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Farewell Edward Woodward

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Mark Kermode | 14:13 UK time, Friday, 20 November 2009

Having met the man and shared a few memorable moments with him, I thought it might be appropriate to share some memories of the late, great Edward Woodward, the widely loved star of that extraordinary 1970s British horror masterpiece, The Wicker Man.

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  • Comment number 1.

    ‘The Wicker Man’ is a quite extraordinary film; it tried to do something very different with British horror movies and drew on British history, legend and traditions to boot. There is one other I’d rate as highly alongside it, Michael Reeves’s ‘Witchfinder General’.

    I came late to ‘Wicker Man’, finally catching it late one night on TV. Woodward is excellent in a very difficult role; a very uptight, virginal, and Christian puritan. Not a character many of an audience would readily identify with, yet he made the man human and believable.

    My main memory of Woodward is from his first hit TV series ‘Callan’, playing an assassin working for British intelligence. A character as far removed from the more glamorous ‘licensed to kill’ 007 as you can imagine; inhabiting a world of dingy flats, unable to trust anyone (other than a lowlife with BO so strong he had no friends, nicknamed Lonely) and needing to discover why his victims deserved to die in order to fulfil his contracts. There was a British film adaptation, also called ‘Callan’ made around the same time as ‘The Sweeney’ movie; it’s worth catching.

    Woodward was also excellent in ‘Breaker Morant’ and a reliable character actor, in supporting roles, in many other films. Like many other character actors you only really realize just how good they were when they are no longer there.

  • Comment number 2.

    Great film and great comments from the Doc. Wasn't The Wicker Man filmed in Southern Scotland though?

  • Comment number 3.

    God bless Edward Woodward

  • Comment number 4.

    Without a doubt, his most poignant role for me was as the legendary Breaker Morant.

    As someone whose ancestors fought in this oft-forgotten war, and of which I knew little until I was galvanised by the film to read about it, I thought Woodward gave us a remarkably vivid performance as a reckless yet brave, loyal man caught up in a web of intrigue and betrayal that ultimately culminates in his tragic ending.

    We really empathise with his and Bryan Brown's character as they slowly walk towards their deaths on a windy, isolated hill in South Africa for actions they believed were official orders. They are the sacrificial lambs to the mistakes their generals made.

    One extraordinary and rather eerie fact I did not know about concerns the last minute or two of the film. As the two men walk to their deaths, Edward Woodward put out his hand towards Bryan Brown, who takes hold of it. This was an unscripted moment improvised on the spot between the two actors, but kept in the film regardless because of its powerful gesture. Years later Woodward was shocked to learn that in reality Morant and Handcock had held hands in this exact same fashion.

    Anyway, all stories aside, I shall greatly miss this fine actor who first started 'walking the boards' in the theatre and ended up in his last role...on Eastenders. But whatever character he played, he gave the person integrity, principles and a thorough decency.

  • Comment number 5.

    The 'Callan' film (rather that the TV series) was the first thing I ever saw him in, and I thought he was fantastic - sympathetic, violent, jaded, ambiguous and regretful all at the same time - a very English actor in a very English film.

  • Comment number 6.

    Me and my brother saw this film called 'The Appointment' on a yearly Cornwall holiday trip, it was on really late and we stayed up to watch it. We were both big horror enthusiasts (and Equalizer fans) from a really young age, and we couldn't have been more than 15 or so when this came on.

    Maybe it was because we were in a secluded bunker in the early morning hours, but we were really scared... It's a really eerie film, and as far as I remember the intro is really creepy. I don't know if this creepiness would hold up these days but it freaked us good.

    I must say I only saw Wicker Man last year - unforgivably late I know, but it really is mesmerising... You can tell that there was a lot going on behind the scenes...

    RIP Edward - and good work Mark, that was a really good piece.

  • Comment number 7.

    You know, the one (minor) positive out of this is that maybe now they'll have a reason for finally releasing the remaining seasons of The Equalizer on DVD. AFAIK, they've only ever made the first one available.

  • Comment number 8.

    edward woodward seems a good sport

    'the wicker man' is such an underated film

    the culture show showed him to be a decent bloke-r.i.p. eddie

  • Comment number 9.

    A lovely goodbye Dr kermode.

