Friday, 2 May 2014

OBITUARY: Bob Hoskins

Bob Hoskins
October 26th 1942 - April 29th 2014

The news of Bob Hoskins' death was sad indeed. As the tributes and obituaries roll in, The Purple Patch Blog would like to celebrate his career in another manner, by drawing your attention to some of his less celebrated work: some early British TV, an interesting political thriller, and an intriguing directorial debut...

Thick As Thieves (1974)

Following the success of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads (1973-74), Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais penned this sitcom for LWT.

George (Hoskins) is a house burglar who has just come out of prison after serving a three years sentence. On returning home, he finds that his wife (Pat Ashton) has made home with his best friend, Stan (John Thaw). Surprisingly magnanimous about the situation, George doesn't have the heart to turn anyone out of his home, and the three enter an unlikely living arrangement...

Unfortunately not a ratings hit, the BBC might have allowed a second series for the show to develop, but the more commercial ITV were seldom content unless a show took off straight away. Thick As Thieves is well worth seeing for the kind of writing you would expect from its creators, as well as good comedy performances. Both male leads would go on to greater things in grittier material - interestingly, you could argue that Thaw's hit show the following year, The Sweeney was a strong influence on the look and feel of Hoskins' film breakthrough, The Long Good Friday.

On The Move (1975-76)

Probably the first programme I recall seeing Bob Hoskins appear in, this was an educational series produced by the BBC, aimed at helping viewers with literacy issues.

The show focused on two removal men: Alf (Hoskins) had difficulties with reading and writing, whilst his colleague Bert (Donald Gee) encouraged him to develop his skills in these areas. Their exploits were interspersed with sketches and songs, in a format not dissimilar to the US children's show Sesame Street, but naturally featuring everyday situations encountered by adults.

Part of a campaign to teach 1 million adults to read and write, the exercise was considered a success, with two further spin-off series being produced. Much of this success was attributable to the way in which viewers took to Hoskins' portrayal of Alf. At a time with people could easily be made to feel stupid for having literacy issues, Alf shared these same anxieties before taking classes to improve his reading and writing skills, and viewers stayed tuned to follow his progress, and in many cases follow his example.

The Honorary Consul, aka Beyond The Limit (1983)

Despite Hoskins receiving a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor, this adaptation of Graham Greene's novel is an under appreciated item in his filmography, possibly due to it being frustratingly hard to source at the time of writing, as neither the UK or US has an official DVD or Blu-Ray release.

Reuniting Hoskins with The Long Good Friday director John Mackenzie, this was a tale of a doctor (Richard Gere) becoming embroiled in revolution in South America, as well as embarking on an affair with ex-brothel girl Clara (Elpidia Carillo). To complicate matters, Clara is the wife of the British Consul (Michael Caine).

Although not entirely successful, it's an admirable attempt to bring the novel to screen with its core messages intact. In the role of policeman Colonel Perez, Hoskins is on top form, although many critics at the time didn't seem to think so. Michael Caine was also BAFTA nominated - it's little surprise that they were both cast in Mona Lisa on this evidence. If you can track this one down, it's worth the effort.

The Raggedy Rawney (1990)

Hoskins made his directorial debut with this quite unique film, and co-wrote the original screenplay with Nicole De Wilde.

In an unidentified country, a war rages. A young soldier (Dexter Fletcher) deserts his army. Suffering from what we would now call post traumatic stress disorder, he dresses in women's clothes and joins a group of travelling gypsies, who think he is a young lady. Things become complicated when he falls for a gypsy girl, and an army officer he wounded in his escape tracks him down...

Quite how Hoskins secured UK funding for such an unusual film at that time is baffling, but it's certainly one of the more original and challenging British films of the period. Hoskins proved a more than capable director and writer.

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