Nicol Williamson: An Appreciation

Scottish actor Nicol Williamson has died at the age of 73, from esophageal cancer, in Amsterdam, Holland, where he had lived for more than 20 years. Born in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1938, Williamson’s stage and film career spanned more than four decades, including the title roles in Coriolanus, Macbeth and (a universally acclaimed) Hamlet, In fact he was known as “the Hamlet of his generation”. 

Apparently Williamson died in mid-December, but it is just being reported today after it was posted on his official website, by his only child, son Luke (Perhaps someone realized, with the announcement of Academy Award nominations, that Williamson needed to be remembered during the ceremony.)

I had a few favorite film roles, including:

Inadmissible Evidence (1968) The original Broadway production of John Osborne’s "Inadmissible Evidence" opened at the Belasco Theater on November 29, 1965, ran for 167 performances and was nominated for the 1966 Tony Award for the Best Play. Nicol Williamson,who was nominated for the 1966 Tony Award for Actor in a Drama, recreated his stage role for the film (and was subsequently nominated for a BAFTA). The playwright (who once described Williamson as the 'greatest actor since Marlon Brando') also wrote the film's screenplay. A film for which Dudley Moore composed the score, it was also notable for being Dame Eileen Atkins’ first film role.

Robin and Marian (1976) Richard Lester’s take on the Robin Hood legend in which an older Robin (Sean Connery) and his sidekick Little John (Williamson) return to their old Sherwood haunts world-weary from the Crusades and their sickening brutality. Upon reuniting with Friar Tuck and Will Scarlett, they learn that Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn) has become an abbess. Marian greets Robin's return with mixed feelings, but after he rescues her from his longtime enemy, the Sheriff of Nottingham, who tries to arrest her on religious grounds, the two become lovers once again. From Roger Ebert’s review*: It’s “a movie about the end of youth and high romance, about death and the possibility of simple human compassion.” With a lot of humor as well.

The Seven Percent Solution (1976) Williamson played Holmes to Robert Duvall’s Watson in the big screen adaptation of Nicholas Meyer’s best-selling, and quirky, novel. Watson has grown increasingly concerned at Sherlock Holmes' use of cocaine (with a 7% cocaine, 93% saline solution) and the fantasies it produces. Fearing for Holmes’ life, Watson contacts Dr. Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) in Vienna for assistance. Under Freud's care, Holmes slowly and painfully goes through withdrawal. While undergoing treatment, he comes to the realization that his archrival, Professor Moriarty (Laurence Olivier), is not the “Napoleon of Crime”, but instead a somewhat pathetic philanderer. He doesn't fully revive however until he joins Freud in the strange case of Lola Deveraux (Vanessa Redgrave), another of Freud's patients who was addicted to cocaine. When she is kidnapped, they set off to rescue her.
A lot of my affection for this film probably stems from the production design, but the cast is incredible. Redgrave is, as usual, ethereal. This version of Holmes and Watson is not for everyone, but I loved it, especially Williamson’s manic Holmes.

Excalibur (1981) One of my all-time favorite films, my favorite version of the Arthurian legend,it’s definitely my favorite Nicol Williamson role, in which he played Merlin. As the title would suggest, it follows the legendary sword from the powerful hands of Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne), to its decades long rest in ‘the stone’ to being redrawn by Uther's son Arthur (Nigel Terry), who uses it to defeat the evil invaders and establish the great court of Camelot and the great Knights of the Round Table. The film covers Arthur's glory years, the decline brought about by the love affair between Guinevere (Irish actress Cherie Lunghi) and Lancelot (Nicholas Clay), the quest for the Holy Grail, Morgana (Helen Mirren – who was initially reluctant to work with Williamson, as they had both been in a disastrous production of "Macbeth" and were not on speaking terms. The director thought their animosity would add to the tension between the characters on screen. It did.) and Mordred, and through it all, Merlin the magician watches over everything.

Filmed in Ireland, Excalibur is the film debut of Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne and Ciaran Hinds. I’ve probably seen it twenty times and when I think of it, it is Nicol Williamson’s voice reciting the ‘Charm of Making’ that I hear in my head: “An il nathrach, ortha bh is bheatha, do thuar dhéanamh” ("Serpent's breath, charm of death and life, thy omen of making.")

Nicol Williamson (14 September 1938 – 16 December 2011)


Machine Gun Preacher (Finally) Gets a Poster!

