Madly, Deeply by Alan Rickman: diary extracts packed with ‘profound’ observations

Tone of late actor’s diaries veers from gossipy and amused to anxious and irritable

Alan Rickman
Edited down from a million words, Alan Rickman’s diaries start in 1993
(Image credit: Mike Marsland/WireImage)

��Sardonic, aloof, witty and withering, yet with undercurrents of warmth that could surface when needed.” That was the image that Alan Rickman projected as an actor, in everything from Truly, Madly, Deeply to the Harry Potter films, said Dominic Maxwell in The Times. These extracts from the late actor’s diaries will not “reinvent” his image, but they colour in the picture of a man who poured much of himself into his work.

Edited down from a million words, they start in 1993, when he was already a star – but before the Harry Potter films made him world famous – and run until his death in 2016. Within a couple of pages, he is “numb from the endless pursuit and advancement of the mediocre in this country”: the “weary élan” drips off the page.

But there are some sharp observations, too. Ewan McGregor is “self-involved to a jaw-dropping degree, but like a child, so it’s somehow not repellent”. Kate Winslet is brilliant, but “there is never a moment where she finds out anything about her fellow actors”; even Emma Thompson, whom he clearly adores, is chided for “schoolmarming” on the set of Sense and Sensibility.

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The diaries give the impression of a life lived in a whirl of rehearsals, award ceremonies, fashionable restaurants and famous people, said Fiona Sturges in The Guardian. The tone veers from gossipy and amused to anxious and irritable: rather than bask in his success, he frets over roles he turned down and scenes that were cut, and wishes interviewers would stop asking him about Die Hard and Robin Hood “like tired dogs with a very old slipper”. At times his fascination with himself and other actors tries one’s patience – but just when it’s about to become too much, he bursts the bubble with a “profound” observation.

Rickman didn’t write the diaries for publication, said Thomas W. Hodgkinson in the Literary Review. That’s both a weakness, in that there are no real set-pieces or themes, and a strength, in that he never seems to be writing for effect. His “acerbic” verdicts on films and plays are a particular delight: Marvin’s Room, he writes, is “another of those American plays which insist that you feel something. I don’t think anger & frustration is what they had in mind.”

He does a lot of complaining, said Decca Aitkenhead in The Sunday Times, and at times it got a bit much for me. But one thing Rickman never grumbles about is his marriage, to Rima Horton. She was with him to the end, and the final pages of the book, as his “gloriously expansive” life contracts to a checklist of hospital appointments, are “heartbreaking”.

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