Thursday, 1 May 2014

RIP Bob Hoskins

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This week Britain lost one of its most widely-loved and successful actors. Bob Hoskins, who retired from acting in 2012 due to Parkinson's disease, died two days ago aged 71 following a short bout of pneumonia.

On the surface, Hoskins' career would seem to be that of a typecast character actor, confined to playing lovable Cockneys, gangsters and heavies. But dig even a little deeper and you discover something much richer and more endearing. Over a career spanning six decades from his stage debut in 1968, he delivered a number of memorable lead and supporting performances, in everything from gangster films to political dramas. Just listing the directors he worked with gives an idea of how illustrious he was, a list that includes Francis Ford Coppola, Terry Gilliam, Neil Jordan, Alan Parker, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone and Robert Zemeckis.
I first came across Hoskins in a TV adaptation of David Copperfield, in which he played Wilkins Micawber opposite future Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. I remember being impressed by the energy that he brought to one of Charles Dickens' most lovable characters, particularly the righteous anger he expressed during his final confrontation with the deceitful hypocrite and swinder Uriah Heep (Nicholas Lyndhurst). I did a full review of the adaptation in my Dickens article for WhatCulture!, and it's long been available on DVD if you want to check it out.
Like Michael Clarke Duncan, Hoskins was someone who could improve almost any film simply by being in it. Hook is an overblown, waterlogged mess of a film, and yet for every second he is on screen as Smee, it starts to hold together and make more sense. His cameo in Pink Floyd - The Wall, as Pink's long-suffering manager, serves as a perfect segue into the nightmarish hallucinations of 'Comfortably Numb' and 'Waiting For The Worms'. Even Super Mario Bros., which he subsequently disowned, has moments where his talent begins to make the experience more bearable.
 
There's any number of performances you could choose from if you wanted to pay tribute to Hoskins. You could opt for his leading role in Mona Lisa, a high-water mark for Handmade Films for which he won a BAFTA and was Oscar-nominated. You could admire his high levels of craft in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, in which he successfully made us believe that he was interacting with cartoons. Or you could enjoy some of his memorable cameos, such as J. Edgar Hoover in Nixon or Spoor in Brazil.
But for me, the performance which I'll remember Hoskins for most was Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday. More than 30 years on, John Mackenzie's blistering gangster film still rings true as both a cautionary tale about free-market capitalism and a character study of power and paranoia. Hoskins inhabits Shand in a Shakespearean manner, crafting a flawed but imposing force of nature who is equal parts King Lear, yuppie and East End thug. It's a towering achievement which launched Hoskins' film career, and the final scene in the car is an acting masterclass.
For more information on The Long Good Friday, click here to listen to The Movie Hour podcast I recorded on it for Lionheart Radio back in 2011. I also recommend checking out this interview he gave with The Guardian in 2007, in which he talks about his career and acting process. RIP.

Daniel

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