RIP Vale Ian Holm: A Subtle, Versatile and Complex Actor

The sad news of Ian Holm’s passing at the age of 88 reminded me of what a superb actor he was. 


Ian Holm in Greystoke (1984)


And the private man was in some respects surprisingly bohemian. Rather than go through the clips that everyone else will be trotting out (Alien, Chariots of Fire, etc), here’s a few of his lesser-known film roles (and The Sweet Hereafter, which gave Holm the best notices of his career), all excellent performances, especially in his 1990s purple patch.


Interestingly, Holm played Napoleon twice* on film and Bilbo Baggins in no less than four of Peter Jackson’s LOTR/Hobbit movies. He also played an Arabic character a couple of times (Shout at The Devil and March or Die). Let’s look back on some of his most impressive, lesser remembered roles.


*Time Bandits (1981) and The Emperor’s New Clothes (2004)

Time Bandits (Terry Gilliam) - Napoleone

The Emperor's New Clothes (2004) | Film4 Trailer


With my friendly Soho acquaintance Noah Taylor:

Sir Ian Holm in "Simon Magus" (1999)


Big Night (1996)

Sir Ian Holm in "Big Night" (1996) - part 1


The Sweet Hereafter (1996) – regarded by many as his finest performance

Ian Holm in The Sweet Hereafter


With Stanley Tucci again as the lead in Joe Gould’s Secret (1999)


Greystoke (1984):

GREYSTOKE ... Rescue- Capt. Phillippe D'Arnot (Ian Holm)


Brazil (1986)


Hour of the Pig (1993)

The Hour of the Pig (Selected Scenes) - The Medieval Trial of a Pig


Night Falls on Manhattan (1996)

Night Falls on Manhattan (4/9) Movie CLIP - Nail the Son of a Bitch (1996) HD


Naked Lunch (1991)

The telepathic conversation

I would have liked to have included clips from his roles as King John in Robin & Marian (1976) and David Rizzio in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), but suitable scenes remain unavailable online.


Holm began his acting career on stage working as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and his film career took off after he played the android Ash in Ridley Scott’s Alien. He went on to receive an Oscar nomination for his performance in Chariots of Fire, and ended up winning a British Academy film award for it.


The actor passed away from a Parkinson’s related illness. His agent told The Guardian:


“It is with great sadness that the actor Sir Ian Holm CBE passed away this morning at the age of 88. He died peacefully in hospital, with his family and carer. Charming, kind and ferociously talented, we will miss him hugely.”

As will we all.

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Stephen Arnell

Culture Comment Content Provider. Portrait courtesy of artist Darren Coffield. 'Non satis me tempo'