Hurt up for second 'naked' Bafta

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

John Hurt has said that he had long been reluctant to reprise the part that made him famous - that of gay raconteur Quentin Crisp in Jack Gold’s 1975 biopic The Naked Civil Servant - that he preferred “to let sleeping dogs lie”. The dogs in this case were presumably those who might bark about cherished memories of such an iconic television drama being sullied by a potentially inferior sequel. To some it must have been seemed as if John Cleese had suddenly announced that he was going to write a new series of Fawlty Towers. Tantalising but horrifying at the same time.





In the end it was the quality of the writing in last year’s eventual ITV follow-up, An Englishman in New York, that persuaded Hurt to once again don Crisp’s trademark silk scarves and theatrically precise diction, and that judgement seems to have been justified when it was announced yesterday that the actor has been nominated for a Bafta award 34 years after winning one in the same role.



Hurt slipped back in the guise of Crisp - in the later film a septuagenarian celebrity in 80s and 90s Manhatten, where he is initially happy but increasingly alienated from the politicised gay culture in his adopted home (fatally for his one-man speaking career, he described Aids as “a fad”) - and wondrously the part still fitted Hurt like a glove, or the limp black fedora that Crisp habitually wore over his bouffant hairdo.



It would be tempting to write that the twin Bafta accolades have bookended Hurt’s career, except that, aged 70 and making three or four films a year, his career is by no means ready for such symmetrical closure. And if Crisp was the self-styled (later self-exiled) “stately homo of England”, Hurt himself, with his haggard, deeply lined faced and mellifluously rasping diction, has become something of a national living treasure.



A vicar’s son from Derbyshire, he lost God but discovered acting while, as a pretty boy at prep school in Kent, being cast in a variety of female roles - preparation in depth for the determinedly effeminate Crisp. Hurt trained originally as a painter, winning a scholarship to St Martin’s College in London, before changing disciplines and moving to Rada. Largely eschewing the stage for film and television, his first prominent role was in A Man For All Seasons in 1966, while in 10 Rillington Place (1971), he was harrowing as the weak, wife-beating fantasist Timothy Evans, who took the drop for Richard Attenborough’s manipulative psychopath John Christie. But it was as Crisp - a role that, such were the attitudes of the time, he was advised to turn down - that Hurt became a household name.



Crisp once said, “I told Mr Hurt it was difficult for actors to play victims, but he has specialised in victims. When he stopped playing me, he played Caligula (in the 1976 BBC adaptation of I, Claudius),

which was only me in a sheet. Then he played The Elephant Man, which was only me with a bag over my head.” Beneath the wisecracks , Crisp did have a good point, and Hurt’s gallery of victims also include Winston Smith in Michael Radford’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the society osteopath fall guy, Stephen Ward, in the 1989 film about the Profumo Affair, Scandal, as well as Kane, the spaceship officer in Alien who had the monster burst through his chest.



His hugely moving, Oscar-nominated performance as John Merrick in The Elephant Man – Hurt’s second unsuccessful brush with an Academy Award after stealing the Turkish prison drama Midnight Express as a drug-addicted lifer - marked the high point of any sort of conventional star trajectory. His subsequent choice of projects has revealed a taste for varied a largely non-mainstream fare, few other actors of his calibre can have had such a diverse career, mixing leading and supporting roles with some excellent voiceover work on animated films like Watership Down and The Lord of the Rings – work that showcased his expressive vocal qualities.



His best performance in more recent years - and Hurt’s own favourite - was Giles De’Ath in the 1997 adaptation of Gilbert Adair’s Love and Death On Long Island, in which he played an ageing gay author humiliatingly obsessed with a young man. Hurt says that people often assume that he himself is gay, despite the evidence of four marriages (his current wife is film producer Anwen Rees-Myers). However his defining performance will almost certainly be as a gay man.



Hurt and Crisp remained in touch until the latter’s death in 1999, in the unlikely suburban setting of Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester, the ninety-year-old raconteur having been preparing for a nationwide tour of his one-man show. Actor and subject enjoyed an extraordinary symbiotic past, both men having found celebrity with The Naked Civil Servant. ITV’s Englishman in New York (the title taken from the song that Sting dedicated to Crisp) got rather lost amidst the Christmas TV schedules, which is a pity. Intelligent in what it says about the evolution in gay life and culture, poignant about growing old alone and (Crisp being Crisp) very funny, it deserves a swift repeat - whether or not Hurt next month beats off Kenneth Branagh (Wallander), Brendon Gleeson (Winston Churchill in Into the Storm) and David Oyelowo in Small Island to the Bafta. And if he does it, let’s hope that the award is given for more than mere sentiment alone.

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015