Top 10 Welsh actors: Anthony Hopkins

Photograph of Anthony Hopkins

Last updated: 05 March 2010

Anthony Hopkins (1937-)

The screen career of Port Talbot-born Anthony Hopkins reached its zenith, spectacularly when, in his 50s, a string of films allowed him to capitalise on his innate talent for playing reflective, introverted roles with rare intelligence.

Yet he won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as the terrifying Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs (1991), a character virtually unfathomable in his bloodlust and taste for human flesh. Even this murderer was also a fiercely erudite man but much given to seeking out human fear and weakness with creepy badinage, often designed to strike fear as he hatched his complex, chilling crimes and formed an unlikely bond with the FBI to hunt another killer.

Hopkins played his role, occupying little screen time, with a twinkle, as Hannibal relishes the discomfort and asinine mistakes of his jailers, and the actor displayed hitherto unexplored extrovert facets of his extraordinary acting range.

Silence of the Lambs was merely the aperitif - leading to perhaps his two finest, sustained performances. Hopkins was astonishingly self-contained as the blinkered butler mixing with aristocratic appeasers of the Nazis and Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts in The Remains of the Day (1993) and undeniably affecting as CS Lewis, crippled by self-absorption but finding late-flowering love with the ailing Joy Gresham (Debbie Winger) in Shadowlands (1994).

One deeply moving film above all others might have prepared us for these two riveting performances - 84 Charing Cross Road (1986), where Hopkins' conscientious bookshop owner struck up a mutually satisfying pen pal relationship with author Helene Hanff's Jewish New Yorker (Anne Bancroft).

Hopkins' only film as director and player August (1994), also appeared in the 1990s based on his own stage transplanting of Czekhov's play to Wales. It was worthy, no more, and suffered at the box office from a delayed release after one or two other fairly simultaneous excursions by other filmmakers into Czekhov.

In contrast Spotswood (1991) an idiosyncratic humorous Australian film saw Hopkins near his best as an initially impassive and workaholic time and study expert disarmed and humanised by an affable work force.

A few earlier Hopkins films hinted at his potential development as a great screen actor. In Richard Attenborough's Magic (1978) as the ventriloquist falling prey to his creature he was a little too mannered.

He was better as the ambivalent entrepreneur touting his deformed crowdpuller (John Hurt) in Elephant Man (1980) and much the most watchable performer, as a comical Welsh theatre director Dafydd ap Llewellyn in Michael Winner's charmless Chorus of Disapproval (1989) and an efficient if slightly low-powered Captain Bligh in Roger Donaldson's The Bounty (1984).

Other distinctive Hopkins performances included his IRA man on the run - a seafarer - in the likeably reflective The Dawning (1989), his hypocritical patriarch wearing a false mask of liberality in the Merchant Ivory Howards End (1991) and his obsessed motor cycle racer Burt Munro defying the years and logic to break a Bonneville Flats land speed record in Roger Donaldson's enjoyably affirmative The World's Fastest Indian (2005).

Hopkins, knighted in 1993, also provided invaluable, self-effacing support to Catherine Zeta Jones in the late 1990s swashbuckler The Mask of Zorro.

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