    I discovered the wicker man on DVD. It was very dark winters evening and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I was transfixed. And Yes, Woodward was the star of the show. An amazing performance. And having only known him as "The Equalizer" up to that point.. astonishing to watch. He will be missed.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Dr Mark,
    Just to say nice of you to mention Edward Woodward, a fine actor sometimes under used and underrated.
    He was also a fine singer who made several hit albums in the 70s,
    truely a man of many talents.

  • Comment number 11.

    Great tribute Mark. A fine actor and his performance as Sgt. Howey in The Wicker Man (in my top 5 films of all time) is the perfect (and often overlooked) antithesis to the mesmeric Lord Summerisle.
    I'll never forget his expression as he approaches the Wicker Man itself for the first time - a horrifying and landmark scene.
    I'm keen to explore further work by Edward Woodward so if there are any other recommendations then lets please discuss...
    Regards, Will.

  • Comment number 12.

    I think I must be alone in just not getting The Wicker Man at all. It just seems like a total mess of a film to me. I think Edward Woodward was a great actor, not taking anything away from him or his performance in that film, but I just don't see what's so great about it. Maybe I need to watch it again, for the umpeenth time, to see if my mind can be changed.

  • Comment number 13.

    dragliner78, I share a certain level of ambivalence about the film, though it's due a reassessment as it's been a while since I've watched it. I think a lot of the climax's impact hinges on how much of a revolutionary idea you think a male [mm-hm, still don't want to spoil, stop reading now] is. And in a time when the out-of-his-depth geek is commonplace, and a champion of cinema, it's not exactly an earth shattering idea today. But I imagine then it was, and that somehow compounds the horror for its original audience, as Woodward's policeman is either seen as unusually innocent, or perhaps even a Christian saintly figure, which fits in with its theme of a holy war.

  • Comment number 14.

    To be Edward Woodward was Jim Kyle in the BBC2 series 1990. As a spotty teenager this bleak portrayal of a totalitarian regime in the country I was growing up in was a sobering though. He portrayed his character so well, was so believeable that I still remember his performance 30 years later. Oh and The Wicker Man scared me senseless when I first saw it. The Equaliser was not so good. Does anyone remember The Bass Player and the Blonde? The best tribute I can pay Edward Woodward is that even after all these years I can remember so many things he appeared in.

  • Comment number 15.

    Unfortunately I knew Edward Woodward from no where else other than The Wicker Man, failing even to recognise him in Hot Fuzz, I'll put this down to my youth and ITVs extra channels not re-running a particular 70s police programme that I may have otherwise caught.

    However he left a lasting impression on me as a young teenager, having recorded The Wicker Man onto poor quality VHS (something that never detracts from a great horror) and watching on an 'ill day' from school. In particular the lusty singing scene, in which he shared with me the kind of angst and longing for Miss Britt Ekland on screen that I had on this side. His barrier was both a metaphorical Christian one and a physical Pagan pub one, mine just two inches of glass. Shame I stumbled across a picture of her now (and found out about the use of a body double), those last words of the film ringing in my ears....

    RIP Edward

  • Comment number 16.

    Nice little tribute Mark. The only film I've seen Edward in is The Wicker Man. In which his performance is, as noted, insanely good.


  • Comment number 17.

    Thankyou for a decent eulogy for Edward Woodward. I had studied 'The Wicker Man' for an A-level in film studies a few years ago, so your background anecdotes were entertaining, interesting and well-informed.

  • Comment number 18.

    Mark I was just wondering, after watching The Wicker Man on TV a few months back I immediatley went to buy it on DVD to find that the Special Edition which included your documentary and commentary is no longer available. Any idea why this is? I really don't want to purchase the single DVD as none of the awesome special features are included.

  • Comment number 19.

    I've got a two dvd UK special edition, which features a commentary from Mark...but not his doc. I really want to see that doc again, I remember seeing it a few years back and enjoying it very much. Anyone know if it's floating around the net at all?

  • Comment number 20.

    A truly great actor- farewell Ewar Woowar :)

  • Comment number 21.

    Thanks for leaving such a wonderful tribute to Edward. I think you encapsulated him well in this poignant clip.

  • Comment number 22.

    Americans think Paranormal Activity is scary. Err, no. What's scary is Christopher Lee in a wig, prancing around a fire. THAT is scary.

    RIP Edward Woodward, and curse Nicholas "Horse face" Cage for his idiotic, buttock-clenchingly lame, demented, and nonsensical remake that only proved Americans just do not get cinema.



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