On a chilly Good Friday, Britain heard the saddening news of the loss of one its finest character actors. Richard Griffiths, 65, has died from complications following major heart surgery. Perhaps best known in recent years for his portrayal of the stuffy muggle, Vernon Dursley, in the Harry Potter films, Griffiths’ career spanned an impressive forty years, during which time he graced both stage and screen.
Griffiths with Danny DeVito. Photo: Flickr / Chris John Beckett.
Throughout the 70s, Griffiths gathered an impressive repertoire of roles in tv series such as The Sweeney whilst also continuing to act onstage.
However, it was not until 1987 that Griffiths landed one of his most defining roles, the flamboyant sexual terrorist, Uncle Monty, in Bruce Robinson’s cult classic, Withnail & I. The film follows the mundane yet surreal trials and tribulations of unemployed actors Withnail, played by Richard E. Grant, and Marwood, played by Paul McGann (though he’s never actually named in the film: cult fact). As clichéd as it may sound, Griffiths really does steal it. Monty’s unrelenting attempts to seduce uninterested/distraught Marwood are simultaneously hilarious yet awkward.
The part of aging eccentric with a penchant for (much) younger men is one which Griffiths revisited in his performance of Douglas Hector in The History Boys. Alongside Dominic Cooper and James Corden, Griffiths acted in both Alan Bennett’s original stage version and the film adaptation and earned himself the 2005 Olivier award for best actor.
Despite the similarities between these two roles, during his vast career, Griffiths’ certainly proved his capacity and ability to truly embrace a variety of characters and genres.
In 1999, Griffiths appeared alongside Johnny Depp as Magistrate Philipse in Tim Burton’s thriller, Sleepy Hollow. Probably unbeknownst to many Concrete readers, Griffiths even voiced several characters in that 90’s childhood staple, The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends: Mr Alderman Ptolomy Tortoise, Mr. Jackson the toad, and Sir Isaac Newton, the newt.
In 2008, Richard Griffiths was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours list for his services to drama. Having mentioned only a very few of Griffiths great performances, it is clear that his contribution to acting is one impossible to appreciate in the space of a short article. Really, the only fitting tribute is to continue to enjoy the work of Richard Griffiths, which, in retrospect, was probably underrated and appreciated.