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How fame corrupted Alan Rickman Hypocrisy blackened his earnest politics

"Rickman is a subtle actor, but he is not a writer" Robbie Jack/Corbis/Getty Images

"Rickman is a subtle actor, but he is not a writer" Robbie Jack/Corbis/Getty Images


October 7, 2022   4 mins

“Arwen Holm phones,” writes Alan Rickman, “to tell me of a nasty little piece in the Telegraph saying how unsmiling I was in the local deli.” This is from his diaries Madly, Deeply, which are published posthumously — he died in 2016 of pancreatic cancer. The name is based on the film Truly, Madly, Deeply, in which Rickman plays Jamie, a dead, cello-playing Labour activist, who returns from the grave to console his devastated lover.

Jamie is closer to Rickman than any of his other parts: not only was Rickman also a Labour activist who played the cello, but he was similarly needling and obsessive. And I wonder if Madly, Deeply is supposed to perform the same spell for a different woman: the resurrection of a loved one. This book is not a finished piece of art. Its publication feels personal: it is a fragment of a man, a fragment of the cult of the actor, and vanity by proxy. Obliviously, this book investigates that cult of the actor.

People will say that they like the diaries because they like Rickman the actor, and they want more of him: but you don’t get that from the diaries. He was clearly likeable, and generous: he mocked himself in Galaxy Quest, playing a Shakespearian actor slumming it in a Star Trek rip-off for money, and he felt that tension between artistic and commercial imperatives. (An entry written during a Harry Potter film says bleakly: “More Great Hall. More turkey. More Hogwarts song”.) But the diaries aren’t good. Rickman is a subtle actor, but he is not a writer, and I think he knows it. He agonises over the entries. He hints that he lied to them, fretting that he cannot remember the “coded details and the sharp thoughts hidden between the safer lines”. A good diarist will betray his friends and, above all, himself, as consciously and willingly as an actor will put “the chicken” on his head for the part. But Rickman is more oblique: his confessions are accidental.

You yearn for him to tell more — to inhabit himself consciously. But the most he manages is to call women he dislikes “Ms”, beadily; suggest that famous actresses are controlling, and write “[He] has a wonderfully pitched reading. I wish he would find different mouth-shapes,” about Simon Russell Beale. He is fragile. He struggles. He watches Yes To The Dress.

Rickman knows that fame is self-hating: the phenomenon of wanting to engage with fantasy people not real ones, that is, not engaging at all. I suspect his battles with the media are a proxy for his battles with himself: art versus commerce. He notes the terrible questions journalists ask on press junkets: “Alan, what are the smells of Barcelona?”

He notes the offensive diary items. He suspects a female masseur is taking sexual pleasure from touching him in a professional capacity. Did she confuse him with Hans Gruber, or the Vicomte de Valmont? Many actors excel at playing who they are not — it’s the ecstasy of transgression. He is nothing like a villain, or a satyrmaniac: he was in a relationship with the same woman for almost 50 years.

I think a large part of Rickman was repelled by his fame — he mocks actors who care who is playing what and for how much — but it addled him anyway. Fame corrupted and exposed him, and we know that because in the diaries he accidentally exposes himself. He and his partner are distraught to discover that there are no Leftists at the luxury hotel in the West Indies they visit over Christmas: why would there be? He frets that the (presumably First Class) airport lounge he finds himself in has no space for “Eccentrics and Weirdos” like himself. So why not step outside?

His serious politics — and I am willing to believe they are serious in intent — are made absurd by the publication of these diaries. If you place serious things next to trivial ones — and the lifestyle of a famous actor can only be trivial — they become trivial too.

This is Rickman at an anti-austerity march in 2011. It reads like parody. “Straight to EAT for coffee and a sandwich before wandering down to Trafalgar Square and long wait for the Equity banner. At Park Lane the sight of the Dorchester proved too much.” “Ms [Mia] Farrow talked long and expertly about Darfur,” he writes in another entry. “Salma Hayek talks of her time in India as a volunteer for Mother Teresa — this utterly beautiful woman talking of wiping up shit and worms and keeping the flies off a dying woman’s face.”

It often reads like parody, Adrian Mole grown up: “On the way home, a visit — forced — to Dean Street Tesco. What a dump this chain is. A sort of shopping equivalent of our shoddy government.” Or: “St James’s Christmas Mass. The sermon evoked Stalin as a reason for the need for God. Mostly I was looking at the congregation and wondering why we don’t have a local Waitrose.” Or: “Tonight the tree frogs were silent. What do they know?”

He should have written a book about acting. He is, of course, a superb critic: “Emma [Thompson] needs to work with someone who will ask her to dig rather than skim”; “Ms [Georgina] Cates [in An Awfully Big Adventure] suffers from only functioning from her sense of the story. She listens to nothing, responds to nothing. She’s a butterfly inside her own glass case, watching herself bat around.” “Every line,” in a Henry Goodman performance of Shylock, “is a thought contained in a body which has a life.”

But mostly it is Rickman in an unfinished play: what would he think? It is a fair metaphor for our treatment of the acting class: deification is objectification, and destruction; the end of Perfume, in which the desired man is torn apart. It is fragments from a nervous man who hated gossip, and now will be read for it: “Bumped into P. Mandelson & Reinaldo [his partner] in Westbourne Grove. He was eating a choc-ice and trying to rent a video. Tea with Mussolini.”

So it is a tragedy, then: with the publication of this book, perhaps commerce won. A question from the Sweeney Todd press junket is cruel, but it displays his predicament neatly: Alan, if you were a pie which flavour would you be?


Tanya Gold is a freelance journalist.

