Saturday, 13 June 2009

About time...Christopher Lee Finally Gets a Knighthood

It is with great joy that I read the news that Christopher Lee is to be bestowed with a knighthood in the Queen's birthday honours list. It has been a long time coming but it is well deserved.

Lee may not be this country's most decorated actor and of his hundreds of credits more than a few should be forgotten, but nevertheless Christopher Lee is one of the most iconic of British actors. He possesses one of the most commanding screen presences of any actor; at once being able to appear authoritative and patriarchal and with his instantly recognisable voice he can quite often be plain terrifying. It is little wonder then, that he was the perfect fit for his most iconic role of Dracula in the Hammer Horror series of films.

It was after all, the performances of Lee along with Peter Cushing that really made Hammer Horror what it was. Their films may not be regarded in such high regard as, say, the Ealing comedies and there was often limited funds available but they are remembered fondly and it was arguably Lee and Cushing that provided the quality that allowed many Hammer films to rise above their often campy tone.

My personal favourite Lee performance, however, is in the Wicker Man. His natural booming voice and menacing demeanor were the perfect fit for Lord Summerisle. It is the ability to believe that Lee's character could lead a group of Pagans to perform the eventual sacrifice that makes The Wicker Man as unnerving as it is. He is utterly convincing, and despite his numerous other horror roles, this is Lee at his most terrifying and demonstrating an acting talent beyond the limitations of his Hammer Horror roles.

Lee as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man

I do not believe that Lee would have received the knighthood he so richly deserves if it had not been for the Indian summer that his career has been enjoying. It is remarkable that at 87 he can still make so many appearances, not least in two of the most commercially successful franchises of all time in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Star Wars prequels. His Saruman introduced him to a whole new generation of fans and his omission from the Return of the King (and the baffling inclusion of the many epilogues) was one of Peter Jackson's few mistakes in making the trilogy.

However, the fact that he is working so regularly is testament to the respect he has gained in the industry as a truly talented actor. Tim Burton is a notable fan and has given him several small roles in his films and whilst his appearances are briefer as he gets older he can still be relied upon to provide a good performance and I hope that he continues to act for as long as he enjoys doing it.

So congratulations to Sir Christopher Lee, for a long and prolific film career well rewarded.

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