It’s been a tough month for my childhood. Two weeks ago we lost Robin Williams, and now we must also bid a fond farewell to Lord Richard Attenborough, actor-director extraordinaire, RADA and BAFTA head, and tireless and passionate supporter of charity.
Attenborough was a key part of my childhood because of one role, that of misguided dreamer John Hammond, the mastermind behind JURASSIC PARK. It was my favourite film when I was growing up, and it still holds a very special place in my heart today. Attenborough brought warmth and a childlike energy at odds with his advanced years, as well as perhaps hinting at a darker nature below the surface, a seemingly harmless, but in the end quite destructive ambition. He really did make John Hammond one of the cuddliest mad scientists in movie history. Yes his Scottish accent was inconsistent at best, but even that added to his charm. As I think I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I even like Hammond’s flea circus monologue.
Though a successful actor in his youth in films such as BRIGHTON ROCK and THE GREAT ESCAPE, Attenborough was arguably better regarded for his work behind the camera directing thoughtful real-life tales and biopics. Ensemble war film A BRIDGE TOO FAR demonstrated his ambition, and has become a staple of Sunday afternoon telly in the UK, and GANDHI of course won Attenborough a well-deserved Best Director Oscar. He also directed SHADOWLANDS, which is one of my all-time favourite drama films. His chronicle of C.S. Lewis’ (Anthony Hopkins) relationship with Joy Gresham (Debra Winger) tragically cut short by her battle against cancer tugs on the heartstrings without ever becoming sappy, and Attenborough’s assured direction marries a sharp, humanist screenplay by William Nicholson with two faultless lead performances from Hopkins and Winger.
Richard Attenborough was an icon of the British film industry, and the likes of him, so talented in front and behind the camera, such a gifted actor and actor’s director, in addition to all of his philanthropic sidelines, will likely not be seen again for a long time. It’s deeply upsetting that he will now have to be known as the “late great Dickie Attenborough”, but it’s undeniable that he lived a full and fulfilling life. SSP