Kenton Hall’s memories of Richard Attenborough


I can remember exactly when I first became aware
of Richard Attenborough’s work. Like all teenagers of a certain type, I was obsessed with
the novels of Graham Greene. And obviously I’d heard about
the film version of “Brighton Rock”, and it had this amazing reputation, and Richard’s performance
in it, particularly. But obviously, any teenager
that’s obsessed with a particular novel, you go into a film version with
a certain amount of trepidation thinking it can never be the
story that you have in your head. And I remember seeing it for
the first time, and just being astonished at the way that Attenborough
captured the central character. It just made me go out and seek
out everything that he’d ever done. And I remember trotting around
video stores, constantly looking for Richard Attenborough films that
he’d starred in, that he’d directed, and just every time
finding something new and starting to get
this picture of the artist and that lot of the concerns
I was starting to form and the opinions I was starting to
form, politically, and about the world were being echoed.
And there was this enormous humanity in all of the films
that really resonated with me. And it kind of helped to break me
out of that teenage cynicism. I remember seeing “Shadowlands”
for the first time in the cinema when I was about seventeen, and just becoming so emotional. Even though it was not a part of
life yet, with which I was familiar, even though it was something
I hadn’t yet experienced. It kind of spoke to me on an innate level and I knew, not only was I learning
something more about being a human being but also it was the beginnings of
really believing that I wanted to perform, and I wanted to write,
and I wanted to direct films. And looking back at the accidents that
brought me from Canada to Leicester, to have ended up in
a city, working, that is so connected to Richard and his work it feels as though it’s slightly cyclical it feels as though
those first impressions that I had that tickled the back of my brain
and made me think, “This is something I can do,
this is something I can work towards” “and I know the tone, and I know what
I want to accomplish with my own work.” It’s just such a huge inspiration. When you look at Richard’s films,
particularly the ones that he’s directed the way in which he manages
to somehow combine the cinematic grandeur,
but at the same time never forgetting about
the human emotions, never forgetting about
where the story actually lies. And you see, when you see a
blockbuster – a modern blockbuster, all for the last twenty or
thirty years. Whenever it fails on an audience level,
it’s because that’s been forgotten. it’s because the spectacle
has taken over from what the core
and the heart of the story is and I think the beautiful thing
about Richard’s films as an actor and as a director,
that that never gets forgotten, that it’s always about the people. It’s always about the performances
and the story and the cinematography
helps to tell that story so you get the best of both worlds and I think it’s very easy
to be blasé about that – about presenting an audience with
something that they can be dazzled by but at the same time
quite genuinely moved by and as an actor,
just the range of performances that Richard has presented on screen for those twenty, thirty years that
he was working regularly in movies every time you never knew
what you were going to get there wasn’t a stock character that recurred over his whole career there was always just
that little step to the left, just taking the character
in a different direction. But at the same time, even with
something like “10 Rillington Place” even though it’s a cold
and it’s a chilling character he still presents you that kernel
of humanity – humanity at its worst, but he makes it a real person. He makes it someone
who you don’t empathise with but you certainly understand a
little bit better how that can exist in our world, and – while that makes it
all the more chilling, it’s it’s a rare gift for any actor, and it’s something that
seemed to come so naturally I’m sure, like with all actors the enormous amount of hard work
that must have gone into that. But it always translated on screen
as this natural presentation of another human being. and, you know, just in life
we know how difficult it is to get that understanding of someone
else, to make that kind of connection to actually get inside
someone else’s skin and start to figure out
what makes them tick. And Richard’s work has always been able to tap through that
so that we come away feeling that we understood
someone fictional or real, depending on the story just that little bit better. And – You can take something like “Gandhi” and you get so many lessons,
so many object lessons from “Gandhi”. The perseverance of
getting it made in the first place been a huge inspiration to me like I said,
the size and the scope of it without losing the integral story of one man’s life and
the effect that he had on people. It’s clear that Richard Attenborough has been
inspired by people’s stories, if you look at films like “Gandhi”,
look at films like “Cry Freedom”. And, I don’t think
it’s overestimating to say that – and while he would never
admit to this himself, but he has become one of those people. He’s become one of those people
who’s life has had a knock-on effect that’s almost incalculable. I mean, we’ve been particularly
honoured making this film, to speak to a lot of people
that have known Richard and have worked with him
in a lot of different capacities and the same thing that keeps getting
repeated over and over and over again is what an impact he has. And that’s an impact in terms of, in Leicester,
the things he’s done for the City, the things that will
live on for generations as changes that were made in the city
that he helped to make happen. But also the individuals
that he’s affected. The fact that his being present
and his being their friends, or their co-worker, or their inspiration has actually changed them
for the better. And I think all of us,
no matter what we do for a living, no matter whether we’re
in the Arts, or we’re working in local government, or we’re trying to make something happen – Knowing that someone
can have that lasting impact, I mean that’s a life well spent.
There’s no denying that. And I think, as much as
I absolutely adore the man’s work, and his being a huge inspiration,
a large part of why I do what I do and one of the reasons why we’re
so privileged to be making this film for Richard’s birthday,
is that he gives you that goal of working
towards just having a positive impact of actually taking all the things
you see, and all the things you learn and all the heroes you have, and
turning that into something positive and spending your life doing things
that have a positive effect. And that doesn’t take anything away
from him being a strong artist. we see so many people, it feels like
although there has to be this kind of darkness at the heart of
everything in order to be artistic. I think Richard shows that you can
be a good person, a kind person, but still have that steely
determination to get things done and to have an impact, and to
push through the obstacles. And for me that last point,
that pushing through the obstacles to achieve the things
that you want to achieve. If there’s a point of inspiration
that I think that we can all cling onto, it’s that – it’s that nothing nothing is beyond our grasp
if we’re willing to persevere and to put all of ourselves into it,
and pool all of our energies but also to bring other people
round, to inspire other people to work towards the same goal. And if I can
hold onto a fraction of that, then I’ll feel like I’m
moving forward in the right direction. And – I have Richard
Attenborough to thank for that. He is genuinely one of the greatest and most magnanimous talents
that this country has produced.

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