Lady Hurt talks about life with Sir John and the acting legend’s last leading role
- Credit: Trafalgar Releasing/Goldfinch St
That Good Night features legendary actor Sir John Hurt in his last leading role. Ahead of the film being released next week, arts correspondent Emma Knights speaks to Sir John's wife Anwen, Lady Hurt.
From The Elephant Man to Harry Potter's Mr Ollivander, legendary actor Sir John Hurt's repertoire of characters was vast, and his latest and last leading role will see him appear in the film That Good Night which opens in cinemas next week.
But for Anwen, Lady Hurt, the late Oscar-nominated and Bafta Award-winning star was simply John, the warm, generous man with an amazing sense of humour who she married in 2005 exactly two years to the day they first met, with who she made Norfolk her home, and who in a touching tribute after his death in January 2017 aged 77 she described as 'the most gentlemanly of gentlemen with the greatest of hearts.'
Next Tuesday Lady Hurt will once again pay a public tribute to Sir John at Norwich's Cinema City when she introduces a special preview of That Good Night, and ahead of this she reflected on his final major film role and their life together which all began with a chance meeting in a Soho restaurant on February 11 2003.
'It really makes you realise how we live for chance so much,' she said philosophically.
'We may never have gone to that particular place - your whole life hangs on a thread of chance and possibility.'
In That Good Night - which is in part inspired by the famous Dylan Thomas poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night - Sir John plays Ralph, a terminally ill screenwriter with two missions in life, to be reconciled with his son and not to be a burden to his devoted wife as he goes 'into that good night.'
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The film also has added poignancy because Sir John himself was undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer while working on it in Portugal, and he died before seeing the final cut of the movie.
Speaking at the couple's Thurning home, with their beloved terrier Pilchard sat beside her, Lady Hurt said she was glad audiences would finally get a chance to see Sir John's 'fantastic' performance and she spoke of how even gruelling chemotherapy had not stopped Sir John's dedication to completing the filming.
'He just wanted to crack on. He wasn't going to let anything put him off working. He worked all the way through,' she said.
When asked what she thought had attracted Sir John to the film, she said: 'I think he enjoyed playing Ralph because it's a wonderful role. This is obviously a question that people will ask, but I don't think it was particularly because it was to do with somebody who was dying, I don't think that was of any importance at all. I think it was a great role, a really interesting character and he wanted to be working.'
Tuesday's special screening at Cinema City is also significant because it highlights one of the many Norfolk arts organisations both Sir John and Lady Hurt got behind after moving to Norfolk in 2008. Sir John was patron of Cinema City from 2013 until his death and Lady Hurt has recently joined the cinema's board.
Lady Hurt explained it had been the county's big skies and the recommendation of an old friend that had originally drawn them to Norfolk, initially as a place where they could be private and Sir John could enjoy painting, but that the warmth of the local communities had led to them wanting to enjoy a much fuller role in Norfolk life.
'We just fell in love with it really,' she said. 'There's so much going on here, there's so much culture here.'
She said Sir John had been 'thrilled' to be chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts as well as be involved in organisations such as Sheringham Little Theatre and Holt Festival, and these are all organisations that Lady Hurt continues to champion today.
She is currently working with Holt Festival on a series of events paying tribute to Sir John's work, including an exhibition of his art and screenings of three of his films.
Explaining her film choices, she said: 'Whenever we had to do a new biog or CV or something, John would say has it got The Hit, The Field, and Love and Death on Long Island on it? I wouldn't say they were his favourite roles, he always said that was like [being asked] which was your favourite child, you can't choose, but he just felt that people should see them, and most people haven't had the opportunity to see them because they are small independent films that didn't necessarily get the full distribution.'
Along with Sir John's great legacy on film, Lady Hurt said she hoped he would be remembered for his passion for helping and inspiring the next generation.
And Tuesday's preview screening of That Good Night at Cinema City will be raising funds for one particular charity for which Sir John was patron - Project Harar, which helps transform the lives of Ethiopians afflicted by debilitating and often life-threatening facial deformities.
'John was approached by Project Harar's founder Jonathan Crown about 10 years ago. He came to see John about being the patron largely because of The Elephant Man and the fact John knew what it was like to see people's reactions to looking different. John was so impressed by Jonathan and the fact that one person could set all this up and make a difference,' said Lady Hurt, who has now taken on the role of Project Harar's patron.
'I count it a great privilege to be continuing our association with Project Harar which is committed, quite literally, to rebuilding faces and changing lives.'
That Good Night will be released in cinemas on May 11.
The preview screening of That Good Night, in aid of Project Harar and with an introduction by Anwen, Lady Hurt, will take place at Cinema City, in Norwich, at 6.30pm on Tuesday, May 8. Twenty per cent of the ticket price will be donated to Project Harar. To book, visit www.picturehouses.com/cinema/Cinema_City
For more on Project Harar, visit www.projectharar.org
For more on Holt Festival, visit www.holtfestival.org