Here’s a quiet treat for lovers of acting excellence. You’ll not find it on the imdb, indeed old Jack only happened upon it because my boy Steve had been wandering the Twittersphere knowing how much I admired its male lead: the man who was taught by Tolkien and Lewis, knew Burton, wrote the story of the longbow, defined the dramatic Churchill, faced Olivier and a ton of Shakespeare’s couplets on the stage, glowered at young Potter from the Ministry of Magic and – in a tour de force of characterful TV acting – gave us the senior vet at Farnon, Herriott and Farnon. Mr Hardy to jouros, Tim to his friends, and Robert Hardy to the rest of us. A C.B.E. because he was brilliant; a difficult, clever, brilliant man; here in his last screen performance: In Familia.
It’s a simple, rather lovely short story. Sir Ashton Leonard, teacher of Americans, painter, widower and nonagenarian has called a driving instructor to his home. They sit in a old American jeep and talk of things done and things interesting.
Nina Sosanya – in partial W1A mode – plays Nina, a hesitant and bemused instructor who wonders why she is there. For Ashton doesn’t need lessons. But he does find her face interesting. A thing, he says, that comes of mixed races…
I flinched as this part of the chat began. A young woman and an old, blunt, please-don’t be-casually-racist man. Please, I thought, don’t give us one of those Rabid Ron moments. Ron, from D Wing, has no filters left to him and comments on everything. Really – everything. Fat? He’ll say. A whiff of piss? He’ll shout it after you. Ethnically not from his part of the planet? Oh yes, you’ll be gritting those teeth.
But not here.
Hardy and Sosanya are so in the moment with these strangers discovering one another that it’s past lovely. Old Ashton’s fascination with mixed race faces dives off into sweetness, love and loss. Nina tracks his thoughts – said and unsaid – as he talks of his wife, her love of Jamaica, and then the Queen. For he was an artist, portraits of people and horses, and has lost the delicacy in his hands to keep the pictures true. A chat like crazy paving.
Look, I don’t want to tell you much more. This is just under fifteen minutes of top class character acting. Sosanya gifts, much like our visitors do here, the senior gentleman all the space he needs for character, anecdote and personality. Hardy – in the last flourish of a master – shows old skill uncalcified by time. His Ashton is raw, real and carried by an undercurrent that left me weeping. Beautiful work from them both.
Oh…and watch to the end. This is a short story that knows itself.
What a terrific actor he was.