Well, the great Sir Ian Holm (1931-2020) has shuffled off this mortal coil. I am overdue to include this RADA/ Royal Shakespeare alum to my Hall of Hams; let this occasion prompt his inclusion. Holm’s screen career is astounding — so voluminous and chocked with excellence that I hardly know how to organize it. Though he was normally a supporting player, I think he still has a much better track record in films than Olivier, Gielgud, and such like. It could have been the times in which he lived; it could have merely been his excellent judgment.
My real-time chronological exposure to his work would have gone something like this: Juggernaut (1974), Jesus of Nazareth (1977), The Man in the Iron Mask (1977), Les Miserables (1978), Holocaust (1978), Alien (1979), S.O.S. Titanic (1979), Time Bandits (1981), Chariots of Fire (1981), Inside the Third Reich (1982), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan: Lord of the Apes (1984), Brazil (1985), Woody Allen’s Another Woman (1988), Henry V (1989), Hamlet (1990), Naked Lunch (1991), Kafka (1991), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), The Madness of King George (1994), Big Night (1996), From Hell (2001), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Garden State (2004), The Aviator (2004), Strangers with Candy (2005), Ratatouille (2007) and of course his turn as Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies (2001-2014). This amounts to…never being out of my life for very long. Later, I filled in some of what I hadn’t seen, such as Robin and Marian (1976), his terrific guest episode of Tales of the Unexpected (1982), and his turn as Hercule Poirot in Murder by the Book (1987). He was also in Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), Mary Queen of Scots (1971), Young Winston (1972), Pinter’s The Homecoming (1973), and, inevitably, King Lear (1998). Over the years he played Napoleon, Bruce Ismay, and both Himmler and Goebbels, to name four notable roles out of hundreds. He worked with such directors as Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, David Cronenberg, Kenneth Brannagh, Terry Gilliam, Ridley Scott, and Peter Jackson.
I am delighted to learn that Holm’s father was one of the inventors of electro-shock therapy. Many of his characters seemed like they’d recently received it. Naturally I mean that as a high compliment. Small, compact, stream-lined, economical of visage and of motion (perfect attributes for a Pinter actor), Holm could be surprisingly animated and crazy when the need arose, which is why he could be so effective at comedy. But now I will leave you with the first thing I thought of when I learned he had died, which is the first thing I always think of when I think of Ian Holm: