John Hurt: In Memoriam – Some of His Greatest Roles

Paul Klein

Saturday saw the loss of another screen icon. Not long after we lost science fiction royalty Carrie Fisher, we heard that at 77 years old British actor and screen royalty John Hurt was dead. At No Majesty we’re big fans of John Hurt, of his legendary voice, his wicked wit, and his many, many performances that saw him nominated for two academy awards and five BAFTA film awards.

Probably best known to younger audiences as Mr Ollivander the wand maker in the Harry Potter film series, and as the War Doctor in the anniversary edition of Doctor Who, Hurt has graced every genre you can think of from science fiction, to horror, to comedy, to fantasy and beyond. He was a prolific performer of stage, of silver and of small screen. Many of his roles were making great use of his legendarily deep voice.

Currently available to see in Oscar nominated film Jackie, Hurt has four more films on the slate, That Good Night, Damascus Cover, Mu Name is Lenny and as Neville Chamberlain in Darkest Hour. His legacy and his work will live forever, but we want to give you our favourite turns from John Hurt, in tribute to him.

Chancellor Adam Sutler, V for Vendetta (James McTeague 2005)


Described by Hurt himself as 1984 – which he also starred in – meets Alien, Hurt is the face of fascist future Britain. His Norsefire party is one part Nazi two parts BNP. It’s both over the top evil and oddly nuanced in his characterisation. Small touches like the beard, the way he does his hair, and the way he talks all build this sense that old he may be, but he is a formidable political figure. Long before Robert Redford nodded his head to his political thriller days in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Hurt did it with this Wachowski written marvel. He’s clearly having a good time, and his villainy is without compromise.

Max, Midnight Express (Alan Parker 1978)


Probably one of the finest films of the 70s, and one of Alan Parker’s best (which is some feat), strictly speaking there isn’t that much to enjoy here, but lots to respect. The story of a drug smuggler, caught and thrown in a Turkish prison is a cautionary tale and features very little Hurt, so why does it make the list? The film is incredible, and Hurt, clearly channeling some Oliver Reed in his performance, is impeccable, rightly so he was nominated for an Academy Award and it’s hard not to see why.

Dr Iannis, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (John Madden 2001)


John Madden’s film adaptation of Louis de Bernieres’ epic novel is fairly bland, and not a very good adaptation. Despite the source material covering the year before the outbreak of WW2, and all the way up to 1994, the film doesn’t manage to get the scope, probably because it never could. The book is more mini-series material, and would have worked in the hands of, say, Anthony Minghella, but in Dr Iannis, John Hurt is perfect. The right side of cocky, strong minded but also loving, he might not look entirely Greek but the accent is strong enough to eclipse all of his co-stars (Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, Irene Papas, Christian Bale, David Morrissey), and bring real warmth and heart to a film otherwise devoid of passion.

Professor Trevor “Broom” Brutenholm, Hellboy & Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Guillermo del Toro 2004/2008)


Based on Mike Mignola’s weird dark fantasy comic books, Del Toro’s loving adaptation is a visual treat. Both films have creatures that linger in the memory and have three great lead turns from Ron Perlman, Selma Blair and Doug Jones; even Jeffrey Tambour is great. But, it’s Hurt as adoptive father to Hellboy (Perlman) Broom that helps these films work. His stern but loving relationship with Hellboy, his calm antidote to Tambour, and his fatherly affection for Blair’s character, are all elements that make the film work. To top it off, when it comes to death scenes none hurt more than John Hurt’s.

Kane, Alien (Ridley Scott 1979)


Yes, in that scene. The one that gave people everywhere nightmares and a whole new reason to want to avoid space. As Kane, Hurt is one of the blue collar workers on the Nostromo space ship that ends up becoming Amityville in Space when a big mean phallic alien comes out of John Hurt’s gut with blood curdling realism. Hurt sells the scene for all he’s worth, and his scenes before his untimely demise is also incredibly believable, having good rapport with the likes of Ian Holm and Sigourney Weaver make his end all the more sad.

John Merrick, The Elephant Man (David Lynch 1980)


No John Hurt list would be complete without this true story and his incredible performance through all that make up. Alongside the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Ann Bancroft and John Gielgud who could ever compare when slathered in fake deformity? John Hurt, who brings warmth and a real sense of pain and anger to the role of a man who is shunned by society for being different. It’s obviously the one people remember and rightly so, because he’s devastating.

John Hurt: 1940 – 2017

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