This week has been an absolute, shitting BASTARD. If you love joy, or fun, or creativity, if you’ve ever lost it to Let’s Dance or howled with delight at a Harry Potter movie (and I’d guess that Venn diagram contains almost everyone in the world, with a sizeable overlap) you’re probably hoping that 2016 so far has just been a horrible dream. I am.
I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t aware of David Bowie, but I do have a very clear memory of the first time I laid eyes on Alan Rickman. I was 10. Sense And Sensibility was on at our local, single screened cinema and I was obsessed with the trailer. Beautiful ladies wore beautiful dresses, and seemed to spend all their time at dances where everyone got paired up with a handsome, attentive man. (As someone who would have to go to the toilets to escape the loneliness every time they played Father And Son at a school disco, this appealed enormously.) My Mum, who loves Jane Austen almost as much as her own children, said that she’d be delighted to take me to the cinema to watch Sense And Sensibility – on the condition that I read the book first. I had three weeks.
The book was a revelation. I loved Austen’s wit, bitchiness, kind characters, cutting observations and her sense that inherent goodness should, in her universe, be rewarded. I held my breath, secretly desperate for Elinor and Edward to overcome every impossible circumstance and find their happy ending. But I was a bit baffled when Marianne gets over sexy baddy Willoughby to make a go of things with boring old Colonel Brandon. “But he’s so predictable! So safe!” I wailed.
However, as soon as I was in the cinema I understood. Alan Rickman masterfully demonstrated Brandon’s quiet, calm dignity. He showed me that being earnest, steady and reliable could be the sexiest thing of all. Willoughby was full of wild words and ultimately empty gestures, but it was Colonel Brandon who stayed by Marianne’s side when she was desperately ill, because he loved her, and knew he would die loving her even if she never loved him back.
To millions of fans, Alan Rickman is Professor Snape, or Hans Gruber. But to me, he’ll always be the man who taught me what true love looks like
Alan Rickman was a prolific performer, but to me, he will always be the personification of true love and total dignity. Throughout my twenties I have fallen for a few Willoughbys – men who have promised me more than they could possibly deliver, getting caught up in the moment and then leaving, panicked, while pulling the bottom of my world out from under me. It took me a little while to work it out, but after I met my husband, I realised he’s a Colonel Brandon – a man who means what he said and loves with his whole heart.
When rereading Sense And Sensibility as an adult, I think that I have a better understanding of Austen’s words and the way in which she observes humanity. But it’s thanks to Alan Rickman that Colonel Brandon leaps off the page as the real hero. He’s undemonstrative, a little quiet, and when you’re 11, a bit old and boring. But when you’re 30, he’s desperately sexy. For a long time I pretended that I agreed with the common consensus - Colin Firth as Mr Darcy is the ultimate Austen heartthrob. But Rickman’s Colonel Brandon is irresistible. Free of ego, filled with the quiet conviction of his own feelings and with a voice that could melt a block of butter taken straight from the fridge.
To millions of fans, Alan Rickman is Professor Snape – a bit of a baddy who could be cruel to the beloved Harry. Or the terrifying, thrillingly wicked Hans Gruber, Die Hard’s most dangerous character and the scourge of Bruce Willis’ existence. But to me, he’ll always be the man who taught me what true love looks like. Watch him read this poem to Kate Winslet, and examine his face. He’s not searching for the self he sees in her eyes, or waiting for her to react in a way that confirms his attractiveness and masculinity. He’s entirely happy and secure, just because he’s near her. If you want to know whether someone really loves you, compare their expression to Rickman’s. It’s a litmus test.
If it wasn’t for Alan Rickman, I might still be chasing Willoughbys, constantly hopeful or heartbroken and waiting for a love that shouts “I’m here now! Look at me!” But he showed me that love is patient and kind. It’s not a firework that bangs, flares and then disappears the second after it’s sure of your attention. It can be quiet, sure and growing. If somebody loves you, they don’t need anything from you. They’re just happy to be near you.