Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1379, (1 -7 February 2018)
Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Issue 1379, (1 -7 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

They lost an empire

Brian Cox plays Winston Churchill on Eve of D-Day
Brian Cox plays Winston Churchill on Eve of D-Day

It is folly to believe that nationalities are endowed with certain talents. Talent is bestowed on anyone, any place, anytime, anywhere. Still one has to ponder why certain peoples are gifted in special ways. Why are British actors, for instance, held in such high regard? The answer probably lies in the culture, tradition and nature of certain societies.

For over half a millennium the British have clung to the rich, gilded tradition of its theatre, which may well have found its way to their genetic make-up.

From playwrights to actors, from William Shakespeare to Laurence Olivier, they have dominated the world of make-believe.

Perhaps because as a nation they are reserved, tight-lipped, taught to express no emotion, joy or sorrow, they have found their voices, their laughs, their tears, their confusions, their shortcomings in their plays and have thus excelled in expressing the range of human behaviour.

While movie-makers have come from all over Europe and elsewhere to reap the benefits of Hollywood’s thriving industry it is British talent that laid the ground floor to its prosperity.

The Oscars will be handed out on 4 March and leading the pack for Best Actor Award, again, is a British actor by the name of Gary Oldman. In his film Darkest Hour, directed by talented Joe Wright, he portrays the iconic British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, during the early days of WWII. Among his competitors is none other than fellow Brit, Daniel Day Lewis, the only actor in history who has won three Best Actor awards. 

The buzz, however, is the genius of Oldman, (not Jewish), who has already won the Golden Globe, the Critics’ Choice Award and the SAG award, (Screen Actors Guild). It remains to be seen whether or not he shall take an Oscar home. He was nominated once in 2011 for John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy but left empty-handed. 

Everyone is rooting for this brilliant actor who has yet to receive due recognition and super-stardom which he duly deserves.

Renowned for his “big style” acting, Oldman has appeared in 55 movies as lead or supporting character, and his films have grossed over $3 billion in the US and over $9 billion worldwide, and yet some ask who is Oldman even among film critics: “I don’t think Hollywood knows what to do with me.”

He has played Lee Harvey Oswald, Dracula, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Hamlet, Sirius Black in the Harry Potter franchise and still they ask. After his performance as Churchill in Darkest Hour, they shall ask no more.

One of the most celebrated thespians of his generation, his career has encompassed movies, television and theatre. He excels in everything but is mostly cast as borderline psychotic or top antagonist, such as Edgar Korshunev in the 1992 blockbuster Air Force One. From criminal to policeman, his uncanny versatility and unique ability to change his appearance, voice and accent allows him to disappear in every role.

At the first casual reading of Darkest Hour, the cast as usual, came in blue jeans and T-shirts. Then in walked Goldman with prosthetics, foam-blown suit, hunched, with a cigar on his lips. Everyone instinctively stood up. Oscar winning screenwriter Anthony McGarten, author of The Theory of Everything recalls: “From that moment I never saw Gary Oldman again.”

Even Churchill’s own grand-daughter Emma Soames gasped: “It was grandpapa born again.”

In England, Britain, the UK, the British Isles, take your pick, acting is taken very seriously. It is an honoured profession as manifested by the numerous noble titles bestowed by royalty on their distinguished thespians. Their love of theatre has endured and flourished with the centuries. What would young Hollywood have been without Charlie Chaplin, Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff, Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Ronald Colman, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness, Rex Harrison, Greer Garson, Vivien Leigh — need we go on? 

Importing British actors, who were always given the plum parts, never stopped —Peter Ustinov, Bob Hope, the sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, and as the century unfolded, Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, Sean Connery, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Albert Finney, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins and yes, Elisabeth Taylor herself, born in England. Most of them knighted or honoured by the Royal House. What better way to rear generations of thespians who have enchanted, amazed and entertained the whole wide world?

The tradition continues with the likes of Oscar winners Kate Winslet, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, and a new crop of Brits are waiting in the wings. There is no stopping the hunger for British actors.

Talents from around the world have reached international fame — Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer — but the Brits get the lion’s share.

Since early times man has developed a vibrant tradition of theatre — a primal need for self-expression, as is music, singing and dancing. The Greeks excelled in formal theatre in the sixth century BC but no nation has been as passionate about theatre as the British.

London’s West End has 39 theatres, where plays run for years. Ticket sales reached 14.4 million pounds. Everyone loves the British theatre, natives and visitors alike.

Academically trained even in High School Drama Schools, hopeful thespians continue on to The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, (RADA) or numerous other prestigious Drama Institutions.

Education, dedication and training are unbeatable.

The Brits may have lost an empire, but they retain the everlasting kingdom of Thespians.

“The nation had the lion’s heart. I had the luck to give the roar.” 

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)    

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