Monday, August 13, 2018


Directed by Joe Stephenson. Stronger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festival. Palace Electric Cinema, Canberra. Aug 5.

This documentary on actor Ian McKellen is a quiet little gem that will hopefully have a further showing.

Most of the time it’s just McKellen and the camera, with a bit of gentle off-stage questioning. He has the story of his life down pat but it’s none the less absorbing for that. And it’s backed up by a fine selection of images of his life and work, as a stage actor, an activist for gay rights and a film star.

The documentary goes for a bit of re-enactment with the best work probably being from young Milo Parker as the lively stagestruck boy McKellen. But of course we are waiting for the images of his stage performances, the Shakespeares, Waiting for Godot. 

There’s also much use of photos – family portraits, pictures from school and university. He didn’t come out of London; he came out of Lancashire, and spent time as a boy watching music hall performers from the wings of the Bolton Grand (re-enacted by Parker). He’s a descendant of lay preachers and teachers. His older sister Jean was deeply involved in teaching and amateur theatre, a parallel story that one would like to know more about.

There’s footage and photos of his Richard 11 and Edward 11 and the claustrophobic Macbeth he did with Judy Dench for the RSC at The Other Place in Stratford. His fascist 1930s Richard 111 film is counterpointed by his disturbingly engaging tramp in Waiting for Godot with Patrick Stewart. There’s Mr Holmes with an ageing Sherlock and James Whale in Gods and Monsters. And of course his Magneto and his Gandalf.

The powerful and the playful sit side by side in his performances and his reminiscences.

Alanna Maclean