Monday, November 16, 2009

At the River Crossing
Edward Woodward 1930-2009

"These are memories to be hoarded" - Harry "Breaker" Morant

The first time I had any real knowledge of who Edward Woodward was was in the 1984 Hallmark Hall of Fame version of A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. In that version Woodward plays the Ghost of Christmas Present and in every version of A Christmas Carol I have ever seen (and I have damn near seen them all including several versions on stage) I stack up the actor playing that part against Woodward. They always come up short.

Edward Woodward was an actor of formidable ability. He enjoyed brief fame on television as the title character of The Equalizer, a show I enjoyed watching if only for him, but if one really wants to understand the depth of Edward Woodward the actor one need view only two films, The Wicker Man and Breaker Morant. He is brilliant in both.

I saw both films not upon their release but years later after seeing Woodward in A Christmas Carol and The Equalizer. In The Wicker Man Woodward plays the part of the self-righteous rigidly Christian policeman so well that I would have sworn that's who he was as a person had I not seen his other work that convinced me likewise in respect to their characters. When one thinks of the superb film that is The Wicker Man one has to wonder how effective the film would have been without the central character being utterly believable. In other words, I don't watch that film and see an actor playing a self-righteous man that the audience will lose sympathy for, no. I see a character filled with piety who believes in his principles and is trying in his heart and according to his religion to do the right thing and save an abducted girl. Woodward lets the rigid adherence to dogma show but never lets the audience off the hook by making his character despicable like a mad Christian zealot. The audience believes that his character would in fact abandon some of his beliefs if it meant saving that little girl and that's a hell of a feat on the part of Woodward.

And then there is Breaker Morant, a beautiful and fascinating film that is by all measure the final argument one needs in the case of Edward Woodward, underappreciated actor. As Harry "Breaker" Morant he blends the rugged militaristic rough edges of an Australian officer fighting in the Boer War with the soul of a poet. His performance is magnificent and the denial of an Oscar nomination underlined the lack of peer recognition this great actor would receive throughout his career.

Edward Woodward died on November 16 at the age of 79 from complications from various illnesses including pneumonia. He will be missed.