin's Nemesis none the less.

'I'm a great man,' shouts Rasputin, climbing on a table and exposing himself in order to prove it. Not that we actually see the Rickman genitals - the camera cuts away just as Rickman is loosening his trouser-band.

Rickman is hypnotising the viewer all the time with Rasputin's wild mood-swings. He hurls furniture around, rips at his clothes in a frenzy as if tormented by what orthodox Jews call a dybbuk.

'We will all drown in blood . . . oceans of tears ... death is behind me,' he shouts at Ian McKellen's decent, mild-mannered, permanently perplexed Tsar. 'Why was I chosen? I don't know, but I am Russia. I have your pain.' He's a cross between a manic-depressive Jesus Christ and that wild New Testament drop-out, John the Baptist. Rivetting. And yet more momentous forces are at work; the heir to the Austrian Empire is assassinated by a Serb at Sarajevo, and one wonders just how much Rasputin is involved in the gunning down of the Russian Prime Minister Stolypin at the opera (apart from that, how did you enjoy the show, Mrs Stolypin?) 'Death was behind him, just as Father Grigori said,' relates Crown Prince Alexei with grisly relish.

Rasputin has predicted both the First World War and the Russian Revolution, but he is demonised by the popular pamphlets for causing the deaths of ill-armed Russians facing the might of the Prussian machine-guns. He is the scapegoat that everyone needs now that the superstitious Tsarina's support is falling away with the return of Alexei's chronic haemophilia. Even Rasputin is beset by self-doubt: The Holy Mother won't answer my prayers ... she has turned her back on me.'

The final trap is kid for Rasputin, summoned to heal Feliks' sickly wife. Rickman's pallor is ghastly. Rasputin's excesses have caught up with him. He registers a flicker of suspicion, but he's so

arrogant that he regards himself as impregnable. A man who can't control his appetites, he greedily eats the cyanide cakes that Feliks has prepared for him. Yet they have no effect and the indestructible Rasputin grows drunker by the minute as a barrel organ cranks out a popular war-time song: 'Goodbyeee . . . don't cryeee . . .' Even when Feliks shoots him in the chest, he is still hypnotised by Rasputin's closed eyelids until a hand suddenly shoots out to clamp Feliks' neck in a stranglehold. The legend seems to be true: Rasputin is the vampire they can't kill.

The film makes no attempt to dispel the myths. In reality, Feliks was probably a lousy shot, and Rasputin was heavily padded by his clothing and his sheer bulk. But Rickman's interpretation, while never sentimental, gives itself over to romantic myth-making on an epic scale. We are invited to suspend our incredulity. Or, maybe, it is simply Rasputin's sexy electricity that survives, the sheer force of character that can make one feel a long-dead person's presence in a room.

He escapes across the snow and the palace guards shoot at him. Finally a bullet from Feliks finishes him off as he scales the gates, staring up at the sky before he slithers down and dies. He seems to be offering up his soul to the moon.

Students of the Russian Revolution will find the film a fatuous piece of highly partial history, but it's Rickman's show. Again. Rasputin's body is thrown in the River Neva, but he bequeathes a poisoned legacy. He has left the Tsarina a letter with a premonition of his own death and a warning of worse to come: Tou will all be killed by the Russian people.'

As if by thought-transference, the Tsar finds a mystique within himself that awes the soldiers who have come to arrest him as an enemy of the people. He and his family last for another eighteen months after the death of 'Father Grigori' before they are shot in a cellar; yet, Alexei appears to survive the mayhem. 'Sometimes we have to believe in magic,' says the voice of this boy narrator. A member of the execution squad lifts a pistol as if to finish him off, the film tells us that Alexei's remains have never been recovered. Did he escape with a charmed life like his mentor Rasputin? The latter's influence lingers tantalisingly on.

Rickman may have complained that the final editing of Mesmer made the character too enigmatic, but all his own instincts conspire to create a mystery around the men he plays. Rickman's Rasputin took his secrets to the grave, an endlessly fascinating riddle.



14 THE BLEAK MID-WINTER                                                                                                      243


After finishing Rasputin, Alan needed a rest from the business, even though his three awards for Rasputin were to make him more in demand than ever. In his case, there were very personal reasons for dropping out of circulation for a while: his octogenarian mother had been unwell since 1995, so he began to spend more time in London.

Just before making Rasputin he had also fitted in a blink-and-you've-missed-him performance in Lumiere and Company, a short documentary to mark the centennial of those pioneering film­makers the Lumiere Brothers, with Frangois Mitterand, Isabelle Huppert and Liam Nceson among the cast and David Lynch and Spike Lee among the directors. At the beginning of 1996, he told friends that he was taking a long-delayed break for a few months before beginning work on the film of The Winter Guest. When Huppert came over from Pa… Продолжение »

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