Saturday, June 20, 2020

Ian Holm: Dead at 88

Sir Ian Holm, one of the great British actors of stage and screen, died yesterday at the age of 88. That memorable, even disgusting picture above is from one of Sir Ian's greatest successes: Ridley Scott's magnificent sci-fi shocker Alien, in which he plays the mischievous, scheming android Ash, who ends up in pieces towards the end of the film. But he also had the ability to play less showy roles and still leave a memorable mark on the screen. I'm thinking about his incredible performance as Sam Mussabini, the track coach who trains Ben Cross, in 1981's Chariots of Fire. It was a subtle, beautiful performance that won him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting actor.

In 1985 he graced the screen with what is perhaps his most complex character in Mike Newell's neo-noir Dance With a Stranger. Sir Ian nearly stole the picture as a humiliated gentleman caller, emasculated by Miranda Richardson's Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in England.

Sir Ian's recent performances included Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, as well as David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch, and Martha Fiennes's Chromophobia, in which he had a comic sex scene with Penélope Cruz.

In today's obituary Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian that "there was always a cool, rational, weighted intelligence in Ian Holm. On screen, he was never exactly a heart-on-sleeve performer; he did not need or even appear to want the audience’s sympathies. Holm could be a mandarin and almost priestly presence, but always with a pressure cooker of emotion inside. He brought a commanding strength and a stillness to his work, a less-is-more economy that gave him what few theatrical knights have had since Olivier: equal success on stage and screen. He was a character actor with star quality."

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