Review / ‘McKellen: Playing the Part’ (M) **** and a half

FANCY yourself as a theatrical groupie? Who’s the biggest theatre name that you’ve seen performing live? Mine happens to be the total focus of Joe Stephenson’s documentary in which Sir Ian McKellen tells the camera about the good, bad, even occasionally indifferent, events in his 78-year life.

Her Majesty did the right thing when she admitted him to membership of one of the most exclusive groups on the planet, rewarding actors and mountebanks whose lives have enriched ours.

Stephenson has cast a short list of current actors to play McKellen at the BC (Before Cameras) stages of his life. That’s how you get to see McKellen in footage created before becoming a star at age 30, a name to be reckoned with in the theatre.

The film allows him constrained only by memory to speak his mind about family members and colleagues, Shakespeare and playwrights who have set dramatic standards since Marlowe (whose name McKellen helped to resuscitate in yet another play about an English king) and common folk waiting at stage doors in many lands.

What does the film offer to an audience with no or but little knowledge of the man and his career? A chance to take a preparatory course about the trade of wearing funny clothes and doing funny things, of being a monarch or a Middle Earth magician speaking somebody else’s words, about rallies against social injustices and one-on-one conversations with people praising his achievements or challenging him about social issues (particularly his sexuality, which he didn’t acknowledge until he was 49).

Got your interest, have I? Good. Now toddle along and watch the film. Savour it. Enjoy meeting his chums. And be thankful that Ian McKellen isn’t yet ready to appear at the funeral about which he speaks with refreshing candour and delicious comedy.

At Palace Electric and Dendy

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Dougal Macdonald
“CityNews” film reviewer

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