I think my first exposure to Alan Rickman was the superb 1995 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility penned by and starring his best friend (and one of my biggest heroes), Emma Thompson. His character, Colonel Brandon, is meant to be this aging, semi-severe bachelor who suffers from unrequited love for the blossoming, beautiful Marianne Dashwood played to youthful perfection by Kate Winslet. Naturally, she sets her sights on the young, dashing, too-charming-to-be-real cad Willoughby and rebuffs Brandon’s advances, thinking him incapable of feeling love or inspiring it in another. And even though Brandon knows what Willoughby is capable of, that he has less-than-honorable intentions, he doesn’t interfere. Instead, he quietly, humbly goes on loving and supporting Marianne through all her worst moments even when it aches him to do so. He is unfailingly kind and chivalrous to the last. And when Willoughby has left Marianne inconsolable with a broken heart as Brandon knew he would, Brandon does not revel in being proven right. He does not gloat or chastise Marianne for having chosen such an undeserving man to receive her love over himself. Instead, he goes on loving her and caring for her without hope or expectations until one day, she realizes she has fallen in love with him and they marry.
At one point, Willoughby says, “Brandon is just the kind of man whom everybody speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.” But for me, Brandon is the best part of Sense & Sensibility. Beyond our heroine, Elinor, he is the one whose quiet, lovelorn suffering stings most true. Brandon is the emotional and moral center of the story for me; he’s the one who does what is right above all things, sometimes at the expense of his own heart. Brandon shows us that love often doesn’t come in the form of charm and sizzling passion, but that it often looks far more like tenderness and compassion. Marianne’s assertion that love must be “inspiring” and loud is met by Brandon’s subtler acts of love, and she realizes he is far worthier of her heart than a man like Willoughby could ever be. While Austen illuminates this quite well in her book, it didn’t really sink in fully until I saw Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Brandon. I saw the pain in his gaze, the love in his every action. He made us all fall in love with Brandon, but I also fell in love with Rickman himself. And I learned a lot about how to love as a direct result of his performance in the film.
When they announced the cast for the first Harry Potter film, my heart leapt with joy at hearing Rickman’s name announced as another long-suffering lovelorn character: potions-master Severus Snape. Most people today are going to be talking about how great Rickman was at playing the villain (and in all fairness, Hans Gruber and the Sherriff of Nottingham are both thrilling and sexy performances and steal the show of their respective films), but I’d argue that Rickman was actually better at romance, and more specifically, showing us the trickier, more painful aspects of love. Colonel Brandon in Sense & Sensibility. Snape, who is villainous at times, but has carried the pain of love for so long, it has eaten away at him. Harry in Love Actually, who doesn’t realize his foolishness is wrecking his wife.
And especially Jamie in Truly Madly Deeply, who must try to let his former love go while helping her learn to let him go. These roles aren’t quite as showy as the villains, but they pack more of an emotional wallop.
It is only in mourning Alan Rickman’s death today I realized I have treated him a bit like Marianne Dashwood: accepting he would always be there for emotional support but never fully giving him the attention he truly deserves. I was blind sighted by the news of his passing, because I had come to love him far more deeply than I ever realized; his presence was always a welcome one onscreen or onstage. And don’t get me started on that marvelous, iconic speaking-voice. He gave us everything selflessly with the deepest of love and greatest care for his craft, collaborators, and those of us who sat in darkened rooms watching him. He deserved far more, but he made the absolute most of what he got.
All I can offer in return is my deepest affection and gratitude for the many gifts he gave me as I’ve grown up watching his films. Rickman IS Brandon: the kind of man everyone speaks well of and whom all are delighted to see, but damned if he’s not also somebody we ALL deeply care about.
Thank you, Alan.