Dear Ralph Fiennes

Art & Culture

Dear Ralph Fiennes,

No longer just a film star, but a director as well, maybe you have become the UK”s answer to George Clooney – only slightly more twitchy.

It’s now over 20 years since you made your screen debuts playing both Lawrence of Arabia and Heathcliff, neither of them memorable films, but they led to Spielberg offering you the poisoned chalice of the part of Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List. I say poisoned chalice, since although it made you famous, and elevated your reputation considerably, complete with Oscar nomination, it cannot have been easy to play such a tortured soul. Though that is something you have done with some frequency over the years.

More than any other British actor I can think of, you have crossed back and forth between big screen productions (Voldemort in the Harry Potter series; a major role in the Bondfilms), and more low key roles in what might loosely be described as semi-arthouse films. It has not always produced the best results. Despite the amazing cast, Red Dragon is by some way the worst Hannibal Lecter film; The Avengers (back in the days before it meant superheroes) is astonishingly bad; while you and J Lo in Maid In Manhattan must be the worst romcom pairing of all time. Shall we just not talk about Clash Of The Titans  and its ugly sister, Wrath of the Titans. I live in hope that we will never see Tantrum of the Titans.

On the plus side, we have The Constant Gardener, Oscar and Lucinda, Quiz Show and In Bruges. These are all films that fall somewhere between blockbuster and festival favourite, but occupy a space for people like me who want intelligent films that are also entertaining. In Oscar and Lucinda, based on Peter Carey’s novel, you play a neurotic young man who falls for Cate Blanchett’s extraverted heiress with romantic and tragic consequences. It’s a lovely and underrated film. Quiz Show is based on a true story, about Charles van Doren who entered a TV quiz show in the 50s, and got sucked into the machine, which spat him out again, barely in one piece. You are excellent in the role, and what I like is that you also took on the part of a thuggish gangster in In Bruges, a la Sexy Beast Ben Kingsley, who could hardly be more different to either Oscar or Charles.

You’ve worked with David Cronenberg, you’ve been in Oscar winning films like The English Patient  and The Hurt Locker, and you have an obvious affinity for Russian literature, having played Eugene Onegin in an adaptation of a Pushkin book of that name, and being about to appear in a film based on a play by Turgenev. You’ve done Wallace and Gromit, Nanny McPhee, and we will soon see you in a Wes Anderson film for the first time (The Grand Budapest Hotel). It’s a versatile and appealing CV, which has made you (hopefully) rich and successful. Maybe even happy?

And now comes directing and Dickens. You warmed up with an excellent modern day version of Coriolanus, and an appearance as Magwitch in a recent Great Expectations. Now we have the perfect fusion in The Invisible Woman, an excellent film in which you direct yourself as Britain’s Greatest Novelist and his infatuation with a younger woman towards the end of his (all too brief) life. I’m biased because I love Dickens, and am thrilled that you’ve made a film about this episode in his life. But I do think you have made the transition to director/star admirably well, as well as stepping lightly from the World’s Most Evil Not-Quite-Man (Voldemort) to Judi Dench’s successor as Q. 

You’re still only just over 50, and although you are (apparently) frustrated by the demands placed on the personal life of film stars; and although you may privately resent the fact that Daniel Day Lewis rules the firmament off Oscars and acclaim, there seems little reason for you not to go on making and appearing in the kind of films you want to. You’ve got the skill, the reputation and the track record. On the whole, I would suggest you avoid romantic comedies, probably sci fi and horror, and definitely musicals. Apart from that – go get ’em.

Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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