 Ahead of next month’s Toronto International Film Festival, Marc Forster’s Machine Gun Preacher has finally gotten its first poster. I’m just not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand I’m thrilled that the tarp is coming off of the publicity machine and it’s is being dusted off and oiled up for this film. Speaking as someone who’s been following the progress of the movie since before filming began and has been waiting impatiently for its release, it has been excruciating to see posters and pics and trailers for films that will be coming out long after Machine Gun Preacher‘s September 23rd date.

On the other hand, I’m not crazy about this poster.I don’t love it and I really wanted to love it. I feel disloyal even thinking those words let alone typing them. Maybe it’ll grow on me. But I’m not the ticket buyer anyone has to worry about. I’m a given. I worry about what those unfamiliar with the story or Sam Childers or even Gerard Butler (are there still such people walking among us?) might think.

It’s great that Gerard Butler is front and center, but I’m trying to figure out just who they’re playing to, what audience they’re trying to attract. I understand the child peeking out from behind Butler’s hand, even though I think Butler’s*image is badly photoshopped and the scale is all wrong, but what’s with the garish blood spattered title that looks like it belongs on a cheesy horror flick? It just seems incongruous with the film’s tag-line "Hope is the greatest weapon of all".

I can only assume that my bff, Ryan Kavanaugh, and Relativity Media have a master plan and I’m trying very hard to keep the faith. And as I said, I am very happy that they are starting to advertise this film. It’s got a good buzz on going into TIFF and I know they want to build on that. The internet film community is eagerly awaiting the finished product and Butler’s name is being uttered, if not yet with respect, then at least without disdain for the first time since 300. The one-two punch of Machine Gun Preacher and Coriolanus are, without question, going to do wonderous things for his career and I know that the first poster for one is not going to effect that one way or another.

I’ll deal. I don’t hate it…Maybe it’ll grow on me.

*I wasn’t initially clear. I meant Butler’s image appeared photoshopped, not the child. Sorry for any confusion! 

“Sweet Is My Revenge”

…picking up jaw from the floor…

It’s no secret how long and how impatiently I’ve been craving a trailer for Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus. This was worth the wait…

One of the things I noticed and liked very much about it is that it showcases most of the major players. We see Ralph as the title despot certainly, but we also get a glimpse of Gerard Butler’s fervor as Tullus Aufidius, Jessica Chastain’s sweet Virgilia, Brian Cox’s scheming politico Menenius, James Nesbitt’s hot-headed Sicinius and of course, Vanessa Redgrave’s powerful and power hungry Volumnia. I hope Ralph is as generous a director as whoever cut the trailer is an editor.

But mainly, I have to say I felt this. If the passion and the intensity evident in the trailer are maintained throughout, I’m not sure I’ll survive one viewing, let alone multiples…but I can’t wait to try. December 2nd!!

"Sweet Is My Revenge" indeed…

What?? There’s footage??

Trailer Addict has a clip of a press conference held during the Berlin International Film Festival for Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus. The film made an impressive debut at the Berlinale and there’s been strong buzz about it since.  The clip includes footage from the film. The Berlinale was in February. FEBRUARY!  So how am I just now finding out about this footage?!

For anyone who does not know, Coriolanus is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play of the same name. With a screenplay by John Logan (The Last Samurai, The Hurt Locker) it marks Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut and has a cast that would make angels weep including Fiennes himself, the luminous Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, James Nesbit and some guy named Gerard Butler.

Lord knows I’ve been chomping at the bit, foaming at the mouth and twitching on the sidewalk  waiting for news on this film for months, at least since it was announced that The Weinstein Company had picked it up for US distribution, and in particular when we could expect a trailer. In response to a direct question from someone on Twitter, another of the film’s distributor’s, D Films, yesterday said that a trailer would be arriving "any day now". 

It would seem a little coincidental that I discover this clip the same day I see that tweet, until I saw that it was posted on Trailer Addict’s site in February! I didn’t even discover it! It was sent to me in a Google alert. Today! What. The. Hell.  Am I just that late to the party? (I find that difficult to believe.)  Have I, in my excitement and thirst for something new, forgotten that I already saw this footage? While that is entirely possible, given my misspent youth, I don’t think so.

At this point, I don’t care. I’ll take it. I’m going to gorge on it until we get that trailer. C’mon Harvey!  *taps vein* I neeeeeed it!

