Devastated, that’s how I felt the day that I awoke on January 15, 2016 to discover English actor Alan Rickman (1946-2016) had left earth for another realm.
My initial reaction was to shed some tears and when done, to pause and remember why I felt as if I had seemingly lost a part of my heart to a man I never met.
For me in all his roles on stage and at the movies, Alan Rickman was the quintessential man for all seasons. He certainly had the bearing and luscious voice of a classically trained Shakespearean actor, one who was happy to take a custard pie in the face if it helped other people to smile or to laugh.
His early life was defined by his creative abilities, attending the Royal College of Art as he later said, drama school not considered a sensible thing to do aged 18. However life changed when he gained entrance to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) aged 26, as did ours. He became a consummate actor skilled at his craft and I was thrilled to see him live on stage in The Royal Court Theatre at London early in his career.
At the movies he played a hypnotic villain in the blockbuster Die Hard with Bruce Willis – chillingly evil.
He was a villain again, albeit with a light touch as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. How could you not be amused when he called off Christmas.
Alan Rickman was perfectly cast as Colonel Brandon in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
He was past thirty and five and mindful of the feelings of others and he brought this gentle hero’s sweetness of character to the fore, just as Jane Austen intended him to be.
For whatsoever from one place doth fall, is with the tide to another broad, for there is nothing lost that may be found…*
Alan Rickman seemed to fit so easily within his skin, a man sure of his own worth totally in tune with the ancient Greek notion of what a good man should be ‘truly noble in hands and feet and mind’.
A man owed it to himself to display his best qualities and be recognised for them, which he did.
Rickman was from all reports, generous with his talent as well as a wonderful human being.
According to his ideal of manhood, public honour and private honour were intimately related.
Alan Rickman’s life was seemingly tempered by the maxim of ‘nothing in excess’.
He worked for something beyond himself whether in truth or beauty – openness. He certainly seemed to set small store by his own glory, equating honour with public service.
During the days since Alan Rickman has passed accolades continue to roll in. They reference both his abilities and his humanity.
We have learned he was a faithful partner over his lifetime, as well as a mentor to many from all cultures, backgrounds and ages.
Many of these have gone public to say they are grateful that he shared his experience and the knowledge he gained. Especially with younger actors, and the acquaintances and friends who sought him out for his advice and help.
There is no doubt featuring as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films was a wonderful achievement, a high point of his brilliant career and a highlight of his life.
Being able to act with, be a mentor to so many young actors, and influence a generation of children emerging, was a powerful responsibility, which he felt keenly.
“Hogwarts is a comforting retreat for readers, but Snape keeps us on our toes.”
Snape was really the anti-hero of JK Rowling’s seven-book series about Harry Potter, on which the films are based, and someone who reduced many to floods of tears.
Snape taught children everywhere the world of adulthood is made up of many shades of grey, compared with the black and white, right or wrong aspects of their world.
Children left notes and flowers for him all over London when the sad news of his passing hit the internet.
Daniel Radcliffe who played Harry Potter noted that when the story begins Harry sees Snape as an ultimate villain, a man who treats him unfairly, glares at him for no reason, and might actually be trying to kill him. However, by the end of the series he admits Snape was the “bravest man I ever knew”.
Radcliffe was among those who delivered powerful tributes to this very fine man.
David Heyman who was the Harry Potter franchise’s producer said of him “He had a real understanding of the character and now looking back, you can see there was always more going on there – a look, an expression, a sentiment – that hint at what is to come,” Heyman said.
Alan Rickman always empowered actors to own their material in the movies he directed.
I revelled recently in the wonderful humanity he brought to the persona of King Louis XIV in A Little Chaos, a delightful film he co-wrote, directed and featured in during 2014, released in Australia in 2015.
It is a timeless story and in many ways has now become a metaphor for Alan Rickman and his life.
Restraint of style was not usually an attitude you would expect at the court of King Louis XIV of France, having been far more associated in history with glory reigning in abundance, where the sun shone illuminating the King’s presence with its blinding light.
Alan Rickman however as King Louis opened a window on all his and his court’s assumed perfection, warming this splendid piece as a rose to the sun.
Roses at King Louis’ court remained continually in bud offering promise, slightly open to reveal its mysteries, or in full bloom so the King would admire its beauty.
He was not ever allowed to see them fading, that is until Madame Barra (Kate Winslet) came along to give him some advice about ‘perennials’.
Meeting him in the happy surroundings of an intimate garden, as they chatted amiably together, she emboldened the King to discover for himself that faded glory is alright too.
Mme Barra inspired the King to not only embrace his own ageing persona, but also to deal more gently with those around him like his former mistress Mme de Montespan, who had recently lost her place at court and her children to the far more pious last mistress, Mme de Maintenon.
The whole way the story evolves is a pointer to this fine actor’s persona too; all about growing old gracefully, which he managed to do both personally and professionally.
In his interview with Jane Hutcheon on the ABC’s One Plus One in March 2015, he talked about the craft of storytelling and how it has come down to us from ancient times when ‘the tribes’ gathered around a campfire’.
What has never changed is that the story needs a great storyteller and we have now lost one of the best of my generation.
Goodness Alan Rickman, those who knew and loved you close up, and admired you from afar will certainly miss your unfailing intelligence, your openness, wonderful sense of humour, great kindness, compassion and caring…
… may the road rise with you … always
Great grace that old man to him given had
For God he often saw from heavens hight,
All were his earthly eyen both blunt and bad,
And through great age had lost their kindly sight,
Yet wondrous quick and persant was his spright,
As Eagles eye, that can behold the Sunne:
That hill they scale with all their powre and might,
That his[*] fraile thighes nigh weary and fordonne Gan faile, but by her[*] helpe the top at last he wonne.*
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
Watch the Trailer for A Little Chaos