What makes the news of Alan Rickman’s death from cancer at 69 especially tragic, beyond the immense talent and stirring compassion, was the fact that he would have continued to work far beyond that. A man who was enormously devoted to his profession of acting and directing who would have continued to amaze, enthral and surprise us for years. He was an actor that never demanded attention to be drawn to his career, but he always performed perfectly and consistently year after year going as far back as the late 1970s.
He relished in every role he portrayed on screen, going seamlessly from character to character and proved to be one of the most versatile and competent actors of his time. Rickman began his career working with the experimental theatre groups of Britain and eventually performed for the Royal Shakespeare Company and that stage trained persona was always present in his film performances as he spoke with such eloquence and diction, savouring every syllable he spoke, every expression he pulled and every movement he enacted.
Though to many mainstream audiences he will be best remembered as some of the finest villains in cinematic history some of his best work includes playing characters with a warmth and humanity to them that he would portray in his own unique way. His career includes outstanding turns in the genres of comedy, science fiction, period drama, satire, biographical, romance and horror as well as dozens of other brilliant performances that display the outstanding talent he possessed and why his legacy will live on forever.
10. Michael Collins (1996)
Despite a less than complex plot and script, this biographical drama of the Irish Republican Army’s strategist who revolutionised urban fighting with his guerrilla warfare tactics (played by Liam Neeson) boasts two contrasting and equally fascinating performances. One from Neeson and the other from Rickman. The man he portrayed was Eamon De Valera, a man who once wrote “History will record the greatness of Michael Collins, and it will be recorded at my expense”.
That statement would appear to be true as De Valera comes across as rather devious and weaker than factual history suggests. Though at times the writing means it treads close to the traditional role of the villain to become anything more complex, Rickman deployed his subtler skills as an actor to imply a certain level of deceitful self-importance as he tries to accomplish the task set out by his superiors.
Rickman’s performance is a commendable one as he plays a man frustrated by leading a less than traditional army against Collins’ movement, and yearns to display more conventional methods of war and deploy them to the best of his abilities. He is clearly a man who is painfully out of his time and not suited to the changing world around him. Rickman allows the character to have a sense of diminishment concerning his own opinion of himself.
9. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)
How does one make a film (a visual medium) of a book whose main theme is concerning the sense of smell? That is a question that plagues this adaptation of Patrick Suskind’s novel. Telling the story of Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) a man born with an acute sense of smell who becomes obsessed with capturing scent through the murders of various women with irresistible aromas.
The film is remarkable in how it captures and evokes the sense of smell through sight and sound. Everything is designed to evoke the olfactory nerve despite the dark, brutal and savage aspects that permeate the movie.
Among many fascinating and raw performances from the likes of Whishaw and Dustin Hoffman is Alan Rickman’s turn as the father of one of Grenouille’s victims who suspects him with a persistent and obsessed drive.
Amid the visual splendour of this world his acting stands as a highlight of the film with compassion and humanity being the driving force of his performance due to the familial motivations of his character. He conjured a more sympathetic side to the film that (with the exception of Hoffman’s character) was otherwise filled with fairly reprehensible characters.
As well as that though, Rickman radiated a sense of power as a wealthy and influential adversary for Whishaw. Even when he is on the morally correct side Rickman manages to unnerve the viewer with his tenacious inquisitiveness in the matter and in the film’s conclusion he is able to juxtapose his character’s personality with equal conviction and excellence.
8. Bob Roberts (1992)
Tim Robbins’ directorial debut is a biting satire of the American political agenda. It stands above the rest by tackling more than just the scene in which politics takes place, but the viewpoint from which it operates as it points out what happens when moral values are substituted with corporate greed and cynicism. The way that self-promotion populism dominates politics is pointed out with gripping audacity as it draws attention to the obvious with such clarity and sharp ridicule.
As the campaign manager of the titular Roberts, Rickman is able to explore these themes in a subtler and more specific way than Robbins did as the lead (not to Robbins, his method was more suited to the lead role). He acts as a study in circumstantial politics as his actions and policies are based purely on condition rather than any explicit ideological notions or moral ethic principles, he is adaptable to the position of power and uses that as his basis for his activities.
It’s here that Rickman’s sharp wit is at its best, brilliantly satirising the kind of desperation that some campaigners resort to in order to gain as many votes as they can. His performance makes one thing obvious, in this world, anything is justifiable to gain more votes and nothing is beyond their reach. On the one hand it is just a hilarious role, but at the same time it can be equally unnerving in its realism.
7. Love Actually (2003)
To anyone who hasn’t seen Love Actually, it would be easy to dismiss it as a cheap and sentimental rom-com, one that spawned terrible imitations such as Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. But anyone who has seen Love Actually will know it is far superior and even if it is sentimental, it’s the best kind. Its strengths lie in the writing of Richard Curtis and the superb talent on display from the actors involved such as Andrew Lincoln, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Emma Thompson, Martin Freeman and Kiera Knightly.
Alan Rickman is another standout as a business man who is married to Thompson’s character. He is caught not in a physical affair, but an emotional one that not only gives him a chance to portray a man who is at conflict with himself in ways that even he doesn’t understand.
The subtlety with which Rickman embodies this conflict is spot on for this genre, often being reflective of his own dilemma and torn devotions, but not to the extent where it might detract from the films entertainment and comedic value. He clearly loves his wife, and regrets being drawn into this predicament but knows he is devoted enough to both women so as not to hurt them.
Even with this compelling personality, the character could easily have fallen into an unlikable disposition. But Rickman’s charm and charisma shines through to craft a character of sympathy and likability whom we empathise with, even if we don’t understand him.
6. Galaxy Quest (1999)
Has there ever been a more accurate and relevant parody of science fiction that managed to be as loving towards its source material as it was biting? When you think about it, for all the clichés, questionable dialogue and corny special effects that Galaxy Quest enjoys making fun of, it is the fandom of those original science fiction shows that saves the day, as well as the actor’s experiences with the show, so ultimately the material that Galaxy Quest parodies so brilliantly is also what saves us.
The fact that it is hysterical helps as well, partially due to the superb comedic performances from the cast, including Alan Rickman as Alexander Dane, an actor who played an alien doctor on the beloved TV show by the name of Dr Lazarus.
It is hilarious to watch his progression as at first Alan is playing a classically trained actor dissatisfied with being typecast to the point where he is required to wear his character’s prosthetic makeup at public appearances, who refuses to recite his pretentious catchphrase, vowing “I won’t say that stupid line one more time” and would like nothing better than to disassociate himself from the show. There’s a monotone displeasure with his situation and to see the character sucked up in the events that unfold is hysterical enough on its own.
But as the film progresses, and the cast of the show become embroiled in a real galactic conflict, Dane begins to embrace his role and fully commit to his character. Though he is the most stubborn and therefore takes the longest amount of time to come around, when Rickman does become Dr Lazarus he says the ridiculous lines with such passion and conviction that not only do you laugh at the events of Galaxy Quest, you almost wish it was a real show. That’s how good Rickman is, he can make you want to watch a fictional TV Show that’s being ridiculed at the same time.