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John Walsh
John Walsh
1 year ago

All leftie liberal actors are the same.They care only about their image,if they were so concerned about poor people, they could just go to any town centre and find homeless people everywhere, and give them some money out of their wallet, then walk away,and dont tell anyone.They dont have to emote about Darfur,or go on demonstrations, or sign petitions.Of course, if no one knows about it, then there is not much point.So it looks like we are stuck with them.

Mick James
Mick James
1 year ago
Reply to  John Walsh

Individuals giving money to the poor is not a substitute for political change and therefore not a political act. If your fame adds weight to a demonstration then all the more reason to go.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 year ago
Reply to  Mick James

‘Gift cultures’ are always ambiguous. Because in most places unasked-for generosity creates corresponding obligations on the recipient.
Even sending a Xmas/birthday card to someone prompts the idea that one is expected to return in kind (or relations might become chilled). And this heaping up of often unwanted obligations can turn to a feeling of oppression.

Last edited 1 year ago by Arnold Grutt
Alan Osband
Alan Osband
1 year ago
Reply to  Mick James

They go because the demo advertises themselves. You think a cause is validated by being supported by actors ?

Last edited 1 year ago by Alan Osband
ian sykes
ian sykes
1 year ago
Reply to  John Walsh

Pompous comment

David Barnett
David Barnett
1 year ago

It is understandable that a lot of good actors a lean left. They know something is wrong but don’t have the time to explore the roots so they buy into an attractive lie: government action guided by well-meaning “experts” can fix it.
Most of our problems are caused by the use of political power to rig the rules of the game in favour of privileged parasites. The solution is not more government meddling, but less!

Leejon 0
Leejon 0
1 year ago
Reply to  David Barnett

The leftism I saw in my youth is not the leftism I see today. “Well meaning” sounds kind and meaningful but well meaning to whom? It often seems that the meaning of “privileged parasite” changes with time, and also with perspective. The worst sinners often shout loudest and attack vociferously those other sinners in less exalted positions of power, or those who have none at all. It was always thus. Now we have the internet so can shout our hypocrisy to the world, often engaging in a one upmanship of hypocrisy. If it weren’t for hospitals, children’s homes, care for the elderly, the disabled, the hungry; charity and compassion etc. which we all experience every day, you would think, reading the press (and us, its adjuncts) that humans were monsters to the core. Maybe those other humans, but not us, of course


Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
1 year ago
Reply to  Leejon 0

Speak for yourself. I’m a saint, but hic dracones.

John Newton
John Newton
1 year ago

Oh come on, Tanya, so Alan Rickman is not perfect and was not the most penetrating of diarists. So what?
He came from humble beginnings in Acton, set up with friends his own graphic design business, before establishing himself as a versatile and accomplished actor of international repute, through a combination of talent and hard work.
That he maintained a long term relationship of 50 years with his wife represented an achievement in itself given the temptations and pulls of Hollywood life that invites admiration.
That they had no children and whether that was by choice or not would have been a more interesting topic to explore.

Mick James
Mick James
1 year ago

How fame corrupted Alan Rickman

Hypocrisy blackened his earnest politics

So where is the article that goes with this damning headline and standfirst? The quotes from the diary seem to show a high degree of self-awareness shading into self-mockery. The Dorchester anecdote is great: only a determined virtue-signaller would have felt compelled to survive on a Tesco meal deal for that day only.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
1 year ago

De mortuis, nil nisi bonum?

Richard Roe
Richard Roe
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Parker

Hitler erat homo superbus et ambitiosus
[Edit: is UnHerd really censoring the Latin for man? UnRead might be a better name]

Last edited 1 year ago by Richard Roe
Richard Parker
Richard Parker
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Roe

Proportionality? Otherwise, an interesting philosophical point to raise.

Huw Parker
Huw Parker
1 year ago

The name is based on the film Truly, Madly, Deeply, in which Rickman plays Jamie, a dead, cello-playing Labour activist …

Nobody, but NOBODY would describe this film in such terms unless they had a serious axe to grind.

David Harris
David Harris
1 year ago
Reply to  Huw Parker

Nobody would make that comment unless THEY had a serious axe to grind.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  David Harris

Couldn’t upvote your response, pricking Huw’s pomposity (unless he was cracking a joke).

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
1 year ago
Reply to  Huw Parker

Why? Is that not an apt description of the film’s story? He is dead, had played the cello, and was a Labour activist… all true?

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 year ago

He was really good in Galaxy Quest. Kind of a ‘Spock’-like character.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

Ooh 3 upvotes from moi! What is wrong with the Unherd voting system – maybe AI in action? Number 5 is alive!

Anyway, back on topic, Galaxy Quest, my favourite film and a masterclass from Rickman. But like almost all artists, he’s a charming hypocrite when it comes to principles and ethics.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

didn’t he make those Rickman- Metisse motor bikes that the old rockers loved?

Richard May
Richard May
1 year ago

Chappeau for sneaking this in. Now that would have made a great story. Would like to think he was related to the legendary Don and Derek. Did he ever ride bikes?

ruth novaczek
ruth novaczek
1 year ago

your criticism makes me want to read it, I love diaries and the more flawed and uneven the better

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz……….

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

Boy oh boy, do I regret reading this article. To cleanse my palate, I think I’ll reread O’Toole’s “Slouching With Intent”.

ian sykes
ian sykes
1 year ago

I thought it was good and I liked Rickman

Caroline Galwey
Caroline Galwey
1 year ago

That’s how actors are, we need to get used to it.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

Actors are just like us, only different.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
1 year ago

I liked Rickman in Galaxy Quest and Harry Potter. That is all.

Andrew E Walker
Andrew E Walker
1 year ago

Not as Obadiah Slope?