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, 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.


Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Excalibur remains one of my favorite films ever.

Sylvie said...


As part of the team who runs a website (with a discussion board on Yahoo and a Youtube channel) dedicated to this very talented actor I can't but agree with you.

And as the author of the picture above I'm really overwhelmed to see it spread so rapidly around the world!

Best regards

S.G. (Cestas France)

Matty Boy said...

Dr. Monkey: Glad still you enjoy it, Doc.

Sylvie: Hello and thank you for stopping by! I'm glad to see you are willing to let me use this picture on my not-for-profit blog without paying or even giving attribution, which is my standard operating procedure. So thanks again.

Also glad to see Mr. Hinds has a loyal fan base. He richly deserves it.

Cladun said...

I like Hinds as an actor too, he's very good as Caesar. (I don't think calling a Gaelic named, Catholic boy from Belfast a 'British' actor is the most accurate choice, however. His real voice, not his Caesar one, sounds Irish, even to a non-Henry Higgins.)

but its cool that you blogged about him. Thanks.

Undersquid said...

I think Ciarán Hinds is much hotter than George Clooney, who earned my bellicosity after playing the role of Batman, not that I ever held him in high regard because of his looks.

Mr. Hinds is also the best Captain Frederick Wentworth ever played, in any version of Jane Austen's Persuasion.

Matty Boy said...

Thank you Cladun. I have scrubbed the syllable "Brit" from the post and went instead with United Kingdom.

As for Hinds being hotter than Clooney, I don't completely buy that, even though I understand bad feeling about the Batman franchise. But making him a romantic lead is completely understandable. I feel much the same way about his pal Liam Neeson and Alan Rickman, who I think are as charming as all get out when the role demands.

namastenancy said...

Ciarán Hinds - Oh be still my heart. I can't remember when I "fell in love"with him, maybe his Captain Wentworth in Persuasion. December Bride is another one of his movies well worth search out. He plays one of two brothers in love with the same woman, played by Saskia Reeves and set in turn of the century Ireland - not your ordinary run of the will Indie. He is always good, no matter how small the part. Who was it that said, "There are no small parts, only small actors?" He's never a small actor.