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Northam, Jeremy (1961-)


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Although he has never quite attained the A-list status of his contemporaries, Jeremy Northam is nevertheless one of the more gifted performers of his generation. He was born on 1st December 1961 in Cambridge, and studied acting at the Bristol Old Vic theatre school. He made his debut in the small role of Mr Benson in a television remake of Hitchcock's Suspicion (US, 1987), which he followed by a brief period of typecasting as dashing soldiers or pilots in such dramas as Wish Me Luck (ITV, 1987) and Piece of Cake (ITV, 1988), before undermining these stereotypes by playing the tormented Captain Stanhope in Journey's End (BBC, 1988).

After some time in the theatre, winning an Olivier award for his performance in the Edwardian drama The Voysey Inheritance, he made his screen debut in a small role in the road-trip comedy Soft Top Hard Shoulder (d. Stefan Schwartz, 1992), and played Hindley Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights (UK/US, d. Peter Kosminsky, 1992). He impressed in a small role as Beacus Penrose, one of Dora Carrington's lovers, in Carrington (UK/France, d. Christopher Hampton, 1995), and was a strikingly charismatic villain in the otherwise unexceptional Sandra Bullock vehicle The Net (US, 1995). He was also superb in the undervalued schizophrenia drama Voices (UK/US, d. Malcolm Clarke, 1995).

He was a charming, if youthful, Mr Knightley in Emma (UK/US, d. Douglas McGrath, 1996), and had a brief cameo in Steven Spielberg's slavery epic Amistad (US, 1997), though the bug thriller Mimic (US, 1997) and the crime comedy Happy, Texas (US, 1999) betrayed his discomfort with playing Americans. He was on firmer ground as two near-namesakes, the morally compromised Sir Robert Chilton in the Oscar Wilde adaptation An Ideal Husband (UK/US, d. Oliver Parker, 1999), and the brilliant barrister Sir Robert Morton in David Mamet's The Winslow Boy (US, 1999). These deservedly won him the Evening Standard and London Critics Circle awards for best actor.

Although miscast as an Italian price in Merchant-Ivory's Henry James adaptation The Golden Bowl (US/France/UK, 2000), he bounced back as the secret agent Mr Wigram in Enigma (UK/US/Germany/Netherlands), fully attuned to all the ironies and inflexions of Tom Stoppard's screenplay. He stood out as a weary Ivor Novello in Gosford Park (US/UK/Germany/Italy, d. Robert Altman, 2001), forever called upon to literally sing for his supper, and played another spy in the underrated sci-fi thriller Cypher (US, 2002). While his more recent work has been variable, his performance as director Michael Winterbottom's long-suffering alter ego in A Cock and Bull Story (2005) beautifully captured the exasperation of a sane man adrift in a world of egotism and folly - in other words, the film business.

Alexander Larman

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Thumbnail image of Cock and Bull Story, A (2005)Cock and Bull Story, A (2005)

Surprisingly effective adaptation of a supposedly unfilmable novel

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