(Michael Billington’s and Ryan Gilbey’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/19; above: Ian Holm in 2003. On stage he was especially noted for his performances in Shakespeare and Pinter. Photograph: Tom Pilston/The Independent/Rex/Shutterstock)
Acclaimed actor whose dazzling career included memorable roles in Alien, Chariots of Fire and The Lord of the Rings
Ian Holm, who has died aged 88, was a brilliant actor in all media whose career fell into distinct phases. On stage, he enjoyed a dazzling early period and triumphant later years, most especially in Shakespeare and Pinter; but, if there was a prolonged period when Holm was absent from the theatre, it was because he suffered a temporarily paralysing form of stage fright. The theatre’s loss, however, was the cinema’s gain. He transferred the vocal precision, technical skill and impish mischief he had displayed on stage to the screen, enjoying a new, late-flowering career in scores of movies including, most notably, the Lord of the Rings cycle.
Though he had begun to make his mark at the Shakespeare Memorial theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in the 1950s, he came into his own when Peter Hall took over in 1960 and transformed a summer festival into the Royal Shakespeare Company. Holm instantly became a contract artist and graduated from spry character actor to leading man.
His long grounding in Shakespeare, his iron technique and his total mastery of verse bore rich fruit in the 1964 season, when Hall presented a complete Shakespeare history cycle. In the course of a single week it was possible to see Holm growing from a beady, watchful Prince Hal to a working-warrior Henry V who joined his men in pushing a wagon off-stage as they sang a post-Agincourt Te Deum. As if that were not enough, he then turned into a wickedly malevolent Duke of Gloucester and snickering, snarling Richard III in the concluding Wars of the Roses trilogy, which was filmed for BBC television.