Grace Note: Richard Griffiths & Alan Bennett

Cambridge, MA:  Mt. Auburn Cemetery, 'Edith' 10/7/13
Cambridge, MA: Mt. Auburn Cemetery, ‘Edith’ 10/7/13

          The late Richard Griffiths is best remembered here as Vernon Dursley in the ‘Harry Potter’ films.

           But, Griffiths was most notably a stage actor who excelled in plays written by the best of his generation.  I had the great good luck to see him in roles he debuted created by Tom Stoppard and Alan Bennett.

           In ‘Heroes’ (2005), three aged poilus of the Great War – Griffiths, John Hurt and Ken Stott – fill the walled garden of a veterans home with their dreams and their affection for one another.  Tom Stoppard adapted a French play, ‘The Wind from the Poplars’ into this tragi-comedy.

           I thought ‘Heroes’ moving and lovely with Griffiths leading a cast of peers.  The play and the three performances have not left my memory.

           Not everyone agreed on the play   (See it for yourself, if you’re in the vicinity of West Springfield, Mass. where a professional production runs through April 4.) No matter the plot, the stars carried it off.

           Of Griffith’s collaboration with Alan Bennett on ‘History Boys’ (2004), we have a film record.  It captures something of Griffith’s genius, but film flattens his affect, as it does in the TV series ‘Pie in the Sky’.

           Seeing ‘History Boys’ in London, even at a considerable distance from the stage, Griffith’s vibrance, his intense interaction with the other actors and the script left me awestruck.

           Bennett and Griffiths were both Yorkshiremen rose from straitened – and worse – circumstances.  They shared intellectual curiosities of breathtaking ranges.  What gives Griffiths’ role as Hector, the inspired and inspiring teacher, some of its poignancy is that the boys, not the teacher, represented his youth, his life.

           A hint of Bennett’s affection for Griffiths comes in entries from his 2013 Diary published in the London Review of Books for Jan. 9, 2014.  I have no doubt Griffiths would have played the scene well.

3 May. I am reading Neil MacGregor’s Shakespeare’s Restless World. It’s very good, even overcoming my (A.L. Rowse generated) prejudice against reading about Shakespeare. I hadn’t realised at Richard Griffiths’s funeral in Stratford that Shakespeare’s father had been buried in the churchyard, the whereabouts of the grave now unknown. So when, waiting for the service to start, I went out for a pee under one of the yews in a sheltered corner of the cemetery I may well have been pissing on Shakespeare’s dad’s grave. More decorously, Richard’s massive coffin was resting where presumably Shakespeare’s coffin rested, a notion that would have pleased him though at the service it goes unremarked.

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