Legendary British thespian John Hurt passed away on January 27th, 2017 at the age of 77 years old. Born in a small coal mining town in Derbyshire, England to former actress Phyllis Massey and Anglican Minister and Mathematician Arnould Hurt. An apathetic student, he would later find his true passion was acting. He was admitted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and would make his stage debut in 1962. He only really began to rise to prominence though, with his performance as the conniving Richard Rich in A Man For all Seasons in 1966.
From then on he worked pretty much constantly. Indeed his career which spanned over six decades would include over 120 film roles not to mention dozens of television appearances. Here are a few highlights. In 1976 his performance as English heroin addict Max in Midnight Express for which he won a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In 1979, he played Kane in Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien and was nominated for another BAFTA. In 1980, he played the titular character in The Elephant Man and was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, and also won—another BAFTA. In 1984 he played Winston Smith in 1984, which won Best British Film of the Year at the Evening Standard British Film Awards. In 1997, he starred as crusty old civil engineer Chuck Langer in the award winning The Climb. He was creepy wand-maker Mr. Ollivander in the Harry Potter franchise, kindly, wise, old Professor Broom in Hellboy, totalitarian fascist leader Adam Sutler in V for Vendetta, and ancient vampire Christopher Marlowe in Only Lovers Left Alive.
One of his most recent appearances was that of rebel leader and mysterious mentor figure Gilliam in 2013’s Snowpiercer. The last film he was featured in before his death was Jackie alongside Natalie Portman as Father Richard McSorley. But fans will still have another chance to see him as Neville Chamberlain in the upcoming British war drama Darkest Hour directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) opposite Gary Oldman and Ben Mendelsohn.
God speed John Hurt. You truly were an Actor for All Seasons.
Top photo from Bigstock: John Hurt attends The 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festival on May 25, 2013 in Cannes, France.
For those who remember Jacqueline Kennedy as First Lady, Natalie Portman’s performance in Pablo Larraín’s Jackie, will be mesmerizing. During that famous White House tour, recreated for the film in black and white, Portman nails Jackie’s breathy voice and her straight-back posture. That was the Jackie we watched and knew. What the film shows is the Jackie we didn’t see – the one who chain-smoked, who descended into grief as she mourned her husband, and who fought to preserve his legacy, as well as her own.
This is Chilean director Larraín’s first English-speaking film and he has delivered a riveting portrait of a complex woman. The supporting cast is strong, featuring Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, Greta Gerwig, as Jackie’s loyal aide Nancy Tuckerman, John Carroll Lynch as Lyndon B. Johnson, Max Casella as Jack Valenti, and as JFK, Caspar Phillipson, who bears a striking resemblance to the late president.
Natalie Portman and Billy Crudup
When the film opens, it’s a mere week after the assassination and Jackie has retreated to Hyannis Port, the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod. She’s agreed to an interview with a reporter played by Billy Crudup. (The reporter, while unnamed, is Theodore H. White, author of The Making of a President series, including one about Kennedy, whose interview with Jackie appeared in Life magazine.) Jackie is determined to control the narrative. Several times after sharing her intimate thoughts, she tells the reporter, “Don’t think for a second that I’m going to let you publish that.”
America, in fact, the world, had never seen a First Lady like Jackie. Besides restoring and redecorating the White House, she showcased the arts and fashion. In one scene, Jackie, elegantly dressed in a mint green sheath, along with the president and honored guests, listens to an intimate concert by the Spanish cellist Pablo Cassals. She influenced style with her colorful dresses and pillbox hats.
Peter Sarsgaard and Natalie Portman
No outfit, however, is more embedded in people’s minds than the Chanel-like bright pink suit she wore that fateful day in Dallas. In the film, Jackie is in front of a mirror on Air Force One, practicing a speech she plans to give in Spanish. Stepping off the plane, she’s greeted by Texas Governor John Connally (Craig Sechler) and his wife, Nellie (Rebecca Compton). Soon after, there’s the motorcade, the shots, and the Secret Service agents descending on the limousine, while the car rushes the gravely injured president to the hospital.
On the plane, Jackie resists efforts to change her suit, staying in the blood-stained garments. When she finally is back at the White House, the scene where she undresses, pulling off her ruined stockings, then showering the blood out of her hair, is painful to watch. But it’s when she enters the bedroom that the full impact of the president’s death hits. She’s alone faced with the overwhelming tasks that confront her, explaining Jack’s death to their children, arranging the funeral, and moving out of the White House.
