- Simon Garner
Actor of the Week: Ralph Fiennes
This week’s winner is a man I could watch, and listen to, time and again - the multi-talented Ralph Fiennes! Fiennes is up there with the best when it comes to playing the broadest of characters, instantly making him an inevitability for our Actor of the Week award.
Fiennes (born Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes!) began his career in theatre, working for a number of companies and going on to excel at the Royal Shakespeare Company, based in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. His first film appearance came in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, where he played Heathcliff. It’s fair to say he didn’t burst out of the blocks with this debut, with the film receiving less than favourable reviews, pretty much across the board.
With Emily Brontё’s Wuthering Heights coming in 1992, the following year was polar opposite for Fiennes. This was because 1993 saw him star in Schindler’s List, a classic in itself, and he also earned his first Oscar nomination for his part. Schindler’s List is a historical drama film, based on the book Schindler’s Ark, which was written around Oskar Schindler and real-life happenings. Schindler was a member of the Nazi party who saved more than a thousand Jewish lives by employing them in his factories, and the film portrays this visually. Fiennes plays the part of Amon Goeth, a second-lieutenant who was in charge of the construction and running of the Plaszów concentration camp. Goeth was responsible for a frightening number of atrocities in the film, from bribes to mass-murder, and Fiennes puts this across phenomenally. Naturally, being an Oscar nominated role, it goes without saying that the turn saw Fiennes lauded from all angles, and he was catapulted into widespread familiarity instantly.
Though there are many roles worthy of mention shortly after his Schindler’s List brilliance, I feel the need to fast-forward to two of my favourite roles of Fiennes’. The first being that of Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. As mentioned before in my AotW piece on the late, great Alan Rickman, the Harry Potter films are close to my heart, as me and my brother are huge fans. On top of this, I hold them in high regard for how accurately and artistically they were translated from book to screen, and Fiennes plays his own large role in that. He first played Voldemort in 2005’s Goblet of Fire, and went on to reprise the role for the rest of the series. Fiennes was excellent in both voice and body as Voldemort. The voice that he affected was exactly as I’d imagined Lord Voldemort to sound when reading the books. Having mentioned Alan Rickman, who plays Snape, I feel it’s worth mentioning how great these two were on screen together. Snape was one of Voldemort’s closest allies, even if he was a double agent. Being so close to Voldemort, it meant that he could speak far more freely than most, and almost stand up to the Dark Lord. However, when Voldemort pulled rank, Snape would relent like everyone else, and this relationship was excellently executed by Fiennes and Rickman, and a masterclass all round. I feel it’s doubly impressive, because it’s arguably more difficult, with the films being based on a book, as they have millions of imaginations to live up to.
The second role of Fiennes’ that I think is absolute gold is that of Harry Waters in In Bruges. In Bruges tells the story of two hitmen, Ray and Ken, played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson respectively, and their escapades in Bruges. They’ve been somewhat exiled there by their boss, Fiennes’ Waters, to await orders, due to Ray’s mission going wrong, leaving him guilt-ridden and stuck in Bruges, which is the last place he wants to be. Ray and Ken are totally different to one another, as Ken is happy to be in Bruges, loving the scenery and the rich history, whereas Ray just wants to take his mind off things and get drunk! We don’t actually meet Harry until well into the film, but when we do, it’s hilarious. Again, highlighting Fiennes’ diversity, he explodes onto the screen after hearing something he didn’t want to over the phone. The explosion comes in the form of Waters absolutely obliterating the phone in outright rage, then mouthing off to his wife! It’s a surreal introduction to a man clearly unhinged by the world with which he is involved, but it makes for excellent viewing. There are several more scenes where Fiennes shines, but, being a clean outfit, I really couldn’t go into detail, you’ll just have to see for yourself!
Fiennes has had another Oscar nomination during his career, coming not too long after his first, for 1996’s The English Patient. Other roles in which he has shone have been in Skyfall and Spectre, alongside another AotW winner in Daniel Craig, as Bond’s latest ‘M’, and in The Hurt Locker, as the Contractor Team Leader. He also has experience in voice work, as all greats like to, voicing Alfred Pennyworth in The Lego Batman Movie.
Fiennes has an illustrious career behind him thus far, and I have a keen interest in whatever he has in the pipeline, given that he has handed me two of my favourite character portrayals. Thanks a lot Ralph - He Who Must Be Named!