Reading time: 26 MIN

Remembering Tom Wilkinson

All mentioned films in article
Not released

Following the sudden death of Tom Wilkinson at the age of 75, Cinema Paradiso remembers a character actor who could do just about anything.

Prolific and proficient, Tom Wilkinson amassed 130 film and television credits in a career that rarely saw him make anything other than a well-judged or project-enhancing contribution. No matter what genre he approached, he seemed impeccably cast and often managed to give the most significant performance, even though he was rarely the most prominent character.

Wilkinson frequently played historical figures, legal types, clerics, medics, and boffins. But he could also turn his hand to military men and did a nice line in villains. 'I see myself as a utility player,' he once said, 'the one who can do everything.' But he specialised in tapping into what the Hollywood Reporter called 'a deep well of sorrow' in order to play individuals who had been ground down by life and sought to hide their emotional wounds and aching vulnerability.

A Wandering Youth

Thomas Geoffrey Wilkinson was born in Leeds on 5 February 1948. As his father was also named Thomas, mother Marjorie took to calling her son 'Geoff' on the farm where he lived until he was four. In 1952, the family relocated to Kitimat in British Columbia, where Thomas hoped that a job at an aluminium smelting plant would give them a better life.

They only lasted six years in Canada, however, before returning to Britain to run a pub in Cornwall. Geoff attended the comprehensive school in Tavistock until he was 16, when Marjorie took him back to Yorkshire following the death of his father. He was enrolled at King James Grammar School in Knaresborough, where he came to the attention of headteacher Molly Sawdon.

Together with her female companion, Paddy, Sawdon introduced Wilkinson to drama and even persuaded him to direct the school production of Eugène Ionesco's The Bald Prima Dona. Recalling the experience in 1994, Wilkinson explained, 'I knew how to do it. I knew when people should make their entrances. How they should act. As soon as I did this play there was no question about what I was going to do. Everything else just fell away.'

He continued acting while studying English and American literature at the University of Kent in the late 1960s. Yet, despite becoming president of the drama society, Wilkinson was still considering becoming a PE teacher until he landed a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. 'I realised it wasn't necessarily just these southern middle-class types that got to be actors,' he revealed, 'it could possibly be people like me. And once I knew, I never changed my mind.'

He did change his name, however. As Equity already had a Geoffrey Wilkinson on its books, it was Tom Wilkinson who auditioned for the Nottingham Playhouse in 1974, with Hamlet's speech to the players visiting Elsinore. Richard Eyre was the artistic director and he later declared, 'It was the best audition I had ever seen. It was startlingly real and authoritative.' Following his stint on the Trent, Wilkinson worked across the repertoire in Birmingham, Oxford, and Edinburgh before joining the National Theatre. His two years with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the early 1980s went less well, however.

Wilkinson later grumbled, 'I didn't get the roles I felt I deserved.' Such was his dislike of the 'snobby atmosphere' that, on looking back on the experience, he conceded, 'It was disastrous. It almost finished me off as an actor.' Nevertheless, he stuck with the stage and was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role on his West End debut as Horatio in Hamlet (1980) and was up at the same ceremony in 1988 for Actor of the Year in a Revival for his work as Dr Stockmann in Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People. But Wilkinson was keen to widen his horizons.

Tom of All Trades

Having made his television bow in an episode of the drama series, 2nd House (1975), Wilkinson made his feature debut as Cook Ransome in Polish auteur Andrzej Wajda's English-language adaptation of compatriot Joseph Conrad's novella, The Shadow Line (1976). Cinema Paradiso users can first catch up with him as a cadet in the first episode of the BBC dramatisation of Fedor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (1979), which starred John Hurt as Raskolnikov.

A still from Spyship: Series (1983)
A still from Spyship: Series (1983)

Wilkinson's first screen lead came in the BBC Cold War series, Spyship (1983), which was based on actual events and follows journalist Martin Taylor (Wilkinson) as he tries to get answers from the Admiralty and the Kremlin after his father's trawler, The Mary Castor, goes missing with its 36-man crew. He also joined Anthony Hopkins as George Passant for two episodes in the C.P. Snow adaptation, Strangers and Brothers, before returning to the cinema to play Tom in the Bryan Brown thriller, Parker (both 1984); Keith Henderson in the Sylvia Ashton-Warner biopic, Sylvia; and one half of the bickering Braithwaites (with Marjorie Yates) in David Hare's gripping Yorkshire mystery, Wetherby (both 1985).

