Christopher Lee, who has died aged 93, leaves behind him an astonishing legacy of movie making.
He terrorised generations in a swathe of classic horror movies with the Hammer studio, not to mention playing the quintessential Bond baddie and the scourge of the Hobbits in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies.
British cinema has lost one of its greats. Here are a selection of his finest accomplishments in the world of film.
Saruman – 'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ (2002)
Who else could have played the Lord of Isengard with such malevolent gravitas? For most, his imposing figure with the flowing white hair and beard is synonymous with what Tolkien put to page. Amazingly, of all the cast members, Lee was the only one to have met Tolkien personally, which is a wonderfully apt thing indeed.
Scaramanga – 'The Man With The Golden Gun’ (1974)
Fransisco Scaramanga is arguably the best Bond villain of all time. Suave and poised, but also quite deadly, (and a great deadpan foil to Roger Moore’s wise-cracking 007) he played against the sometimes cartoonish super-villainy that had come before him and would persist afterwards. He was the benchmark.
Lord Summerisle – 'The Wicker Man’
A masterclass in terror, Lee’s Lord Summerisle, the mysterious, wild-haired patriarch in one of cinema’s truly great horror movies, maintains his inscrutable persona right until the film’s devastating – and infamous – conclusion. He loved the film so much, but so low was the budget, that he and a number of others worked on it without pay.
Mohammed Ali Jinnah – 'Jinnah’ (1998)
This was the role that Lee considered his own brightest moment on screen, playing the founder of Pakistan Mohammed Ali Jinnah. He called it 'the most important film I made, in terms of its subject and the great responsibility I had as an actor. It had the best reviews I’ve ever had in my entire career’. Sadly, it did not receive a wide release.
The Creature – 'The Curse of Frankenstein’ (1957)
This was Lee’s first Hammer movie, pairing him with Peter Cushing's Victor Frankenstein to create what would become the studio’s dream team. He created a child-like monster, damaged and vulnerable. It was a deeply unsettling performance, and the first of more than 20 films in which he would star with his great friend Cushing.
Count Dracula – 'Dracula’ (1958)
Lee played Dracula many times for Hammer, becoming utterly synonymous with Bram Stoker’s creation. You think of Dracula, you think of Lee. His first time in the role, in Terence Fisher’s 1958 film, was critically lauded, though his return in 'Dracula: Prince of Darkness' in 1965 is also astonishing, notably because he conveyed the curdling menace with no lines of dialogue.
Mycroft Holmes – 'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes’ (1970)
Billy Wilder’s sumptuous take on the Holmes canon is widely said to be the best, Lee upstaging all and sundry playing Holmes’ brother, the urbane and whip-smart Mycroft. Though Lee played Holmes himself on a number of occasions, this was the greater performance.
Nicholas, Duc de Richleau – 'The Devil Rides Out’ (1968)
This adaptation of the great Dennis Wheatley’s novel – directed once more by the visionary Terence Fisher – is thought to be perhaps Hammer’s crowing achievement, and not least because Lee was at the helm. An occult nightmare, Lee pitched his aristocratic adventurer perfectly, battling forces of purest evil from the very depth of hell.
Count Dooku – 'Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones’ and 'Episode III: Revenge of the Sith’ (2002 and 2005)
Though the prequel movies may be derided, Lee classied up 'Star Wars' immeasurably (as Cushing had done in 'A New Hope’) with his turn as the imposing Count Dooku, a former Jedi master turned apprentice to the Emperor. Again, he provided a dimension of tragedy to his character which might in other hands have been played as a far more basic evil.
RIP Christopher Lee.
Image credits: Rex Features/20th Century Fox