Vroom, Vroom… edited

 …I believe that’s the distant sound of a lone Harley Davidson that I hear, revving its engine somewhere in preparation for the long ride ahead.


…or maybe it was the publicity machine finally roaring to life. Sunday, July 24, was just sixty days ahead of the September 23rd release for Marc Forster’s Machine Gun Preacher, and it would seem we got our first little tickle from the team at Relativity and/or Virgin Produced.

A short little blurb of an interview was posted in USAToday and online at their website, featuring a few words from Gerard Butler who stars as Rev. Sam Childers and it was picked up by movie sites and blogs all over the web. I think I personally got news alerts from about ten different sources. This is fantastic!

What is disturbing however, is how many of them are using the release of this film not to discuss the good works of an actual living, breathing human being, who travels to the most dangerous parts of war ravaged Africa: The Sudan and now the new country of The Republic of South Sudan, in order to try to affect change in the lives of the people that live there one child at a time, but rather that this is another in a historical line of films/books that feature the white man coming to the rescue of the downtrodden "other".

I have to say I don’t understand the argument, or rather, what it has to do with this film. We’re not talking about a white colonial Bwana sitting on his porch and sipping gin & tonics at his coffee plantation who thinks he’s benevolent because he taught the child fanning him with palmetto leaves to read. This is a man who gets his hands dirty and risks his own life, who does what other people are afraid to even think about. Does it even matter why he’s doing it? 

And don’t get me started on those that are already complaining that the title is deceptive and that there won’t be nearly enough machine guns and far too much preaching for their tastes, all of which is based on one blurb and one set photo…

However, having said all of that, I am very aware that there is no such thing as bad publicity and if it gets people talking about the film at all, so be it. I will now step down off of my soapbox to do the fabled *demented poodle dance* of joy that the games have officially begun! Woot!

This will, of course, not be by any means, my final word on this subject

****Machine Gun Preacher and Coriolanus will both screen at the Toronto International Film Festival. This demented poodle is very happy indeed!

My Daily Moment of Torridly Martial Zen

 I really don’t think words are necessary here…

I think my enthusiasm for, and anticipation of, Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus is well documented by now. Every new still, every new tidbit of news hones my appetite the way Tullus Aufidius is honing that big knife…*shudder* it’s been years since I have so eagerly looked forward to the release of a film. (Three years to be exact.) When December 2nd finally arrives, (I have no doubt I will too…many many times)

…yer killin’ me Harvey!

My Daily Moment of Award Winning Zen

 I did two serious movie posts in a row (in two days no less!) I deserve a treat. 

Tonight, Monday July 11,  Gerard Butler received the Actor of the Year Award from the 9th Annual Ischia Global Film & Music Fest during the Casamicciola Gala Dinner and Award Ceremony. Why this year, I have no idea. In 2004, G was given Ischia’s ‘Special Fashion Award’, which is roughly the equivalent of ‘Best New Actor’, for the big screen version of Phantom of the Opera, and it hadn’t even been released yet. These Italians must be prescient lot. Maybe they’re anticipating the success of Machine Gun Preacher and Coriolanus! Yeah! That’s it!

It might also have something to do with the fact that the "host country" this year is the United Kingdom and will include the participation of actors, musicians and assorted industry types from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. I have no idea what exactly they mean by "host" since obviously it’s taking place in ITALY, but apparently India, China, Russia, Germany, Brazil, Japan, South Africa and Mexico were "hosts" in the previous eight incarnations of the festival. Good excuse for a party, in any case!

The poor thing. Must be hell to have to travel all the way to attend some boring festival* set on a sun soaked island in the Tyrrhenian Sea and wait for them to hand you an award and say nice things about you; nothing to do but hang around lolling on yachts, yakking to other celebrities, maybe take the occasional dip in the ocean or the pool at your luxury hotel while a parade of bikini clad beauties saunters by like a moveable feast… sucks to be you G.

In any case, I offer my heartfelt congratulations.

Oh and one more thing, I know they must have a gift shop or Quickie Mart or something on that island so next time you’re out for a pack of smokes, pick up some damn SUNSCREEN! *shakes fist*

*actually it must be a blast if my bff, Ryan Kavanaugh is spending his honeymoon there. Damn, who did I piss off in my previous life?