At the Baftas last month Bean deservedly won the best leading actor award for his outstanding performance as a troubled but diligent and caring Catholic priest gently and thoughtfully dealing with the complex needs of his parishioners in a deprived area of a northern city in the brilliant Jimmy McGovern-scripted series Broken.
In this column last July I expressed the hope that Bean would get the recognition he so richly deserved, come awards season, so I couldn’t be more delighted. Maybe this time next year, it will be Grant’s turn to step up to the podium. Finally, at the age of 57, he has been liberated from having to play the romantic lead (not before time) and is currently on excellent form as disgraced Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thrope in the BBC series A Very English Scandal.
Telling the story of the complicated web of lies and cover-ups surrounding the politician which in the late 1970s began to unravel spectacularly when Thorpe’s former lover Norman Scott (played by Ben Whishaw with his characterstic combination of sensitivity and charisma) told the police and the press about their affair. One bungled murder attempt later and Thorpe found himself at the centre of an infamous trial.
Grant absolutely inhabits the role of Thorpe, giving a barnstorming portrayal of a monstrous egotist yet at the same time conveying his vulnerability and humanity. Who knew that Grant, famous for his foppish grin and ‘endearing’ vocal tics, could be such a nuanced actor? Like Bean, he is bringing his own rich back story to the role. It’s not rocket science – life experience is a good thing when it comes to acting.
However, while middle-aged male actors seemingly have a wealth of such roles to choose from, women of a similar age don’t fare so well.
Last week 51-year-old writer, actor and activist Nicky Clark launched the Acting Your Age campaign demanding more and better acting roles for middle-aged women. Clark was moved to start campaigning following her attempt to re-enter the industry having taken a 20-year break to bring up her children and look after her mother. She told The Stage that “just at an age when we have the wealth of experience to really inform our performances, we face the scrapheap challenge.”
As Bean and Grant have proved, male actors in their fifties bring a whole hinterland to bear, enriching their performances in complex and challenging roles. Maybe in the not-too-distant future middle-aged women will get their chance to shine.
Now wouldn’t that be something.