Pete Postlethwaite, 1946-2011 | Film reviews, news & interviews
Pete Postlethwaite, 1946-2011
Pete Postlethwaite, who has died from cancer at the age of 64, was an extremely amicable man whom Hollywood had down as a lugubrious baddie. It happened in Aliens 3, in The Usual Suspects, in The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
You could see Hollywood's point. His greying itinerant preacher's hair flailed behind him wildly. His green irises blazed bright around pupils the size of pinpricks. And then there were the cheekbones jutting beneath them. "They are quite whopping, aren't they?" volunteered their owner when I met him. "Who was it said, 'He looks like he's got a clavicle stuck in his mouth'?" Postlethwaite couldn’t recall, nor did he know where they came from: neither of his parents were so well endowed. "It's a face, that's for sure."
The first 20 years of Postlethwaite's career were spent almost entirely in the theatre. He trained at the Bristol Old Vic, worked to the Liverpool Everyman in the years of intense creative boom when Willy Russell and Alan Bleasdale were the resident writers and the fellow company members were Julie Walters, Antony Sher and Bill Nighy. He returned to Bristol, worked with the then-unknown Noble and designer Bob Crowley, and when the Colston Hall theatre was closed led a group of actors, among them the young Daniel Day Lewis (pictured below with Postlethwaite in In the Name of the Father), who peeled off from the Old Vic to form the Little Theatre Company.
"It was a great spirit. You were responsible for your own work, your own errors, your own successes. It went on for six years after that. I was there for the first year. After that I couldn't keep going really. I burnt myself out. It was 24 hours a day, heady stuff."
For the RSC, he played a satisfying series of comic grotesques and extravagant gesticulators in the 1980s, but never in the lead role. He was a marvellously bucolic Bottom - that knobbly head could have been specifically designed for the addition of ass's ears. He was also made for Dickens: he was a glorious Montague Tigg in the BBC's Martin Chuzzlewit. But it was film which found out his inner darkness: he played the brutal father in Terence Davies's Distant Voices, Still Lives.
The trailer for Distant Voices, Still Lives
He could carbon-date his sudden international bankability to the appearance of Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father. Postlethwaite played the wrongfully imprisoned Guiseppe Conlon, he was nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar and came to the attention of Spielberg and co. But his most delightful and characteristic film role was in Mark Herman’s Brassed Off, in which he played the fiery leader of a colliery brass band during the Miners’ Strike.
Postlethwaite's victory speech in Brassed Off
In his final year he appeared in Clash of the Titans, The Town and Inception but the role which towered over the last years of his career was King Lear, whom he played in a touring Liverpool Everyman production directed by Rupert Goold.
"I would do such things": Postlethwaite as Lear
- Find the work of Pete Postlethwaite on Amazon
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Richard Linklater's life-enhancing epic gets a frills-free DVD release
Charming Disney animation gives way to superhero spectacle
Memories of the Holocaust, and Alfred Hitchcock's attempts to sum up its visual testimony
Charlie Lyne's enjoyable documentary celebrates the teen movie but lacks rigour
Human nature is tested to destruction in Alex Garland's Artificial Intelligence thriller
Chekhovian break-up hits higher-end Bolivian society, strangely compellingly
Period crime drama packs a quietly potent punch
Alain Robbe-Grillet's modernist, sadomasochist cinema games revived
Unenlightening day-in-the-life portrait of French national broadcaster Radio France
Vera Brittain's First World War memoir prettifies the pain
Oscar contender and sleeper success is whiplash-smart
Art-house blaxploitation with a surreal edge is seen in full after four decades