My small tribute to a screen icon.
On January 14th, Alan Rickman died at the age of 69. A stage actor of some renowned, Rickman was the ultimate movie villain in the 80s (Die Hard), a highly decorated serious actor in the 90s (Truly Madly Deeply, Sense and Sensibility, Michael Collins), became a cult hero around the turn of the century (Galaxy Question, Dogma), and then for a whole new generation the ultimate villain all over again (Harry Potter).
After the death of Christopher Lee in June, I wrote an article remembering two of my favourite performances. In the aftermath of this passing, in that sad time, I wanted to write a commemorative piece, to take a moment to remember just one of the many roles that made the iconic Rickman so respected, admired, and beloved, but also to enjoy one of Britain’s greatest ever actors at his best. So here is the first in what will be a three part tribute to a screen legend.
I will be following it up with a few more articles focusing on the middle part of Rickman’s career, before finishing it off with one celebrating his two most popular roles – and I bet you can guess what they are!
Now though, I want to have a look at one of the performances in the middle part of his career. A film, and a role, that I truly love…
Marvin The Paranoid Android, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (2005)
I first stumbled upon Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy in the early days of the BBC Radio iPlayer, back when it was all text based. The original radio series was being replayed on (I think) BBC7. Six half hour episodes of radio excellence. This obviously led me to reading my mum’s first edition copy of the first book. Then the TV series was repeated on BBC 2, and eventually I bought a copy of the anthology (“A Trilogy in Four Parts”) and tracked down the box set of the first radio series – on CASSETTE if you can believe that!
So now I’ve established my credentials as a fan of Douglas Adam’s most famous work, we come to the 2005 feature film. I love it. Sure, it’s not the same as the TV series, sure,it’s Americanised, but I would rather have another version of the story than not.
Part of the reason for this is the quality of the cast. Martin Freeman – even pre-John Watson – is great as the typically English Arthur Dent. Sam Rockwell is actually believable as someone flamboyant and charismatic enough to become President of the Universe. Stephen Fry would be everyone’s choice to voice, well, anything, but especially “the standard repository for all knowledge and wisdom”. But the very best piece of casting in the film is Alan Rickman as the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android.
For a man with such a great voice, it is baffling to me that he didn’t do more vocal acting. Here he is perfect as the depressed, bored, and lonely android with “a brain the size of a planet”. Rickman’s delivery is just fantastic throughout. It seems so easy, and just so right. There is the right mixture of anger, passive aggression, and humour so dry it is like a desert. He is just the perfect fit.
To be honest, there’s not much more to write about Alan Rickman as Marvin without me continuously repeating how great he is, so I will just say it again: he is great! He is the best iteration of the character, and I’m sure even the harshest critics would agree.
Rickman’s vocal talents will be heard in the Alice in Wonderland sequel. Alice Through The Looking Glass. He was (again, and obviously) brilliant as The Blue Caterpillar, and in this trailer, his first line (“you’ve been gone too long, Alice”) is just perfect.
Alan Rickman had a long and varied career, and like I mentioned, my next article will focus on a couple of roles from the middle part of his career.
Alan Rickman, you will be missed. RIP.
PS as a special treat for reading all the way to the end, here’s a cartoon from the New Yorker, by Benjamin Schwartz, commemorating Rickman’s sad passing.