Yesterday the great actor Christopher Plummer passed away, aged 91. His career spanned many decades, and his brilliance on screen has given joy to many. I won’t pretend I’ve seen anywhere near all of his work, but in tribute I will mention a few that I have particularly enjoyed.
Tonight I watched “Inside Man” (2006). It is a crime drama starring Denzel Washington, supported by a number of excellent supporting cast which included Christopher Plummer. His role as a banker with a sordid past he is very keen to keep secret, while not a large one, is a pivotal role to the plot, and his portrayal of this character, a man who has tried to make amends for something there is really no forgiving, is very convincing.
“Jesus of Nazareth” (1977) is a mini-series about the life of Christ. It has a star-studded cast, and Plummer’s role in this is Herod Antipas, who had John the Baptist killed at the behest of his step-daughter Salome. He is so good in this role – he plays a character who is shallow, selfish and accustomed to near absolute power. His portrayal of the role indicates Herod’s hesitation to have John executed is due to a vague superstition about killing prophets, but who can’t control his appetites for the very young Salome. He is delightfully sordid in this. (I would recommend the show for many excellent portrayals by a fantastic cast.)
“Harrison Bergeron” (1995) is a science fiction film starring Sean Astin (of “Lord of the Rings” fame) as the title character who is a genius in a world where everyone is pressured to be average. Plummer’s role in this is of a representative of a shadowy government organisation, which picks out those whose intelligence can’t be repressed, recruiting them into government roles that assist to control the average. He is excellent here portraying a character who represents a regime and a creed that we would find repugnant, but he is so very matter-of-fact and so very plausible, you almost find yourself believing him, entirely due to Plummer’s superior acting ability.
“Knives Out” (2019) is an old-style whodunnit, again with an impressive cast, where Plummer portrays the nice patriarch of a family which leaves much to be desired. Again, I think a really good mark of an actor is when he or she makes you feel for the character. I felt quite sad for this character, what he has to go through and the pointlessness of his death, entirely due to his kindness. Plummer made that very real.
“Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991) may to many be a lesser choice for Plummer, but as a long time Trekkie I have to include it. Plummer absolutely chewed the scenery and spat it out as the Klingon General Chang, plotting to kill the Klingon leader and renew war with the Federation. He was a hoot in this film, and if you haven’t seen it, you really should.
“Murder by Decree” (1979) is where Plummer had the opportunity to play Sherlock Holmes. The story is not from Doyle’s stories, but is instead a retelling of the Jack the Ripper murders if Sherlock Holmes had been investigating. He co-stars with the late and equally as great James Mason as Doctor Watson, and I would also highly recommend this, as I thought he was an excellent Holmes and it is an exciting and atmospheric movie. (As a personal aside, it was also my first ‘M’ rated film which my older brother took me to see, somewhat before I was actually old enough to be watching films with this rating. I loved it. My mother was appalled, which still makes me chuckle to this day.)
“Waterloo” (1970) is a big budget, cast of thousands, type of war movie, depicting the famous battle of Waterloo between Napoleon and Wellington. Plummer as the Duke of Wellington is very true to life (from what I know of the history, anyway) and the film is very gripping. This, of course, is way before CGI, hence the ‘cast of thousands’ phrase – all those soldiers on the battlefield are really there. If you want an epic war movie with a great big battle, have a look at this, as it is very good. (Rod Steiger as Napoleon is also fantastic in the role.)
“The Sound of Music” (1965) is of course what most people know when they think about Christopher Plummer. His uptight portrayal of Baron Von Trapp, who has apparently forgotten any sense of fun after his wife died, is really well done. The character comes across as someone who does not have any real idea what to do with all his children without his wife, hence his extreme retreat into what he knows ie the discipline of the navy. Plummer is really good in this role, and is convincing in his slow ‘thawing’ under the influence of Maria (played just as ably by Julie Andrews.)
With so many good movies, I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, Christopher Plummer was one of the great actors of the twentieth/twenty-first centuries, and he will be sorely missed.