What do Richard Armitage, Aidan Turner, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis have in common, besides all appearing in The Hobbit movies?
I recently started watching the TV series Desperate Romantics, to see Aidan Turner in period costume- I needed visuals to tide me over until he appears in Poldark next year. For anyone not familiar with the 2009 BBC series, it tells the story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, with Turner portraying Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It started me thinking about Richard Armitage playing Claude Monet in The Impressionists in 2006, which led me to wondering who else might have something similar on their cv. I had a vague recollection that Benedict Cumberbatch had played an artist, and sure enough, in 2010 he starred as Vincent Van Gogh in Van Gogh: Painted With Words.
I next went looking on Martin Freeman’s imdb page, to see what he might have hidden away, and couldn’t quite believe that there was another artistic find- in 2007, Freeman starred as Rembrandt van Rijn, in a movie titled, Nightwatching. A quick look at Andy Serkis’ filmography revealed that he too, like Cumberbatch, had portrayed Van Gogh, in this instance in an episode of Simon Schama’s Power Of Art series for the BBC in 2006.
Five projects about very famous artists, starring Hobbit actors, all in a five year period from 2006-2010.
In 2006, Richard Armitage appeared as Claude Monet in the three part BBC series The Impressionists, which used archive letters, records and interviews from the time to reconstruct the origins of the Impressionist art movement. It depicted the friendships of a struggling band of artists committed to pursuing a new type of art, namely Monet, Cezanne, Degas, Bazille and Renoir. The actors were tutored in the authentic painting technique of their character, so Armitage was able to accurately portray Monet racing to capture the light for Impression, Sunrise, and to be shown painting the famous Wild Poppies, Near Argenteuil as it had been in 1873. The series was partly shot in Provence, Normandy, and at Monet’s garden at Giverny, and Armitage made sure to visit Paris, to view Monet’s paintings first hand.
Desperate Romantics, a colourful, somewhat fictionalised retelling of the Pre-Raphaelites, depicted the creation of certain well-known art works, including Aidan Turner’s portrayal of the lesser-talented, but roguishly charming Rossetti, painting Bocca Baciata. The six-part series dealt with the tangled love lives of the Brotherhood as much as their art, also featuring founding artists John Millais and William Hunt.
Van Gogh: Painted With Words, a BBC drama-documentary, was presented by Alan Yentob. Benedict Cumberbatch, in his portrayal of Van Gogh, voiced the artist’s own words, sourced mostly from the many letters he wrote to his younger brother Theo. Andy Serkis delivered a typically intense performance as the driven Van Gogh, in the documentary series, Power Of Art, presented by the well-known British historian Simon Schama. It too used Van Gogh’s letters to his brother to document the artist’s periods of mental upheaval, and examined in detail his Wheatfield With Crows, painted in 1890.
Nightwatching, a 2007 film directed by Peter Greenaway, starred Martin Freeman as Rembrandt, and was based around the creation of his most famous work of art, The Night Watch, depicting civilian militiamen who wanted to be celebrated in a group portrait. The film was described as featuring Greenaway’s trademark neoclassical compositions and graphic nudity, and The Guardian review made mention of the ‘fiercely intelligent performances’ Greenaway elicited from Freeman, and Eva Birthistle as his wife Saskia.