Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Late Great Nicol Williamson

Nicol Williamson, perhaps best known for his role as Merlin in the movie Excalibur (1981), passed 16 December 2011 at the age of 75. The cause was oesophageal cancer.

Nicol Williamson was born 14 September 1936 in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland. When he was still young his family moved to England, where young Mr. Williamson attended Central Grammar School in Birmingham. He left school at 16 to work in a factory run by his father. He later attended the Birmingham  School of Speech and Drama. He regarded his time there as a disaster, dismissing the school as "...nothing more than a finishing school for the daughters of local businessmen” He spent his National Service as a gunner in the Airborne Division.

Following National Service Nicol Williamson became part of the Dundee Repertory Theatre. There he appeared in 33 productions. He made his debut at the Royal Court in 1961 in That's Us. He had his first big success in the theatre with Inadmissible Evidence on the West End in 1964. In 1966  Inadmissible Evidence moved to Broadway. Mr. Williamson won a Tony Award for his performance. Nicol Williamson's stage career would include performances in such productions as Hamlet, Plaza Suite, Hamlet, Uncle Vanya, Macbeth, and Jack: A Night on the Town with John Barrymore.

Nicol Williamson's film career began in 1956 with an uncredited part in The Iron Petticoat. In the Sixties he appeared in such films as The Six-Sided Triangle (1963), The Bofors Gun (1968), the film adaptation of Inadmissible Evidence (1968), The Reckoning (1969), Laughter in the Dark (1969), and Hamlet (1969). He appeared on such television shows as ITV Play of the Week, Z Cars, Teletale, Six, and The Wednesday Play.

In the Seventies appeared in such films as The Jerusalem File (1972), Le moine (1972), The Wilby Conspiracy (1975), Robin and Marian (1976--in which he played Little John to Sean Connery's Robin Hood), The Seven Per-Cent Solution (1976--in which he played Sherlock Holmes), The Goodbye Girl (1977), and The Cheap Detective (1978).  On television he appeard on such shows as Thirty Minute Theatre, Late Night Drama, and Columbo. It was in 1981 that he appeared in his best known role, as Merlin in Excalibur. During the Eighties he appeared in such other films as Venom (1981), I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can (1982), Return to Oz (1985), Black Widow (1987), and The Exorcist III (1990). He appeared on television in the mini-series Christopher Columbus and Lord Mountbatten--The Last Viceroy. In the Nineties he appeared in an episode of Chillers and the movies The Advocate (1993), The Wind in the Willows (1996), and Spawn (1997).

Nicol Williamson was as well known for his temperament as he  was his talent, and both were considerable. Very few actors over the years could play characters with the intensity with which Mr. Williamson did. Indeed, in many respects Nicol Williamson could be compared to Richard Burton or Marlon Brando, although arguably he had more consistency in the quality of his performances than either of them. Indeed, Mr. Williamson did not simply give great performances in classics such as Excalibur (playing the quintessential Merlin), but good performances even in films that were somewhat less than classics (Cogliostro in Spawn). Although often known for his somewhat fiery temperament, it will be for his talent that he will be remembered.

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