WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHERE: BFI Southbank
WHEN: 27/5, UK release 1/6/18
RUN TIME: 1 hour 36 minutes
‘I wouldn’t be here if he was a prick,’ remarks Martin Freeman of Sir Ian McKellen who celebrated his 79th birthday this weekend with a star-studded launch of his autobiographical new film McKellen: Playing The Part.
- Read on for reasons including what McKellen regrets and the film’s highlights
Freeman is joined onstage by Graham Norton, Derek Jacobi and Orlando Bloom while the audience at this BFI Southbank event includes Dame Helen Mirren, Russell Tovey, Frances Barber, Lesley Joseph and Rick Astley.
Bloom, who is starring in Killer Joe at Trafalgar Studios, joined the cast of the Lord Of The Rings films straight from drama school. Of McKellen, he says: ‘He’s a great actor who likes to speak from his heart and I always felt so safe with him.’
Freeman worked with McKellen on the later Hobbit films. ‘He’s a lovely bloke who’s very good at his job as well as being down to earth.
‘The first time I met him was in a hotel lobby when this big bearded man walked in and said: ‘I love hobbits.’ It was a lovely welcome that set the tone that we were going to have fun.
‘I also like to be around people who want to get better at what they do as Ian does.’
Dame Helen Mirren is in the audience and reminisces about a Broadway production they starred together on as the 9/11 disaster unfolded. ‘We had this quite British moment when we questioned whether we should continue with rehearsals and we decided that the point is to carry on and not to be stopped from doing what you want.’
The film details McKellen’s friendship with Jacobi and how they were contemporaries at Cambridge University. The pair have worked more recently together on TV’s Vicious and asked whether he recognised McKellen from the film, Jacobi says: ‘It’s absolutely him.’
Later McKellen discusses a moment in the film when he is crushed when the curtain falls on his production of Waiting For Godot because he is unsure whether he will ever do anything as good.
Says McKellen: ‘And within 6 months I was playing King Lear.’ Jacobi chimes in: ‘And you still are!’
Asked about regrets, McKellen says: ‘I don’t speak my mind often enough with the exception of the gay stuff because I know I’m right.’
Director Joe Stephenson has made a film which centres around a 3-day conversation with the actor who looks back on his life.
We learn about his response to AIDS, founding of Stonewall and work in schools to talk about homosexuality. He’s planned his funeral which would be in a theatre rather than a church and feature this song:
The feeling from the film is of a man born to be an actor, a curious mix of both withdrawing into himself and showing off, but who also wanted to help others and to try to make things better for everyone.