In the early 90’s Ralph Fiennes, then in his early 30’s became an apparent overnight star. after years on stage his first big break was in the TV show Prime Suspect. he then went on to a lacklustre adaptation of Wuthering Heights with a sadly miscast Juliette Binoche who was far too French for the part. Then out of nowhere came his career defining performance of Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List (1993). He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, I have never been able to comprehend how he didn’t win. This was followed by a starring role in Robert Redford’s Quiz Show (1994) and Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days 1995. Both of these were interesting parts that demonstrated Fiennes’ range. He came to the attention of a lot of people with The English Patient (1997), the second of three movies he appeared in to win best picture Oscar, the others being Schindler’s List. The film also reunited him with Wuthering Heights co star Juliette Binoche. I am happy to report both were perfectly cast this time.
In 2005 he reached a whole new audience when he played Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, a role he would reprise in all the remaining film series. The interviews that he did around the films suggested he had little knowledge or interest in phenomenally successful film franchise. His directorial debut came with Shakespeare’s tragedy Coriolanus. Fiennes also took the leading role, a man with a great dislike of being praised, a trait that it has been suggested comes from the belief that the acceptance of praise may be an admission that he places value on others opinion of him! An interesting character for Fiennes to chose. Despite this varied array of work, one thing he has never been accused of is being funny. Having heard him in many interviews he clearly hates the publicity machine that goes with the industry, preferring to let his performance do the talking. In fairness he was very funny as Harry in, In Bruges. This however was achieved by playing the part deadpan straight complete with a preposterous accent. He also had some funny moments in Strange Days, but that was more an uncomfortable laugh out of pity and despair.
None of this prepaid me for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. totally camping it up, Fiennes gives a note perfect performance. The history of movies has shown that comic actors taking on serious roles (Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love, Bill Murray in Lost In Translation, Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society) has been far more successful than straight actors trying to be funny. I don’t know and will probably never know if his impeccable timing is down to Fiennes’ performance of Andersons direction and editing. The film is hugely over stylised and is all the better for it, this is probably what allows Fiennes to escape the shackles and confines of the parts he normally platys. Allowing his young co-star Tony Revolori to play the straight role Fiennes appears to be having fun with the part.
I’m not sure Ralph Fiennes can step effortlessly from comic to dramatic performances like Jack Lemmon and Alec Guinness did but I would certainly like to see him in a few more comic roles if the results are anything like The Grand Budapest Hotel.