RIP Alan Rickman: we’ve lost a great

First David Bowie goes then, mere days later, we lose Alan Rickman. Both 69 and both lost their battles with cancer. This just isn’t acceptable. It’s so, so sad.

But I am sure the man that so artfully played Severus Snape in Harry Potter wouldn’t want us to be morose and down in the dumps, oh no. For little do people know, but Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman was a bit of a joker and had a great sense of humour. That’s the rub kids, he was acting. Acting. And he was bloody good at it too.

So rather than mourn his death let’s celebrate his life and, more specifically, his excellent body of cinematic work. Known for playing bad and despicable types, Rickman’s first credit on IMDb is for the nefarious Tybalt in a TV movie of Romeo & Juliet in 1978. This must have set the scene for what came next, surely? For a decade later, having worked steadily in TV and theatre, he made his big screen debut as the delectable – and thoroughly evil – Hans Gruber in Die Hard in 1988. A classic bad guy, and thoroughly worthy opponent for Bruce Willis’ cop in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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For me, the next time I saw Rickman chew up the scenery and scare – and hugely entertain – everyone around him, was as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in 1991. Again, surrounded by Americans who weren’t quite sure what to do with him, they muddled by as best they could as he threatened to ‘cut their hearts out with a spoon.’ His legend status was beginning to cement nicely.

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He then decided to tone it down a bit, taking the role of the Metatron (the voice of God) in a quirky indie flick called Dogma, starring a young Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. His entrance, causing Linda Fiorentino to raise an eyebrow (no easy thing, she’s fiesty), proved he was very much in on the joke.

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Demonstrating his comedy chops were just as fearsome as his bad guy routine, he continued the trend that year playing a jaded and exasperated actor slowly unravelling (and massively enjoying himself in the process) in cult hit Galaxy Quest, a send-up of Star Trek, opposite Sigourney Weaver and Tim Allen.

Then, in 2001, we got to see his take on the character for which he’s most well known, Severus Snape in Harry Potter. At the time just a fledgling film and not the juggernaut franchise we now know and love. And whilst the whole cast went towards making it a success – and spawning the aforementioned franchise – Rickman’s performance as Snape (probably the most accurate portrayal of a Harry Potter character by any of the cast) was no doubt a big part of that success.

So with the franchise going from strength to strength for the rest of that decade, Alan was kept busy, but to his credit he never let the character of Snape go stale. He was always finding new ways to give him more depth and nuance. Even make him sympathetic (he was helped by Snape’s arc in the source material, but J.K. Rowling was still writing the books and he still had to put it across what he did know convincingly on screen).

On a break from Potter in the early days he also managed to get in a romantic comedy, of sorts, in Richard Curtis’ obligatory one-to-watch-at-Christmas movie, Love Actually. Despite the gargatuan cast, he stood out. His relationship with Emma Thompson’s character is one of the most heartbreaking and affecting story strands in the whole thing.

LOVE ACTUALLY, Heike Makatsch, Alan Rickman, 2003, (c) Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

In 2010, in what I consider to be an inspired bit of casting, he then played the Blue Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. His dour delivery of lines striking just the right note to stop the film from becoming too overloaded with Johnny Depp’s mad overacting.

A few years later, in 2014, he even turned his hand to directing, in a moderately well received period piece A Little Chaos, starring Kate Winslet.

And, even though he’s now gone, we may see him again, or at least his voice, as he reprised his role as the caterpillar in the not-yet-released Alice Through The Looking Glass.

So on a final note, to paraphrase/steal a line from Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black… Alan Rickman isn’t dead, he’s just gone home.

But if I’m wrong, RIP Mr Rickman, wherever you are, you’ll be missed beyond measure.

 

Top swordplay scenes and fencing movie moments – en garde!

inigo montoya dread pirate robertsYesterday I went for my first ever fencing lesson with a group of mates. Quite an interesting sport – a lot harder than I expected.

As our Hungarian instructor attempted to explain the technique behind parry and riposte, my thoughts drifted to iconic swordplay scenes from movies. Let’s look at some of my favourites:

The Princess Bride (1987)

‘You seem a decent fellow, I hate to kill you.’ ‘You seem a decent fellow, I hate to die.’ Memorable lines uttered by cult character Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and the film’s hero Wesley (Cary Elwes), aka the man in black. A wonderfully scripted scene too. Patinkin rose to professional level in fencing as part of his preparation and bears striking resemblance to a young Antonio Banderas. Is that how Banderas got the Zorro gig a few years later? Hmm.

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The Three Musketeers (1973)

In terms of a compelling screen presence and down and dirty swordplay, you can pretty much pick out any scene involving Athos (Oliver Reed). D’Artagnan meeting the musketeers was a key scene, as it brought the main characters together brilliantly. But special mention should go to Athos’s fight in the third act, where he appears to get killed and impaled on a windmill. Great swordplay, great scene.

Die Another Day (2002)

Whilst this Bond film may have been below par, the swordfight scene was not. Found a great behind-the-scenes clip that shows Brosnan really got stuck in, doing most of the physical work himself. Most impressive!

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Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)

Try and force the rest of the self-indulgent franchise from your head for a second and focus on the original film – a thoroughly enjoyable tale. Johnny Depp elevated this film with his quirky, masterful take on Captain Jack Sparrow. A stand-out scene had Orlando Bloom’s blacksmith Will Turner meeting Depp’s Jack for the first time and trying to prevent his escape. As expected, a wonderfully choreographed fight ensues.

Kill Bill: Vol 2 (2004)

Just to be obscure I’m going to include a deleted scene, one where Bill (David Carradine) shows off his skills with Kiddo (Uma Thurman) watching with adoration in the background. I can see why it was cut, as it doesn’t drive the story forward a great deal, just adds more depth to Bill as a character. As sword fights go though, it’s pretty cool.

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Highlander (1986)

‘There can be only one.’ I’ve often pondered the subtext to that line. Only one what? Film with a Scottish guy (Sean Connery) playing an Egyptian lord? Or French guy (Christopher Lambert) playing a Scottish tribesman? Suspension of disbelief aside, it’s a film packed with iconic swordplay scenes. For me, Highlander vs. The Kurgan is the pick of the bunch.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

‘Recognise this? It was your father’s…’ Not technically great swordfighting, more a chance to watch Alan Rickman at his scene-stealing best, swinging a sword as long as his arm against Kevin Costner’s ‘Californian’ Robin Hood in this climactic battle. Even as an out-and-out bad guy, you don’t want Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham to die. He’s mesmerising to watch, particularly when fighting and spitting venomous lines in Robin Hood’s direction.

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The Lord of the Rings (2001)

Here, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) goes toe-to-toe in a frenzied battle with giant orc Lurtz. Fun fact: when filming, the stuntman playing Lurtz accidentally threw the knife directly at Mortensen instead of aiming wide as planned. Viggo instinctively deflected the blade with his sword. Does that mean Mortensen is actually Aragorn in real life? We can but sincerely hope this is the case.

As a final note, before anyone mentions Rob Roy, Seven Samurai or Star Wars, I’ve left them out because either I’ve not seen them, or don’t consider them worthy of inclusion in terms fencing quality. You may disagree, but it’s my list, so there we go.