To many Richard Attenborough’s name brings to mind the charming smile of Kris Kringle, the man who believes himself to be Santa Claus in 1994’s Miracle on 34th Street, and the heart warming tale of a man so nice that he simply seems too good to be anything other than a friendly old man. This is possibly the finest representation of the jovial English Actor who passed way this afternoon aged ninety years old.
To others, though, his face may be more familiar as the eccentric John Hammond, the owner and curator of Jurassic Park, in the Spielberg classic. But in reality, Richard Attenborough was an actor of almost unparalleled abilities stretching over a career spanning six decades. His roles were in films as diverse as The Great Escape, Brighton Rock and Dr Dolittle, despite being an actor of incredible and renowned talents in the fifties and sixties (and, of course, the many decades to follow) to me it will be his incredible historical epic Gandhi for which he will permanently remain fixed in my mind.
A passion project which took almost twenty years to get off the ground, Gandhi is an epic on a scale we rarely see any more. It belongs in the same category as biblical epics like Ben Hur or The Ten Commandments and although entirely unrelated to the bible its subject matter is equally grand in scope. Beginning at in the early stages of the famous activist’s career with Gandhi (played by the Oscar Winning Sir Ben Kingsley) being thrown out of a Whites only train carriage in a scene which is a remarkable feat of directorial and editing prowess (it’s a beautiful juxtaposition of smooth transition and a jarring shock which seems almost impossible to achieve), the film goes on to sprawl through the incredible life of the Indian civil rights leader until his assassination.
Gandhi isn’t just a biopic, it’s an incredible labour of love. The awe inspiring cinematography and daring involved enormous scenes filled with hundreds of real life extras and struggles which simply don’t show in the finished product. The film went on to win eight academy awards, including two for Attenborough himself.
The man himself seemed somehow quintessentially English, his wit and jovial nature shines through in everything he ever did, even the more edgy roles have a taste of his undeniable likeability. Attenborough may have lived for ninety years and inspired generations of filmmakers and actors but his death will undoubtedly leave a distinct and unpleasant hole in the industry he made his own for sixty years.
He will be sorely missed.