Ralph Fiennes is 55 years old today, and “to celebrate” the birthday of my favourite actor, I am doing this subjective list of his 5 best performances. Ralph is not only a great actor, he is super versatile. Whether it is a romantic hero in a sweeping drama; a disturbed individual in a psychological thriller; a true villain in a historic or adventure film; or simply a caricature of a man in a comedy; Ralph can nail any role with ease and grace. In no particular order:
1. Count Almásy – “The English Patient” (1996)
Anthony Minghella’s “The English Patient” was both a critical and box-office success, and will remain one of the most beautifully-rendered dramas ever. Part of the credit for this should go to its stars, and Ralph Fiennes here played Count László de Almásy (a role which landed him an Oscar nomination). This was a tricky role, because the hero was so imperfect. He is a multi-lingual cartographer, but, because of his origin, he is almost a man shrouded in mystery. We learn that, as a person, he can be selfish and very withdrawn, and, as a lover, very devoted, but also impulsive. He learns his lessons as circumstances in his life take a turn for the worse. Fiennes gives a very memorable performance as that man, and his romance with Katharine (Kristin Scott Thomas) is probably one of the screen’s most heart-breaking.
2. Amon Goeth – “Schindler’s List” (1993)
Portraying a Nazi criminal in any film is not a walk in the park, and if it is Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” and the Nazi criminal is psychopathic Amon Goeth (Goth), the task must have been double hard. Fiennes embodies the very definition of inhumanity, mercilessness, evil and ruthlessness in this role. His true villain becomes the man truly feared and hated, which makes for a nice contrast in the movie with often more humane methods and modes of doing things coming from another German, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson). Ralph Fiennes’ performance in this movie rightly gave him his Academy Awards nomination in the category of the Best Supporting Actor. His performance was said to be “creative and fascinating”, and, probably, it was, but, remembering a scene where Goeth shoots Jews for target practice, the performance is really fascinating and creative in its realistic sobriety.
3. Dennis “Spider” Cleg – “Spider” (2002)
This was a really great, thought-provoking film which made my list here, and part of the attraction here is Ralph Fiennes’ exquisite performance in which he portrays a damaged, eccentric individual haunted by the past and afraid of the future. Mystery deepens with each scene, and, probably only Christian Bale with his performance in “The Machinist” (2004) could be compared to the performing commitment here, and also to the sheer shock of the revelation at the end. It may appear at first like this is a David Cronenberg film through and through, but Fiennes’ screen charisma and eccentricity (remember “Oscar and Lucinda” (1996)?) make it feel like it is almost all of the actor’s own creation.
4. Voldemort – “Harry Potter” Franchise
How could I have not included Ralph Fiennes’ role in the Harry Potter franchise? He became THE Voldemort for millions and millions of fans (of Harry Potter). Almost unrecognisable because of his disguise, Ralph Fiennes is again in the role of a villain and is so convincing in this role, he is the villain to be truly feared. The voice is silky smooth, sometimes hoarse (the hissing is spot-on) and the whole demeanour of Voldemort is there to behold and marvel upon. Apparently, we should all be grateful that the actor “understood the loneliness of his character”, otherwise, as he confessed, he would not have even considered taking up the role.
5. M. Gustave – “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014)
Just to demonstrate how diverse an actor Ralph Fiennes really is, in Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel“, he is a comic hotel concierge who is simply joyful and entertaining to watch. From his immaculate wit to his overall presentation, Ralph’s character may appear like a perfectionist-gone-wrong, and, it looks like this role was written just for him. Fiennes’ forte are eccentric characters, but, in this movie, he takes this concept to the whole new level and created someone really unforgettable. “I don’t know what sort of cream they’ve put on you down at the morgue, but…I want some” (M. Gustave).
Did you also know? Ralph Fiennes is one of the patrons of the annual Russian Film Week event, and studied Russian to perform in a Russian-language film “Two Women” (2014), which was based, in turn, on a play by Ivan Turgenev. This does not conclude Ralph’s amorous relationship with Russia-based films, and he also starred in a film “Onegin” (1999) alongside Liv Tyler, which is a film adaptation of Alexander Pushkin’s poem “Eugene Onegin”, and now also directs (and stars in) a film titled “The White Crow” (2018) about “Rudolf Nureyev’s defection to the West” (IMDb).