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Dance, Charles (1946-)


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Charles Dance is a conundrum. Like many actors blessed with matinee idol looks, but cursed by not living in a matinee idol time, he seems to have gone out of his way to escape typecasting as a romantic leading man, seeking instead more interesting roles.

He first came to the notice of alert theatregoers in the 1970s - a tall, striking blond playing assorted lords in the background of various history plays for the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as understudying the company's leading man, Alan Howard. Howard's shadow evidently loomed large over Dance, for 20 years later he returned to the RSC to play several of the older actor's most conspicuous successes, such as Coriolanus and John Halder in C.P. Taylor's Good.

Born Walter Charles Dance in Redditch, Worcestershire, on 10 October 1946, he was set for a career in graphic design until a meeting with two elderly actors led to private acting coaching, and he exchanged his regional lower-middle-class accent for the cultivated tones he uses today. While toiling at the RSC, he played small roles on television until his casting as the upright, decent British soldier Guy Perron in Granada's groundbreaking dramatisation of The Jewel in the Crown (ITV, 1984) made him a star and a sex symbol.

For a while in the 1980s he seemed trapped as a patrician figure in a white suit, in films such as Good Morning, Babylon (Italy/France, 1987), playing filmmaker and perfect Southern gentleman D.W. Griffiths, and as a British archaeologist in Pascali's Island (UK/US, d. James Dearden, 1988), although he attempted to break the mould as the amoral Jos Erroll in White Mischief (d. Michael Radford, 1987). The 1990s saw him in films as diverse as Alien 3 (US, 1992), The Last Action Hero (US, 1993) and Kabloonak (France/Canada, 1994) in which he played Robert Flaherty making Nanook of the North (US, 1922).

Some of his best work has been in TV drama: 'Rainy Day Women' (Play for Today, BBC, tx. 10/4/1984), in which he played an officer recovering from combat neurosis who becomes embroiled in a tragedy in an East Anglian fens village in 1940; Fingersmith (BBC, 2005), as the shady uncle dealing in pornographic literature; as haunted Maxim de Winter in Rebecca (ITV, 1997); and as ruthless lawyer Tulkinghorn in Bleak House (BBC, 2005), for which he was Emmy nominated. After leading roles in the 1980s, his film career has subsided into supporting parts in such films as Swimming Pool (France/UK, d. Francois Ozon, 2003) and Gosford Park (d. Robert Altman, 2001), and he is often lazily cast as a villain. Perhaps this is why he has recently turned to screenwriting and directing, scoring a notable success with Ladies in Lavender (2004), in which he proved he could sensitively direct actresses of the calibre of Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. He has continued to play occasional leading roles in the theatre, receiving the Critics' Circle Best Actor Award for Shadowlands in 2007.

Janet Moat

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Selected credits

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1900-set drama about a young medic's disturbing discovery

Thumbnail image of Hidden City (1987)Hidden City (1987)

Stephen Poliakoff's directorial debut, a journey into a concealed London

Thumbnail image of Jewel in the Crown, The (1984)Jewel in the Crown, The (1984)

Acclaimed drama series set in the 1940s Indian Raj

Thumbnail image of Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes (2000-01)Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes (2000-01)

Fascinating detective drama based on Arthur Conan Doyle's real life

Thumbnail image of Rainy Day Women (1984)Rainy Day Women (1984)

Poignant drama about wartime tensions in a remote English village

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