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Madly, Deeply: The Alan Rickman Diaries edited by Alan Taylor

This is a poignant read as I know how this book ends before I start it – with Alan Rickman’s premature death to pancreatic cancer, aged 69. His diaries provide rich (and, yes, mad and deep) insights into his full and fascinating life. They focus on the period between 1993 and 2016, with selected material from his earlier diaries (1974 – 1982) also included.

It’s impressive that Rickman found the time to capture so much detail about his experiences and observations, given his non-stop schedule. He writes with humour and perception about many different topics, including his demanding film and theatre work as well as his remarkable social life.

He frequently attended events such as wrap parties, birthday parties, leisurely and joyous lunches and dinners (some “delicious”, others with “appalling food”). He shares thoughts about who frustrates, bores, inspires or delights him, who he trusts and who will spread secrets “like soft margarine”. Editor Alan Taylor notes in the introduction that we don’t know if Rickman wanted his diaries published. As one birthday approaches Rickman observes that “…there is this strong, strong desire to control the past (photographs, old scripts, mementos) or sling it out. Very freeing.” Clearly he didn’t get rid of his diaries. Did he have a chance to destroy them, or was he beyond caring? None of the content is too scandalous. Should we agree with Taylor’s assumption that “what [Rickman] wrote he was also prepared to say face to face”?

Work-related international travel features prominently and was sometimes exciting for Rickman, but often only a means to an end. (He notes of the Barcelona Ritz: “Lonely little mini-bar, limited room service, polyester pillows.”) He also records “stay-at-home nights” and times spent with his long-term partner Rima “…bless her, she can always make me laugh”.

While some celebrity diaries or memoirs focus on name-dropping, personal conflicts and tales of decadent behavior, Rickman’s journals are far more diverse and balanced. Although he often socialised with other high-profile personalities (and, yes, members of the Royal Family get the odd mention) he got equal pleasure from more low-key celebrations. He writes with delight of the New Year’s Eve spent with “friends, fireworks and singing Beatles, Elton John, Billy Joel songs around the piano”. He enjoyed gardening “…releasing the fig tree from the confines of the kiwi fruit and … helping the honeysuckle to have a presence and reminding the wisteria who is boss…”. He tells of more mundane events too – trips to the dentist, for example, a flooded bathroom, an annoying alarm that beeps throughout the night, his horror at realizing how much “STUFF” he’s surrounded by. Despite attending many events and parties, some meals were a simple pizza or omelette. Sometimes he longed for a heater and a cup of tea.

Self-reflective comments provide insight into the insecurities of an actor’s life: “You’re up, down, in, out – whose whim?” There were times of nervous exhaustion and extreme tiredness, and Rickman was sometimes plagued by insomnia or jet lag. Yet on more buoyant days he’s “filled with the confidence of having made something decent”, and both delighted and stunned when he hears his name called at an awards ceremony.

Each chapter covers a single year, and is prefaced by a brief list of key events and people met during that time.

Most entries are several paragraphs in length with entertaining, arch and thoughtful descriptions of situations, locations, fellow actors, friends, and family. A few examples follow – I’m not naming names, although Rickman does. On meeting a prominent film director: “Mostly, I’m trying to figure out whether or not he dyes his hair.” A well-known actor is “detailed, complicated … and slow to reveal herself, too. Like persuading some petals to open a bit more.” You can probably guess which British politician “can appear to be Head Boy rather than Prime Minister. You slightly want to pat his head rather than applaud.”

Rickman summarises his reactions to significant world events such as the Dunblane massacre, the London bombings, and 9/11. There are personal losses too. He describes with characteristic sensitivity the funerals of friends and colleagues, and the loss of his mother. The end of the book, inevitably, covers the period towards the end of Rickman’s life. The last entries are brief – sometimes only a single line – although his passions for travel, theatre, work, friends and family remain evident. His partner Rima adds a postscript.

Although the book is typeset, several excerpts from Rickman’s original diaries are reproduced on the end papers as well as in a short section within the book. Rickman’s angular handwriting is legible, however the Bembo typeface used in the book undoubtedly makes for a faster read. Taylor notes in the introduction that several volumes of the diaries were colourfully and beautifully illustrated. The excerpts reveal Rickman’s artistic skills and there may have been value in including more of the original handwritten and hand-drawn material. The book includes around a dozen photos of Rickman in some of his most well-known stage and theatre roles. My favourite photo is the sultry and serious black and white cover image.

As much as I enjoyed reading these diaries, I was a wee bit bothered by the copious and curious mix of explanatory in-text bracketed references and footnotes (as many as six on one page). Presumably Taylor added the notes to ensure that readers know who Rickman is referring to. I wonder why some occupations, relationships, full names, and dates of birth are identified, yet others are not. The logic Taylor used to determine what additional info should be included, about who, and where, escapes me. (Is it really necessary to include a footnote identifying “Margaret” as “Allan Rickman’s mother’s neighbor”?) There’s no index, so if you want to know whether you – or your other favourite actor/s – are mentioned, you’ll need to read the entire book.

The book is perhaps best read chronologically. However, it’s also possible to dip in and out of each chapter or to look through the entries in a different order if reading someone else’s diaries becomes just a tiny bit tiresome or FOMO rears its head.

Taylor writes in the introduction: “Reading this book is as close as we can get to … encountering the real Alan Rickman. What a privilege it is to spend time in his company.” The book will particularly appeal to anyone who appreciated Alan Rickman’s acting or wants to know more about the man behind the roles, as well as people with an interest in the harsh realities of earning a living through theatre and film. It’s a reminder that – as trite as it sounds – life is often too short. I’m in awe of how much Rickman packed into his, slightly envious of his social life (especially the party where he played charades with Meryl Streep), and sad that we’ve all missed out on what more he surely had to offer. I’m grateful that he didn’t sling his diaries out and for the opportunity this book provides to see the world from his unique perspective.

Reviewer: Anne Kerslake Hendricks

Allen & Unwin


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