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Sir Ian McKellen deserves a feature-length, theatrically released film about his life and career, and he’s got one: McKellen: Playing The Part. It features a sit-down interview with Sir Ian – looking very dapper in jacket and tie – interspersed with loads of footage, photos and other archival materials. Additionally, director Joe Stephenson has shot scenes of a boyhood Ian, played by first Milo Parker and then Scott Chambers, which have a similar affect to dramatic recreations in true-crime documentaries: they work, but you’re constantly wondering whether they’re really necessary.
I am the absolute target market for this film – I love Sir Ian – and find it a little hard to critique. For a novice interested in a general discovery of Sir Ian, I suppose the film – at 92 minutes – is a comprehensive and entertaining enough overview. It covers childhood, the early theatrical career, the mid-career of big theatre and some television, Sir Ian’s coming-out and politicisation, and ultimately the film career. And of course, there’s Sir Ian himself, in that charming jacket and tie, being ever so charming and dapper.
But is the novice really going to go to the cinema to see this film? And if not, why not give the film’s true audience – people who already love Sir Ian – something heftier? Sir Ian deserves at least two hours, more footage from the theatrical days (especially his incredible performances as Edward II and Richard II, both of which are teasingly included here), and more context. An example of the film’s lack of discipline and focus occurs around the Amadeus section, when Sir Ian won a Tony on Broadway. It is minutes into this chunk before the awning of the theatre finally reveals exactly which play Sir Ian was on Broadway with, and then the subsequent natural question – why wasn’t he in the film version? – goes both unasked and unanswered.
There is no discernible point of view here. It’s not the story of Sir Ian’s politicisation, nor his intriguing attitude to theatre versus film work, nor his “early years”; it’s a bit of everything in 92 minutes, and as such, it’s completely entertaining, charming and lovely while also being annoyingly unsatisfying. Now that this exists, it’s unlikely, given Sir Ian is 79, someone is going to make another version of his life, one which extends him, quite simply, a little more time.