Sir Christopher Lee (1922-2015)

News of Sir Christopher Lee’s death at the weekend was released today. A true cinema legend, one of Lee’s most famous roles was playing James Bond villain Francisco Scaramanga in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun.

It wasn’t the first time Lee had been given consideration to play a Bond villain, as his second cousin Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels, had put his name forward as Doctor No – the titular villain in the first Bond movie – but he was unaware that the part had already gone to Joseph Wiseman.

Lee played the Scaramanga as a suave amoral freelance assassin. A tall and imposing man, with a commanding voice, he was  in many ways the perfect nemesis for Bond.

Sir Roger Moore paid tribute to his old friend after news broke:

Lee was perhaps best known for his role as Dracula in the Hammer films of the 50s, 60s and 70s alongside his good friend Peter Cushing with whom he shared screentime in many movies.

He made over 250 credited appearances in films over a very long career, but two of his most iconic roles came during his horror films period.

He played Lord Summerisle in the cult classic horror film The Wicker Man (1973) in which Edward Woodward investigated strange goings on at a Scottish island, with a memorable appearance by Britt Ekland, who would go on to star as Mary Goodnight alongside Lee the following year in The Man With The Golden Gun, paid her own tribute.

He also took a rare role as the protagonist, Nicolas, Duc de Richleau, in the film adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s novel The Devil Rides Out. The 1968 movie is rarely seen these days but stands alone as one of the best films that Lee ever made.

Lee found it hard to escape typecasting and actively avoided the horror genre when he could after a busy period in the 1970s but he took later roles as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies and Count Dooku in Star Wars.

One role which was dear to him was the under-appreciated film Jinnah (1998), which took almost seven years to get a DVD release, in which he played the title role of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.

He latterly worked with film director Tim Burton on five films: Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows. Burton was the man chosen to present Lee with his BAFTA Fellowship in 2011.

It seems fitting to end with a tribute written by Mark Gatiss about Lee on Twitter today:

“The great, always criminally underrated Sir Christopher Lee has left us. A Titan of Cinema and a huge part of my youth. Farewell.”