Movie quiz question: In which movie did Judi Dench, Robbie Coltrane & Kenneth Branagh appeared together?
It was, of course, Branagh’s version of Henry V (1989) in which they played Mistress Quickly, Falstaff, and the king respectively. I admit that, of these, only the king was in the first-billed cast list, but the names of the other characters are surely known even to non-Shakespeare-buffs.
Delving around as before, I noted that in January 2005 Sir Derek Jacobi had appeared in 65 released movies, including the 1989 Henry V in which he was the Chorus (narrator), and in four movies yet to be released at that time. These include the role of a Mr Wheen in Nanny McPhee (2005). in which Emma Thompson had the title role as well as writing the screenplay, and was joined by quite a collection of notable screen names such as Angela Lansbury (playing a great aunt), Colin Firth (as Mr Brown the widowed father of seven children), Celia Imrie as Mrs Quickly (that family name again!) and Imelda Staunton as Mrs Blatherwick (a cameo role of an old fusspot, Mr Brown's cook). “Opposite” the great Jacobi (as they say), Mrs Ada Wheen was played by Eleanor McCready, who had no previous feature movies to her name and only three TV movies (a different, generally lower-budget class of enterprise). I guess it all has to do with the size of the part in the script …
One of the names above, Celia Imrie, is an actress* we used to think of as mainly in such things as Victoria Wood’s shows; but she has been in 23 movies (including both Bridget Jones titles), 24 TV movies and 13 TV series (including Dinnerladies). Quite a track record.
And what of Imelda Staunton? I have noticed her on TV as Mrs Micawber opposite Bob Hoskins (Mr M.) in the production when Maggie Smith was Betsey Trotwood with yet another array of familiar faces, and as Maria in the Trevor Nunn Twelfth Night (1996) with Mel Smith as Sir Toby, Ben Kingsley giving a strange performance as Feste, and Nigel Hawthorne (Sir Humphrey in Yes, Minister) as Malvolio. Ms Staunton had been in a total of 27 feature movies (including voices for animated characters), 12 TV movies and 5 TV series. Such minor stars clearly have plenty of work, plenty of variety in their roles, but probably less of the bother that extreme fame brings. Fairly unexpectedly, Imelda Staunton won the Coppa Volpi award for her performance in Vera Drake (2004) at the 2004 Venice Film Festvial and was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for the 77th Academy Awards (that is, the 2005 Oscars).
Another aspect of fame is the sort of roles the most famous actors take. We all know of Sir John Gielgud, seemingly the universal resort to play thin old men, from the butler Hobson looking after Arthur (Dudley Moore, 1981 & 1988) and uttering four letter words in the same fastidious voice and accent as he used in every part — as far as I know, the only voice he could do — to a series of august personages such as Cardinal Wolsey, the title role in Prospero’s Books, music professor Cecil Parkes in Shine, King Arthur and elsewhere the voice of his wizard Merlin, and so on. In some of these roles he was only on screen for a minute or two with a line or two; directors seemed to like just having him in the cast and indeed perhaps just having that wizened old face in shot did what they wanted for their movie. I dare say he was quite well paid for turning up too, right into his old age. I gather it’s claimed that he regretted his part in Caligula (1979) after what was done with one released version of it.
* I find the “politically correct” avoidance of the term “actress” silly.
Revised January 2007 from an article first published in SEMantics Issue 171 January 2005