Alan Rickman's Romantic Legacy
by Kiersten Hallie Krum
We lost another great one last week, the third in the same week to cancer (FUCK CANCER!). Alan Rickman was only 69 when he died, but he packed those years full of some of the most notorious roles in film history–Hans Gruber, Severus Snape, and the Sheriff of Nottingham to name his most famous ones.
But along with being a stellar, generous, hilarious, giving human being (see Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, and Daniel Radcliffe’s responses to his death for a taste) he also play several of the most romantic heroes on the screen. Not conventional romantics. Oh no. Rickman’s romantics were, in true Rickman form, zany, deep, flawed, funny, forgiving, patient, self-sacrificing, loyal, and rather brilliant.
In the British movie Truly, Madly, Deeply. Rickman plays a cellist, Jamie, who is dead. Utterly lost after his death, his lover Nina (played by the incomparable Juliet Stevenson), holes herself away in their flat with her memories and her grief. Until Rickman’s ghost returns to her…and brings along a few friends to fill out the band. Is he a real ghost or simply a manifestation of her grief? Does it matter?
After the first wash of joy and weeks of locking herself away with her ghostly lover (and his friends). Jamie’s “return” allows Nina to see her life before and after getting together with Jamie–and before and after his death. As she comes to terms with her grief, terms that include a new potential lover and the things she loved that she set aside because Jamie didn’t, Nina realizes that she’s going to be okay, that she’s going to be able to make a new life without James and survive losing him. And–human, ghost, or figment–loves her enough to let her go and do that. Jamie loves her enough to leave.
Clive Owen and Saskia Reeves play Richard and Natalie, half brother and sister, each raised by a different parent, who, after years of sexual tension, become lovers. (The film takes pains to set up how Richard and Natalie were not raised as brother and sister and as such, their feelings for one another were never filial.) Rickman plays Sinclair, Natalie’s wealthy husband. One of the most compelling aspects of this film to me, was how the power dynamic changes between Richard and Natalie–she pursues the sexual aspect of their relationship but once she marries Sinclair, it’s Richard who gets lost in it and becomes obsessive. Sinclair is deeply in love with Natalie and brings to her life the ease of wealth and of a man who is solely devoted to her happiness, something that’s new to her life.
But even Sinclair can sense there’s something more between brother and sister. When he discovers the affair, he doesn’t immediately let on that he knows, rather he lets Natalie work things out with Richard and potentially find her way back to Sinclair–even if that involves a physical confrontation between Natalie and Richard while at Sinclair’s house. Rickman’s role is meant to provide the wealthy contrast to Richard and Natalie’s working-class background and there’s more social commentary embedded in the early 90s movie too. But, as usual, I’m drawn to the relationships and, years after I first saw it as a student in 1994, Rickman’s Sinclair wasn’t the cuckold husband enraged and perhaps disgusted by his wife’s unconventional affair. Rather, he comes to understand his wife’s relationship with her brother is much more complex than mere sex. He understands his wife well enough to realize her sexual involvement with Richard is more about working through old emotional baggage than having anything to do with how she does or doesn’t feel about her husband. Sinclair loves her enough to stick.
Colonel Brandon of Sense and Sensibility is probably Alan Rickman’s most obvious romantic film role. As flighty, flirty Marianne runs around with her heart on her sleeve for Willoughby–often being outright rude and mean to others in process–Brandon quietly stays a solid fixture in the background, aware of the treasure of a women Marianne can be while he waits for life to sort her out. Too experienced with the vagaries of the world not to know exactly the type of man Willoughby is, he still refuses to pressure or influence Marianne while she learns that hard lesson for herself (and, I think, had Willoughby stepped up, Colonel Brandon would’ve been happy to see Marianne get her young heart’s desire.) Brandon loves her enough to wait.
Love Actually pops up in pop culture news every Christmas season and opinions on it are divided. Some love it (moi) some hate it (many others). I’ll amend my love to say that there are serious problems with the movie, yes, from continuity to motivation to timeline to outright believably (and I want to smack Laura Linney’s character right up side the head every time). But overall, it’s funny and at times, incredibly sweet. It’s not meant to be a treatise on love, it’s meant to be a confection, with some sour bits, and to stimulate warm fuzzies about idealized love around the Christmas season.
At Christmastime in 2015, Love Actually made the headlines again with several behind-the-scenes listicles and a series of BTS tweets from writer/director Richard Curtis’ partner, Emma Freud, one of which confirmed that Alan Rickman’s character, Harry, did in fact sleep with his assistant, Mia. Up till now, it’s always been ambiguous whether or not he went through with it (even though he did give her the gold necklace). I’ve always been of the opinion that he did not, but came damn close. So in keeping with the theme, I would’ve said Harry loved his wife Karen (Emma Thompson) enough to resist.
I would’ve been wrong.
It’s Harry’s weakness that Rickman plumbs even as his contrition is sincere–contrition after he’s been outed by his wife. “God, I’ve been an utter fool. I am so in the wrong.” His punishment is to forever after have something less in his marriage than the something more he thought he was getting with Mia. Harry didn’t stick, didn’t wait, and absolutely didn’t resist. Harry caved.
The richness of roles Alan Rickman portrayed in his career are a lasting testament to his skill and talent. To the reason why he is so beloved. From comedy to drama to romance to fantasy, his legacy has made a significant impact and will ensure that he is never, ever forgotten.
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