The Funeral Procession
Barbara Leaming, in her 2014 biography, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story, claimed that Jackie suffered from post traumatic stress after witnessing the death of her husband. Publicly, she appeared to be holding everything together during that time. What Larraín purports to show in the film is what she suffered behind the scene, crying, drinking, popping pills, as she wanders through the many rooms in the White House. In one scene, she tries on dress after dress, looking at herself in the mirror, then tossing them aside. All the while, we hear Richard Burton singing the title song to the Lerner and Loewe Broadway musical, Camelot. That was what Jackie wanted people to remember about their time in the White House that “once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”
She may have been grieving, but she was determined that her husband have the proper funeral and burial. While Johnson’s people, particularly his special assistant, Valenti, argued that it wasn’t safe to have Jackie, Johnson, and world leaders walk behind Kennedy’s casket from the Capitol building to the church, she insisted. She also fought Rose Kennedy’s desire to have Jack buried in the family plot in Brookline, Massachusetts, instead picking out his final resting place, in Arlington National Cemetery.
Many actresses have played Jackie, but Portman’s portrayal is the one that will be remembered. She’s simply phenomenal.
Remember, remember the Fifth of November/Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot/I see no reason/Why gunpowder treason/Should ever be forgot. Those immortal lines commemorate the British tradition of remembering an attempted attack on Parliament with an annual celebration of bonfires and fireworks. In solidarity with our friends across the pond consider commemorating the occasion by watching one of the following.
Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot (2004) This BBC mini-series directed by Scottish filmmaker Gillies MacKinnon (The Escapist, Hideous Kinky) is loosely based on the lives of Mary Queen of Scots (French actress Clemence Poesy of In Bruges, and War and Peace) and her son James VI of Scotland (the one and only Robert Carlyle of Trainspotting, The Fully Monty, and Once Upon A Time. Catherine McCormack of Braveheart, Dangerous Beauty, and Shadow of the Vampire plays Elizabeth I and a young Michael Fassbender made one of his earliest appearances in the role of Guy Fawkes himself.
The Gunpowder Plot: Exploding the Legend (2005) This television series hosted by Richard Hammond and designed to coincide with the 400th year anniversary of the plot actually recreates elements of the Gunpowder Plot itself. The Houses of Parliament are reconstructed as they were in 1605, using period methods whenever possible. The “Houses” were then stocked with mannequins representing, commoners, nobles, and of course the King. Then they actually blow it up using the gunpowder materials in the original plot to see how the plan would have worked. The next part of the program has Hammond going into a counterfactual speculation of the effect on British history had the plot succeeded.
V for Vendetta (2006) This dystopian political thriller directed by James McTeigue (The Raven, Sense8) and was written by the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas, Sense8). Based on the Alan Moore limited comic series it imagines an alternative future where Great Britain has been taken over by a neo-Fascist regime. Hugo Weaving (Lord of the Rings, The Matrix) is spellbinding as mysterious anarchist V who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and seeks to ignite a revolution against the current regime that will begin with his plans to blow up Parliament on Guy Fawkes Day the following year. V enlists the unwitting Evey (young Natalie Portman) to his cause all the meanwhile being investigated by Detective Finch (Stephen Rea). You also get memorable turns by John Hurt, Stephen Fry, and Rupert Graves among many others and some great use of the 1812 overture.
Attack the Block (2011) This delightful sci-fi, comedy, horror adventure film was written and directed by Joe Cornish (Hot Fuzz, Ant Man.) Starring John Boyega (Finn from Star Wars), Jodie Whittaker (Broadchurch) and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) it takes place in a South London council estate. On Guy Fawkes night a young local street gang suddenly have to defend themselves from an alien invasion. Fortunately the young gang members in question turn out to be very tough and very resourceful indeed. It became a massive cult hit with a 90% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
Gunpowder 5/11: The Greatest Terror Plot (2014) Adam Kemp (Churchill’s First World War) wrote, directed, and produced this dramatization using the actual words of Thomas Wintour (Jamie Thomas King of The Tudors, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) Guy Fawkes (Jamie MacLachlan of Maleficent and EastEnders) and other interrogators. It tells of the events from Wintour’s recruitment of Guy Fawkes and his brother to their capture and final days.
Top photo: Bigstock