Evil does not come wearing horns and a tail, nor does it announce itself with flamboyant bombast and grandiose posturing. All too often, evil comes in a deceptively human package it is quiet and inscrutable, complete with a tenderness and warmth that seems real. The seeming genuineness is our trap this is why we repeatedly are snared by evil, why its pull is so strong.
Writer-director Radhar Bharadwaj was discussing her 1991 indie film Closet Land when she said these words. She might as well have been referencing half the roles that the late Alan Rickman, who starred in her controversial movie, ever played. Think of the parts for which he is best remembered: snide, contemptuous Professor Snape, master of potions at Hogwarts in eight Harry Potter films; blood-curdling terrorist Hans Gruber in Die Hard; a most savage Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; the predatory adulterer posing as charming and devoted husband Harry in Love Actually.
Rickmans death from cancer at the age of sixty nine has left questions unanswered about those and countless other roles over a career spanning forty years. None of the corrupted characters he made his own was simply evil. All were complex villains with complicated motives, suggesting vulnerability and concealed psychological damage which Rickman found infinitely more challenging and fulfilling than merely playing the good guys.
A RADA graduate who perfected his craft with the Royal Shakespeare Company, he acquitted himself sensationally in productions of Troilus & Cressida and As You Like It before making his television debut in 1978, playing Tybalt in a BBC production of Romeo and Juliet. He also featured in a 1980 interpretation of Thérèse Raquin, and in the 1982 series The Barchester Chronicles, based on the Anthony Trollope novels. He bagged a Tony award early on when Les Liaisons Dangereuses took him to Broadway in 1987, as Machiavellian Vicompte de Valmont. He shot to global fame a year later in the first Die Hard movie, alongside Bruce Willis. In 1990s Truly, Madly, Deeply, he ghosted perfect, loving, dead Jamie opposite Juliet Stevenson. He breathed life and exquisite venom into Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, the first Potter film of the first Potter novel. Snapes relationship with the boy-wizard took its time to unravel, and was perplexing when it did because the Prof turned out to be an honourable villain after all.
Brilliant though he was in these and endless other films, Rickman was never even nominated for an Oscar. He shrugged this off with dignified denunciation: Parts win prizes, not actors. In other words, anyone could play the dead-certs and get the gong.
He is remembered by his co-stars as generous, kind, unpretentious, self-effacing. His razor wit and sense of humour were finely-tuned, and were known to get the better of him. He could dead-pan some not exactly hilarious line and have a cast in stitches. He never took himself seriously, but approached every role with the dedication and intensity of a heart surgeon. He was the ultimate pro.
He was born on 21st February 1946, a working-class baby boomer, in Acton, west London. He considered a career as a graphic designer, and meandered from art college to studio to agency until the greasepaint roared too loudly to be ignored. He never expected to pass his audition into the Royal Academy, but immersed himself headfirst when he arrived.
His first love was always the stage. In addition to his many performances in the West End and on Broadway, he turned to directing in later years. In 2005 he took charge of My Name Is Rachel Corrie at Londons Royal Court, a controversial piece set in Gaza and dealing with Palestinian/Israeli conflict. The production had been due to transfer to the New York Theater Workshop the following year, but was halted, thanks to a decision ridiculed by Rickman as censorship born out of fear. The play made it eventually to the Minetta Lane Theater.
In 2008, he directed Strindbergs Creditors at the Donmar Warehouse; and in 2014, the movie A Little Chaos, in which he also starred as Louis XIV. Still to come, poignantly, are his films Eye in the Sky, a thriller with Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul, and Alice Through the Looking Glass, in which Rickmans is the unforgettable voice of the Blue Caterpillar.
When he secretly married his widow Rima Horton in 2012, it was no flash-in-the-pan number: they had been a couple for more than forty years. Things are rarely if ever as they seem.
Thus, with Closet Land: airing exclusively on ShowBiz TV on Saturday 13th February and on repeat until the end of the month, this thought-provoking study of torment tells of a childrens author accused of creating subliminal, anti-establishment messages in her stories, which lead to her arrest and incarceration. Madeleine Stowe plays Victim. Rickman is her ruthless, violent and terrible interrogator. Stash yourself behind the sofa and watch it with one eye. But seriously, watch it.
First showing at 9pm on Saturday 13th February, and repeating same time on 19th and 27th February.
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