To celebrate the DVD release of new, multi-award-winning comedy-drama, Stanley, A Man of Variety, we take a look at some of the best roles from legendary British actor Timothy Spall. In truth, he hasn’t simply added one role to his repertoire with Stanley, because he plays every single character in the film!
A lonely man named Stanley (Spall) finds himself in prison for a crime he believes he didn’t commit. Now a forgotten soul approaching his fifteenth year in the old psychiatric facility, he maintains his role as a trustee by cleaning the grim prison interior, earning him the privilege of watching and re-watching classic comedy videos. When this privilege is withdrawn, Stanley becomes so distressed that he suffers a physical and mental seizure. Soon, his beloved heroes – Max Wall, George Formby, Max Miller, Margaret Rutherford, Alastair Sim and more – visit him in hallucinations (all played by Spall) showing their sinister, unsettling side and take him on a bizarre journey through the unbearable truth of his life and incarceration.
To celebrate the release of this show-shopping turn from Spall, here is a recap on some of his best roles and why he remains one of Britain’s greatest talents…
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (1983)
In the iconic British comedy series, we follow seven English migrant construction workers who leave the UK to search for employment overseas. Among the colourful characters, Spall plays Barry, a loveable electrician from the Black Country. The show has been so popular and earned such a cult status that a revival brought two new series and a Christmas special in 2002 and 2004. In fact, the first series was ranked #46 on a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes, compiled by the British Film Institute.
Secrets and Lies (1996)
In this Oscar-nominated comedy-drama from Mike Leigh, Hortense is a young, black Londoner who, after the death of her adoptive parents, is surprised to discover her birth mother, Cynthia is actually white and soon goes about tracking her down, leading to a family reunion. Spall brilliantly portrays Cynthia’s brother, Maurice, who along with his wife keep some secrets of their own. The film was both a critical and commercial success, at home and internationally.
Harry Potter series (2004-2010)
Based on the world-famous books by J. K. Rowling, no one could have imagined how huge this film franchise would become, so far spawning eight films and a spin-off prequel series in the Wizarding World universe which launched with Fantastic Beasts. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2, Spall plays Peter Pettigrew, nicknamed Wormtail, who formed one of the four Marauders. Though only a supporting character, Spall is still recognised by many young Harry Potter fans and it remains one of his best-loved roles.
In Adrian Shergold’s drama, Spall took on the challenge of portraying prolific British hangman Albert Pierrepoint, from the time he first trained for the job and was accepted onto the list of the country’s official hangmen in 1932, until his resignation in 1956. The film was well regarded for not side-stepping a difficult and controversial subject, with critics also praising Spall’s exceptional leading performance.
The Damned United (2009)
This hit sports drama adapted David Peace’s bestselling novel, The Damned Utd, and translated the author’s dramatic retelling of Brian Clough’s tenure as Leeds United’s manager of 1974. The big screen adaptation boasted an all-star cast, with Spall portraying Peter Taylor, Brian Clough’s longtime assistant. The film became both a fan favourite and big critical hit.
The King’s Speech (2010)
The Oscar and BAFTA-winning tale of a friendship between the reluctant King George VI, plagued by a nervous stammer, and his irreverent Australian speech therapist. Charting their remarkable relationship in both moving and funny ways, the film was equally applauded for using clever cinematic techniques, such as tight camera framing and slight distortion, to highlight the King’s anxiety. Among the ensemble cast and historical figures brought to life, Spall was praised for his portrayal of Winston Churchill.
Mr. Turner (2014)
Mr Turner is Mike Leigh’s stunning biopic depicting the incredible story and final 25 years of one of Britain’s greatest artists, J. M. W. Turner. A complex figure, Turner produces masterpieces ahead of his time that challenges the art world, while still affected by the death of his father and dealing with love and conflict. It first premiered in competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival where Spall won Best Actor, and the film was nominated for several Oscars and BAFTAs.
Stanley, A Man of Variety (2018)
Reuniting with My Angel writer/director Stephen Cookson, Spall took on the immense challenge of portraying several British comedy legends in this quirky, funny and moving story. When Spall’s central character, the incarcerated Stanley, suffers a seizure and begins hallucinating, Max Wall, George Formby, Max Miller, Margaret Rutherford, Alastair Sim and many more appear, with Spall delivering spot-on, even frighteningly heightened portrayals of every persona. British film critic Mark Kermode even said: “Timothy Spall could win an award for Best Ensemble Performance”. The film generated rave reviews and won awards at film festivals all over the world. It remains one of the most original British comedies of recent years.
Stanley, A Man of Variety is released on DVD and digital download 29th March from Tribal Films