British Character Actors No.4: Alastair Sim

The Arts

He was nobody’s idea of a favourite uncle, that’s for sure, but Alastair Sim was a lot sweeter than he looked. With an undertaker’s lugubrious stare and a curious way of rolling his Rs, he became one of the most beloved character actors in Britain, especially when he edged his role with something slightly sinister, as he did in ‘Hue And Cry’, ‘An Inspector Calls’ and especially in ‘The Green Man’. He enlivened the most staid films, like ‘Folly To Be Wise’ (a comedy about the Brains’ Trust!) and even in late appearances, he steals scenes – watch him as the increasingly befuddled priest in ‘The Ruling Class’.

Sim and his wife took a young lad into their home and Sim trained him as an actor – George Cole learned everything he knew from Sim, and there’s a wonderful documentary comparing their near identical acting styles. This is why Cole appears with Sim so frequently in old movies; he was, in effect, apprenticed. His scenes with Sim in the early St Trinian’s films clearly shows how much fun they had working together.

5 comments on “British Character Actors No.4: Alastair Sim”

  1. Stan says:

    Alastair Sim isn’t in ‘The Ladykillers’ – it’s Alec Guiness doing a bit of an impersonation of him!

    ‘Green For Danger’ is one of my favourite films and well worth searching out if you’ve never seen it.

  2. admin says:

    Hi Stan OF COURSE you’re right – I’m going mad. Will amend.

  3. Sam Tomaino says:

    Here in the U.S., I got a Region Free DVD player just so I could get Region 2 DVDs with Alastair Sim. He is always entertaining and, for me, he will always be THE Ebenezer Scrooge, the role I first saw him play. He uses his comic talenst to bring out Scrooge’s biting nasty sense of humour, something no one else ever did.

  4. So amazing to find this about SIm tonight, since I stumbled onto a late-night showing of ‘The Ruling Class’ last just last night, which SIm, did indeed, steal. I like Sam’s comment about Sim’s portrayal of Scrooge (bringing out the character’s nasty sense of humor). The otheraspect of Scrooge that Sim is unique in bringing out is his (for lack of a better term) ‘virility’. Most portrayals of Scrooge, “mean-spirited” though they may be, all present Scrooge as a doddering fool—mean, but doddering, too old to do any physical harm. Sim (I believe) gives us a Scrooge with some blood still in him, which makes him less of a figure of fun and more of a real threat.

  5. Nick Ross says:

    I remember years ago coming across Alastair Sim in an incredible black and white tv adapt of Cold Comfort Farm. I think it was a 6-part series. Likely to have been on BBC before BBC2 existed. Amongst a cast of eccentric characters Sim stood out as the father who found his vocation wandering the countryside spitting out fire and brimstone surmons. It was genius and he was mesmorising. It’s really something how these things stay with you.

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