Saturday, 15 January 2011

Cultural Obituaries

It’s been a tough time for the arts as three great proponents of culture have died recently. Elisabeth Beresford (August 1929 – December 2010) wrote an enchanting ‘Magic’ series, but is best known for her wonderful Wombles who made recycling and environmental concerns the norm for children decades before Al Gore got in on the act. I have already raved about these cuddly conservationists before so will leave it at that.

I was also sad to hear of the death of Dick King-Smith (1922-2011). When I worked at a book shop in Manchester, I knew that if children had already read Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and Michael Bond, then Jill Murphy, Michael Morpurgo, Morris Gleitzman or Dick King-Smith would be my next recommendation. Well-written stories with solid, memorable characters and cheerfully direct narration; I like them so I’m sure that the little people must have!

Bad news comes in threes, apparently, and the death of Pete Postlethwaite (1946-2011) rounds out the triumvirate. He was an amazing and versatile actor whom I admired in everything I saw. From early appearances in Coronation Street; Victoria Wood on TV; Minder; The Professionals; Lovejoy; Boon and Casualty to later roles in sci-fi rehashes, he always portrayed complete commitment and belief in his character. He achieved greatness through hard work and self-belief, taking a job in a sheet-metal factory to pay his way through Bristol Old Vic theatre school, before starting his career at the Liverpool Everyman theatre.

Unfortunately I never got to see him on stage, although his list of theatre credits is impressive: Scaramouche Jones; King Lear; Coriolanus; Duchess of Malfi (Antonio); Titus Andronicus (Aaron); Henry V (Exeter); Richard III (Hastings); Macbeth (Macbeth and Banquo – in different productions); Cyrano de Bergerac (Baker); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Bottom); Every Man in His Humour; The Tempest (Prospero); The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (Ray Say). He worked with some of the best theatre directors around – Adrian Noble; Trevor Swann; Peter Brook; Trevor Nunn; Bill Alexander; Terry Hands; George Costigan; Greg Hersov; Sam Mendes – which only adds to his impressive CV.

Descriptions of his physical appearance are none-too complimentary – including a face like ‘a stone archway’ and ‘a bag of spanners’ – but no-one can doubt his acting ability (Steven Spielberg called him ‘the best actor in the world’) or his popularity (he was awarded an OBE in 2004). He is probably best-know for his film work; he appeared in over 100 films including The Usual Suspects (one of my favourite films), The Constant Gardener (a wonderful film despite the dreary title), Amistad (Spielberg’s well-meaning but glib abolition drama) and Among Giants (the only film I’ve ever seen about painting pylons, also starring Rachel Griffiths, with whom he gets a love interest).

Daniel Day Lewis generally receives all the credit for In the Name of the Father; a terribly flawed film which nonetheless captures a time and feeling in history, due in no small part to the stoic heroism of Pete Postlethwaite’s Giuseppe Conlon. He is indubitably the best thing in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet for the ADHD generation, and I most recently saw him playing a cameo as the dying father who is behind the whole plot in Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending Inception.

I shall remember him best, however, for his depiction of Danny the band leader of a miners’ band in the brilliant Brassed Off. With the perfect blend of pride, humility, and sensitivity, he delivers one of the best screen-monologues ever. Take it away, Pete!

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