Friday, March 29, 2013

Richard Griffiths, of History Boys and Harry Potter fame, dead at 65

From Matthew Norman's Telegraph obituary, worthy of the man considered by many to be the best character actor of his generation, who died Thursday of complications from heart surgery:

When asked by an interviewer about his choice of gravestone epitaph, the most gifted British character actor of his generation needed barely a moment to rattle off a response so delicious it can’t be read too often. “Richard Griffiths. Actor,” he said, “Born 1947. Died 2947.”
     ...However excellent he was as the sadistic Uncle Vernon, countless actors could have played the part. Few, if any, could have done what Griffiths did with the earlier avuncular role in Withnail And I, or as the grammar school teacher Hector in The History Boys, who lunged at his Oxbridge candidates’ crotches while giving them a lift on his motorbike. Griffiths became apoplectic when anyone called Hector a paedophile, furiously pointing out that all the boys were of age. Even so, in an era of screeching hysteria about men preying on youths, he made Hector so sympathetic that there was no whisper of a campaign to discredit Alan Bennett’s play. As with Withnail’s Uncle Monty, who so memorably told Paul McGann’s “I” that “There is a certain je ne sais quoi – oh, so very special – about a firm, young carrot”, he made a predatory homosexual a figure of such appeal that even the sternest of media moralists steered clear of the sermonising.
     ...What was so unusual about Griffiths, if not unique, is that he was a determinedly private man (who used his verbosity as a defence mechanism and would not say a word about his wife) whom you somehow felt you knew, and wanted to know better. I certainly did.

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