The picture above is Christopher Lee in the 1998 film Jinnah. In this epic biopic, Lee played Muhammad Ali Jinniah, the founder of modern Pakistan. Up until yesterday, I had never heard of Jinnah but, after news of Lee’s death broke, Jinnah was frequently cited as being Lee’s personal favorite of his many roles and films.
Consider that. Christopher Lee began his film career in the 1940s and he worked steadily up until his death. He played Dracula. He played The Man with the Golden Gun. Christopher Lee appeared, with his future best friend Peter Cushing, in Laurence Olivier’s Oscar-winning Hamlet. He played Seurat in John Huston’s Moulin Rouge. He appeared in both The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies. He appeared in several films for Tim Burton. He even had a small role in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. He appeared in two Star Wars prequels. He appeared in the original Wicker Man (and reportedly considered it to be his favorite of his many horror films). He appeared in Oscar winners and box office hits. And, out of all that, Christopher Lee’s personal favorite was Jinnah, a film that most people have never heard about.
Unless, of course, you live in Pakistan. When I did a google search on Christopher Lee, I came across several Pakistani news sources that announced: “Christopher Lee, star of Jinnah, has died.”
And really, that somehow seems appropriate. Christopher Lee was the epitome of an international film star. He worked for Hammer in the UK. He worked with Jess Franco in Spain and Mario Bava in Italy. He appeared in several movies in the United States. And, in Pakistan, he played Jinnah. And I haven’t seen Jinnah but I imagine he was probably as great in that role as he was in every other role that I saw him play. Over the course of his long career, Christopher Lee appeared in many good films but he also appeared in his share of bad ones. But Christopher Lee was always great.
It really is hard to know where to begin with Christopher Lee. Though his death was announced on Thursday, I haven’t gotten around to writing this tribute until Friday. Admittedly, when I first heard that Lee had passed away, I was on a romantic mini-vacation and had promised myself that I would avoid, as much as possible, getting online for two days. But, even more than for those personal reasons, I hesitated because I just did not know where to start when it came to talking about Christopher Lee. He was one of those figures who overwhelmed by his very existence.
We all know that Christopher Lee was a great and iconic actor. And I imagine that a lot of our readers know that Lee had a wonderfully idiosyncratic musical career, releasing his first heavy metal album when he was in his 80s. Did you know that Lee also served heroically during World War II and, after the war ended, helped to track down fleeing Nazi war criminals? Did you know that it has been speculated that Lee may have served as one of the role models for James Bond? (Ian Fleming was a cousin of Lee’s and even tried to convince Lee to play Dr. No in the first Bond film.) Christopher Lee lived an amazing life, both on and off the screen.
But, whenever one reads about Christopher Lee and his career or watches an interview with the man, the thing that always comes across is that, for someone who played so many evil characters, Christopher Lee appeared to be one the nicest men that you could ever hope to meet. Somehow, it was never a shock to learn that his best friend was his frequent screen nemesis, Peter Cushing.
Christopher Lee is one of those great actors who we assumed would always be here. The world of cinema will be a sadder world without him.
Here is a list of Christopher Lee films that we’ve reviewed here on the Shattered Lens. Admittedly, not all of these reviews focus on Lee but they do provide a hint of the man’s versatility:
- Airport ’77
- Dark Shadows
- Dracula A.D. 1972
- Dracula Has Risen From The Grave
- Dracula, Prince of Darkness
- Hercules in the Haunted World
- The Hobbit
- The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
- Horror Express
- The Horror of Dracula
- The Man With The Golden Gun
- The Satanic Rites of Dracula
- Scars of Dracula
- Scream and Scream Again
- Season of the Witch
- Starship Invasions
- Taste The Blood of Dracula
- The Wicker Tree
Sir Christopher Lee was 93 years old and he lived those 9 decades in the best way possible. As long as there are film lovers, he will never be forgotten.