Saturday, April 18, 2009
An appreciation of Ciarán Hinds
Ciarán Hinds is one of those great actors from the United Kingdom who has been an "oh, that guy" to me for about a generation. I couldn't put a name to the face until he landed the plum role of Julius Caesar in HBO's Rome. Until recently, I knew his name but pronounced it incorrectly. It's "Kier-an", just like celtic is pronounced "Keltik" everywhere in the world outside of Boston. He's from Northern Ireland originally, but his accent sounds to me like the standard educated person from the Isles. There may be a Henry Higgins out there who can spot the Irish undertones in his voice, but it isn't me.
In Rome, Hinds underplayed the role of Caesar brilliantly. He's aloof but generous, demanding and ruthless but charming, always the smartest guy in the room, except that his chief slave may be just a tad smarter. Some regular readers might think I watched Rome just waiting for scenes with Indira Varma (sigh), but that isn't entirely true. There was one scene with Hinds and Varma together, when he visits Vorenus, his comrade in arms in Gaul and asks him to run for office. Varma's character is terrified at meeting Caesar, who is as charming as hell. She offers him some water from their well, which he graciously accepts. She has no more lines in the scene, this being man talk time, but in the middle of the negotiations, Caesar off-handedly says, "And, by the way, the water is delicious, thank you, my dear." This gives the director a chance to give Indira a cutaway reaction shot, and we all know how I feel about more screen time for Indira Varma.
In the United Kingdom for at least a generation or two, there's been no stigma about doing work on TV in comparison to doing film work. Hinds had an important role in third season of Prime Suspect, starring Helen Mirren as Jane Tennyson, and played the male lead role of Edward Rochester in a TV version of Jane Eyre. Not everything he has done has been in "quality productions". He was on an episode of Tales From The Crypt and had a pivotal role in the recent Disney film Race to Witch Mountain, starring former wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. I didn't see either of the last two things mentioned, but in everything I have seen, he's been excellent.
Which is not to say I haven't been disappointed sometimes. In There Will Be Blood, he gets the part of Daniel Day Lewis' right hand man in later scenes, but really isn't given that much to do in the film. I saw this after I had seen his work as Julius Caesar, and I kept waiting for his character to get more to do, but it never happened.
On the other hand, he landed a small but pivotal role in last year's Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, starring Frances McDormand. On the extras part of the DVD, the back story of how the film was made and the novel from which it was taken is told. The original book by Winifred Watson was just a light bedroom farce, with Miss Pettigrew playing the character who magically fixes everything for the silly young people around her, like Jeeves always does for Bertie Wooster and his mates. But the movie also included the approach of World War II into the tale, and the two older characters, Miss Pettigrew and Joe, the successful lingerie designer played by Hinds, are the only two in the cast who have real memories of the previous war, which adds a little weight to an otherwise frothy film. While Hinds may not be as pretty as George Clooney, it's completely understandable how two women would be fighting over him. He exudes a manly authority brilliantly well.
I can definitely recommend Rome and Miss Pettigrew if you haven't seen them yet, and also Prime Suspect 3. Looking on imdb.com, he was also in the film Excalibur back in 1981, where he met another actor, Liam Neeson. According to several internet sources, the two are still close friends to this day. I've put Excalibur on my Netflix list just to see how many "Oh, yeah, that guy!" moments there are in it, watching it twenty eight years after the fact.