Richard Griffiths: An actor with a touch of genius about him
Richard Griffiths, who has died aged 65, was a character actor with a touch of genius about him. He often played borderline creepy types - the camp uncle, the school teacher with amorous designs on his pupils - but he brought such humour and pathos to these roles that you always rooted for him.
There was nothing self-effacing about Griffiths. He said in interviews that he didn’t like the way he looked but his enormous size certainly gave him presence. His performances continually wrong-footed audiences. They expected broad, pantomime-style mugging. After all, Griffiths was a big man who used big gestures and often seemed as if he had just walked out of a Charles Dickens novel. However, there was invariably delicacy and subtlety in his work too - a sense of yearning and melancholy that took you by surprise.
This was evident in one of his most famous roles as Hector, the school teacher “pissing away his life” in a godforsaken school in The History Boys. For all the comic schtick in the classroom and the high minded asides about art and literature, Griffiths conveyed very movingly the character’s sense of disappointment about the route his life had taken.
As Uncle Monty in Withnail And I, Griffiths tapped into a long tradition of British eccentricity stretching back to Gilbert Harding and beyond. He was wondrously camp, holding forth about everything from his liking for firm carrots to his disappointment at never playing Hamlet. Even here, though, he never quite teeters off into complete ridiculousness. We still feel for Uncle Monty, even as Richard E. Grant yells at him he’s a “terrible c**t!”
Griffiths’ range was wider than might have been expected. There did seem to be a lot of uncles on the CV, for instance his turn as the (wholly obnoxious) Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter films. He told one journalist he took this role so he could be “horrible to kids.” That remark partially explains why he wasn’t typecast. He had a spikiness and aggressiveness. He wasn’t going to be anybody’s cuddly mascot.
Surprisingly, for an actor with such a lengthy stage and screen career, he often complained that he didn’t like being photographed. His huge size, about which he was acutely self-conscious, was a result of a glandular condition. In a still image, that size was all too obvious. When he actually acting, audiences would be too caught up in his performance to be worrying about how big he was.
Many felt that the film adaptation of The History Boys wasn’t on the level of the play. Nonetheless, it preserves what was surely Griffiths’ greatest performance. Along with Withnail And I, it will ensure that Griffiths is remembered and cherished as one of the great British character actors of his era.
- 1 Man on naked bike ride gets ejected after becoming aroused
- 4 Ann Summers survey reveals the UK's favourite sex position
- 5 Ayyan Ali: Pakistan's top model now appears in the courtroom rather than on the catwalk
Man on naked bike ride gets ejected after becoming aroused
Caitlyn Jenner's mother Ester thought her daughter, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, had transitioned for money
Charles Kennedy 1959-2015: A gifted, compassionate politician whose career was cut short by the 'demon drink' - latest news
Charles Kennedy dead: A guy once asked the Lib Dem leader who his favourite Muppet was and his letter response was wonderful
Jaden Smith wears gender fluid dress to high school prom with Hunger Games actress
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Why this year's general election was the most unfair in Britain's history
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...
£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...
£9 - £15 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are seeking excellent indi...