OBITUARY:John Hargreaves

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The burgeoning of the Australian film industry has brought many estimable qualities, but not stardom - if that is a virtue. Australians don't seem to like the ostentation which goes with stardom, perhaps because they are too busy playing their parents or grandparents (for long stretches it seemed impossible to find any Australian film set in the present).

John Hargreaves was among the many fine actors, not stars, we were privileged to know in Australian film, able to turn his hand to anything, though often playing loutish blokes, cheery, naive, complacent, prone to booze and lechery.

He graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in 1970 and made his screen debut in Tom Jeffrey's The Removalists (1974). His first big screen role was in Don's Party (1976). The party concerned was held to anticipate the result of the General Election of 1969. Most of the guests get drunk and all sorts of neuroses are exposed, particularly those of a leftish mentality: but the viciousness and physical violence are accompanied by dialogue which is both funny and observant. Among several awards from the Australian Film Institute were those for Best Screenplay and Best Direction - to Bruce Beresford. This was ensemble playing, but Hargreaves as the host led the cast.

Colin Eggleston's Long Weekend (1978) cast Hargreaves and Briony Behets as a couple whose troubled marriage isn't improved when they go off to a deserted beach in an attempt to repair it. He then went to New Zealand to re-enact a 1970 murder case in John Laing's Beyond Reasonable Doubt (1980) and gave a likeable performance as the wronged man, if taking the situation more calmly than most people would.

He played a complex Melbourne disc jockey of Russian extraction in My First Wife (1984), unhinged after his wife (Wendy Hughes) tells him she is having an affair. It brought Hargreaves the Best Actor award from the Australian Film Institute, which he had received for a supporting role the previous year, in Carl Shultz's Careful He Might Hear You. The protagonist is a small boy (Nicholas Gledhill) growing up with relatives. Hargreaves played the boy's widowed father, returning from the north and unsure whether he wants any commitment to the child. The scenes between them were delicately, beautifully played. Hargreaves returned to ocker mood in Nadia Tass's unusual heist comedy Malcolm (1986), which won another fistful of awards from the AFI, including a supporting one for Hargreaves.

He will also be remembered for his role as the journalist helping Donald Woods (played by Kevin Kline) escape in Richard Attenborough's Cry Freedom (1987) and in Michael Blakemore's Australianisation of Uncle Vanya, Country Life (1994), as the equivalent of Ivan, Vanya's brother-in-law: but this was a case, again, of beautiful ensemble playing.

Jack Hargreaves is the only actor to have received the Byron Kennedy Award, given to individuals for the "pursuit of excellence".

David Shipman

John Hargreaves, actor: born 1945; died Sydney 8 January 1996.