by John Farr
John Farr reviews three oft-overlooked Anthony Hopkins performances.
The Elephant Man (1980)
Hideously deformed by a rare disease, John Merrick (John Hurt) makes a meager living in Victorian England as a circus sideshow freak, but is routinely mistreated by his cruel employer. Rescued from this despairing existence by Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), a caring, highly respected doctor fascinated with his condition, the kindly, soft-spoken Merrick reveals himself to be a person of acute intelligence. Viewed as a curiosity by outsiders, he attempts to live with dignity in spite of his debilitating, horrific appearance.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Filmed in eerie black and white by “Blue Velvet” director David Lynch, this dour, heartbreaking drama about the real-life Merrick, known as “the Elephant Man,” perfectly captures the gloomy, gothic atmosphere of late-19th-century England. But it also relates a deeply compassionate story, with Hurt delivering a pained, Oscar-nominated performance through all the heavy make-up, and an understated Hopkins equally sensitive as Dr. Treves. With an excellent supporting cast including John Gielgud, Anne Bancroft, and Wendy Hiller, “The Elephant Man” is a haunting tale that asks how we define humanity.
The Remains of the Day (1993)
In 1930s Britain, “perfect” butler Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) is hired to serve in the household of Lord Darlington (James Fox), a stuffy, arrogant man of means, alongside his frail, ailing butler father (Peter Vaughan) and new housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). Stevens is so dedicated in his service and removed from the world of human emotion that he refuses to cope with his father’s grave illness-or acknowledge his budding feelings for Miss Kenton. Meanwhile, the winds of war are blowing, and the callow Darlington appears to be throwing in his chips with the Nazis.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, “Remains” is a refined, elegantly crafted study of loss, regret, and the costs of emotional repression. Hopkins is masterful as Stevens, a man hiding behind an unswervingly dedicated, almost pathologically formal veneer. And the ever-charming Thompson is an excellent foil, attempting to draw Stevens out of his fortress of unfeeling. Lovingly handled by the Merchant-Ivory team, with exquisite period detail and coolly expressive cinematography, “Remains” is a cinematic gem of exceedingly good taste.
The World’s Fastest Indian (2005)
New Zealand native Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) has had a passion for motorcycles-and all fast-accelerating machines-since childhood. Tinkering endlessly with a 600cc 1920 Indian model for most of his life, the now-retired Munro decides to follow his dream to Bonneville, Utah, where he plans to break the land-speed record on the world-famous salt flats, despite his advanced age and the homemade hackery of his two-wheeled racer.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Chewing his role with obvious delight, Hopkins is terrific in Donaldson’s rousing, against-the-odds road movie, which chronicles the real-life exploits of quixotic Kiwi roadster Munro in the ’60s. Initially barred from participating in the Speed Week time trials, the amiably gruff senior finally gets a shot thanks to respected pro driver Jim Moffett (played by Chris Lawford). Donaldson weaves dramatic details of Munro’s journey with plenty of spirited humor and offbeat encounters with boosters, fellow travelers, and even a transvestite motel clerk. Diane Ladd’s widow/love interest and Paul Rodriguez’s car salesman are especially memorable. Get in the driver’s seat with “Indian,” and enjoy the rickety but exhilarating ride.