Reviewed by Annabel
Sadly, I missed seeing Alan Rickman in Les Liaisons Dangereuses by a few weeks; Greg Hicks had recently taken over the role of the Vicomte de Valmont after the play transferred into the West End. I imagine Rickman’s languidity would have been made for that role. It would be 1995 when I first saw him in the flesh – in the audience for What The Butler Saw by Joe Orton at the Lyttleton starring his friend Richard Wilson. This was made memorable because he was sitting next door but one to me! I must have sat next to his partner and teenage sweetheart, Rima. Very distracting. I did get to see him act on stage too though, as a very world-weary Anthony against Helen Mirren’s Cleopatra, again at the National Theatre in 1998. In between and since there have been all those wonderful film roles, and not least, his long stint as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. However, his roles as the best villain ever, Hans Gruber, in Die Hard (1998), romantic lead in Truly, Madly, Deeply and unforgettable Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (both 1991), all fall outside the scope of these diaries.
Rickman studied at art school before going to RADA, and the endpapers of this thick volume show diary pages with illustrations around the page edges. His handwriting by contrast is a stylised scrawl. The diaries themselves run from 1993-his death in 2016, with a foreword by Emma Thompson, introduction by editor Taylor, and afterword by his widow, Rima (whom he married in 2015, fifty years after they first met).
What is clear right from the start is Rickman is a real fan and supporter of the arts, going to see his many friends in as many performances as possible on stage and screen. The pages are a catalogue of who’s who in the theatre and film worlds, short footnotes give full names to the many abbreviations and initials, their nationalities and jobs – e.g. actor, director, etc..
Some names occur with regularity, such as Ian McKellen, Richard Wilson, and Lindsay Duncan, but the person with the most entries in the index is Ruby Wax. She describes Rickman, a close friend for over thirty years, as her ‘protector’ and comedy mentor. In the diaries, Rickman’s protective instincts towards her do come through.
He didn’t just mentor Ruby though, he was on RADA’s council for some years, championing the young actors who came through its doors, although he does get fed up with some of the governance issues that get in the way of the acting process.
The mention of ‘process’ brings me to something that Rickman expounds on strongly, and regularly in his diaries. For instance, speaking of Ang Lee, director of Sense and Sensibility in 1995,
And what about creating a working environment with Ang – who, reading between the already apparent lines, is used to ‘conducting’ his actors, rather than nurturing.
But a few days later, ‘I’m beginning to get the hang of Ang.’
When making Galaxy Quest in 1999:
…At the end of the day, Sam [Rockwell] says ‘Sorry.’ I say ‘For what?’ ‘I just don’t want you to think American actors are wankers.’ Which, of course, I don’t. But Tim [Allen] has this perverse need to needle, antagonise, provoke, demoralise – he just thinks he’s being funny (maybe) – which just slows everything down and leads to zero concentration. I feel like a reactionary.
…Then the day was like a 12 hour scrum ending with Sigourney’s transparent manoeuvrings to get in the shot or create her own shot or whatever. It’s so transparent she might as well announce it over the tannoy.
And then in 2011, somewhat snobbishly and snarkily at the same time, I couldn’t decide which way he meant this:
Watching a bit more of Monster’s Ball and Lady Gaga announces her Tisch School ancestry. Now I know that she is to be taken seriously. Because she trained. Has a process.
Rickman doesn’t hold back in the diaries about his chosen career. Of course, they were never intended for publication. I know the quotations I’ve picked above are of the more snarky variety, but they are endlessly entertaining. I’ve stayed away from Harry Potter, which he loved and hated doing in equal measure it seems, but you can read extracts from the diaries about the films in the Guardian here.
He does have moments of doubt, wondering if he should say no more often. He also writes about the mundane, visiting his mum, doing up a succession of flats, going shopping, and many dinner parties. He also dines out a lot, typically at the Ivy, or the Wolseley with theatre friends. Then there are the times winding down in the villa he and Rima have in Italy, which inevitably needs things done to it. A lot of his life is also spent travelling from location to location: New York and LA are regular stops, and it’s a rarity not to meet another celeb on the flight.
Then there was the ill Alan. He died of pancreatic cancer, which most of his closest friends didn’t find out until about a fortnight before he passed away. The diaries start to become single lines only in about October 2015 with the last entry in mid-December after which he was admitted to hospital. He died in January 2016, four days after David Bowie. His widow Rima touchingly tells how his hospital room became a ‘salon’ full of friends after Christmas until the end.
There is so much I haven’t touched upon in these deeply personal diaries. Rickman comes across as a generous friend and forgiving man, yet he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He’s opinionated and political (Labour obvs.). He knows everyone, yet he’s pretty normal underneath, but overall, he’s an actor’s actor and director who strives to do the best work always.
This book was endlessly fascinating. It was slightly infuriating at times too, particularly keeping track of which films or shows were being talked about, which requires tenacity, since the planning, filming, then promoting don’t overlap, so while negotiating a new project, you could be filming another and promoting a third. For anyone interested in how a show comes together, Rickman is good at explaining the process – that word again! If you enjoy the name-dropping, the who’s who of the British theatre and film world, he’s your man – just don’t forget that most are his friends and peers as much as his colleagues.
Annabel is a co-founder of Shiny and one of its editors.
Alan Taylor (ed.), Madly, Deeply, Alan: The Alan Rickman Diaries (Canongate, 2022). 978-1838854799, 480pp., plus plates, hardback.
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