His was one of the most reassuringly familiar voices of the past thirty years. A unique combination of chocolatey smoothness and nasal indifference. He sounded like a somnolent panther snoozing in a hammock – only you could never tell whether he wanted to let you rub his belly or bite your face off.
Alan Rickman ran the gamut of human expression in his screen career, so tragically
Classically trained (and Tony-nominated for his Valmont in Les Liaisons dangereuses) he deployed his long, aquiline features in the service of characters as diverse as adulterous husbands, Cockney angels, ghostly cellists and the occasional German terrorist. Today’s obituaries have highlighted his memorable villains but menace was only one of Rickman’s many shades and he was equally suited as lover, confidant or even a paranoid android.
He was a rather fine director too on the quiet – to no one’s surprise, an actor’s director – eliciting subtle performances from the likes of Emma Thompson and Phyllida Law in The Winter Guest (1997), and Kate Winslet and Stanley Tucci in 2014’s A Little Chaos. Both films in their way hum with Rickman’s voice, a voice that fate in all its miserly wretchedness has silenced many years too soon.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
“I’m going to cut your heart out with a spooooooon!” Rickman understood that The Sheriff of Nottingham was a Pantomime Villain of a part, and he also knew that in Panto the baddies get all the best lines.
While his character went about stealing from the poor to give to…himself, Rickman went one step further and stole an entire film from under Kevin Costner’s feet.
Close My Eyes (1991)
By complete contrast, Rickman toned it down in this slightly forgotten early film from the much-revered dramatist Stephen Poliakoff (though it stirred up plenty of controversy at the time). Close My Eyes stars Clive Owen and Saskia Reeves as a brother and step-sister who fall in love and embark on an incestuous affair.
Rickman playing Reeves‘ husband, cuckolded by his own brother-in-law, is a calm centre at the heart of this stormy drama, offering unexpected warmth and understanding. By this stage, his newly-minted stardom meant that it was Rickman’s name and image all over the poster, not star Clive Owen, even though he was only playing a supporting part.
Truly Madly Deeply (1990)
The broadsheet version of Ghost, was how this touching romantic comedy (the directorial debut of Anthony Minghella) was originally perceived. Rickman plays Jamie, the loveably shambolic, cello-playing – though inconveniently dead – boyfriend of Juliet Stevenson, who returns as a spectre to help her get over his demise – a move made a little bit complicated when he starts bringing a few pals over from the ‘Other Side’ to watch Charlie Chaplin videos.
This gave Rickman a chance to show off his leading-man chops and he was rewarded with new-found sex-symbol status. I’ve only just realised how unimaginably poignant it would be to watch Truly Madly Deeply this week. Safer, I think to watch this next film instead.
Galaxy Quest (1999)
Not enough people realise this yet, but Galaxy Quest is the funniest, most ingenious high-concept comedy since Ghostbusters. A crew of washed-up actors from a long-cancelled sci-fi series are whisked away from the dreaded convention circuit by aliens who think they are the real deal.
Rickman’s Alexander Dane, playing the alien crew-member Dr Lazarus, steals a few riffs from Leonard Nimoy’s I Am Not Spock phase – a classical thespian reduced to putting on silly costumes to say silly lines. However, the scene when Dr Lazarus recites his hated catchphrase to a dying alien devotee with complete sincerity – “By Grabthar’s Hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged.” – is the most unexpectedly moving moment of Rickman’s career.
The Harry Potter Series. (2001 – 2011)
The moment it was announced that Alan Rickman was to play the dark, mysterious, antagonistic Professor Severus Snape in the film versions of the Harry Potter books, the world collectively replied in one voice, “Who else.”
For the twentysomethings of this world, Rickman was Snape and it’s likely this will be the part for which he is best remembered; rarely do an actor and a part go together so effortlessly.
The films seldom came alive as much as they did when Snape was onscreen. Rickman very carefully exposed the fragility underneath the scorn, all the way to the big reveal at the end of The Deathly Hallows. By the third film, he only needed a line like ‘Turn to page three hundred and ninety four,’ to convey a whole film’s worth of menace.
Die Hard (1988)
It’s hard to believe but this was Alan Rickman’s movie debut. Anthony Hopkins, David Suchet, Bruce Payne and Jeremy Irons all owe a debt to Rickman for in the years that followed his extraordinary turn as John McClane’s nemesis, all Hollywood villains were contractually obliged to be played by Brits (even John Lithgow had to fake an English accent in Cliffhanger).
The contrast of hero and villain in Die Hard was perfect: McClane the blue-collar, wisecracking cop, Hans Gruber the immaculately dressed, sophisticated, classically educated adversary. Despite his charm and love of highbrow quotes, Gruber has no compunction whatsoever in executing anyone who inconveniences him, as loudmouth coke-head Harry Ellis discovers to his cost. From his gunfire-peppered entrance to his plummeting departure, Alan Rickman had arrived and Hollywood was never really the same again.