The same year saw Wilkinson's Detective Inspector Neele hinder Joan Hickson's Miss Marple in solving the crime in the Agatha Christie whodunit, A Pocketful of Rye, and pop up alongside Leigh Lawson in an episode of Travelling Man (both 1985). He made an assault on the slippery slope as Leeds MP Raymond Gould in First Among Equals (1986), a 10-part take on the Jeffrey Archer bestseller that Wilkinson later confessed was 'not very good'. However, it led to him meeting wife Diana Hardcastle, who would regularly appear with him while raising their daughters, Alice and Molly.

Sticking with television, Wilkinson played Ernest Simpson to Jane Seymour's Wallis in The Woman He Loved and Gestapo officer Karl Silberbauer in John Erman's The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank (both 1988). Indeed, such was his rising reputation that he was invited to Moscow to play Lopakhin in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard at the Taganka Theatre. On returning, he was Robert Hathall in three episodes of The Ruth Rendell Mysteries (1989), a well-written series that Cinema Paradiso users can recall via The Best of The Ruth Rendell Mysteries (2000).

A still from Paper Mask (1990)
A still from Paper Mask (1990)

Crime seemed to tempt Wilkinson during this period, as he took a guest slot as Music Master Jake Normington in 'The Infernal Serpent', an 1990 episode of Inspector Morse. Having essayed Dr Thorn in Christopher Morahan's hospital thriller, Paper Mask (1990), he next piqued the interest of Ian McShane as Ashley Wilkes in the 1991 'One Born Every Minute' episode of Lovejoy (1986-94). Wilkinson's Peter Rawlins also dated Helen Mirren's Jane Tennyson in the first two episodes of Prime Suspect (1991-2006) before he was given his own inquiries in the short-lived ITV series spun off from John Harvey's novels about Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick (1992-93).

Had this franchise taken off, Wilkinson might not have followed a teaming with Dennis Waterman and Susan George in Stay Lucky (1989-93) by taking the lead in King Lear at the famous Royal Court Theatre in London. While earning £250 per week for this gig, Wilkinson hit rock bottom. 'I was broke,' he recalled in a later interview, 'and in a position I'd never been in before - phoning people up to ask: "Have you got anything for me, anything?"' Seeing old friends coining it in movies, Wilkinson concluded, 'I'll have a piece of that, please.'

He certainly raised his profile as the appeal prosecutor in the trial of the Guildford Four alongside Daniel Day-Lewis and Emma Thompson in Jim Sheridan's In the Name of the Father (1993). But it was another TV assignment that helped shift Wilkinson's mindset, as he started to view screenplays from the perspective of 'I can do this - in fact, I can do this better than anyone in the world.' The script in point was David Lodge's adaptation of Charles Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit (1994), which is available from Cinema Paradiso as part of The Charles Dickens Collection. Wilkinson was cast as loquacious hypocrite, Seth Pecksniff. 'I knew almost immediately how to do it,' Wilkinson reflected. 'The key turned the lock on the first go. Everything he does is self-conscious. It is done for effect. When he's alone, he doesn't exist.' While watching the series, he concluded: 'I can't get it any better than that. It came out exactly as I meant it to come out. It won a couple of prizes and I thought, I can act, there's no question.'

Hitting His Stride

Elsewhere in 1994, Wilkinson voiced Buckingham in 'King Richard II' for Shakespeare: The Animated Tales before playing two Roman Catholic clergymen: Fr McAteer in the Screen Two outing, All Things Bright and Beautiful, and Fr Thomas, the socialist parish priest who sleeps with his housekeeper (Cathy Tyson) in Antonia Bird's Priest, which was written by Jimmy McGovern. In all, Wilkinson appeared in four Screen Two entries and this is a strand the BBC needs to revisit on disc.

Following an encounter with Christopher Walken in Charlotte Brandström's A Business Affair, Wilkinson reunited with Helen Mirren to play Hardvendel opposite her Geruth in Prince of Jutland (both 1994), Gabriel Axel's reworking of the Hamlet story with Christian Bale as Amled and Gabriel Byrne as his usurpative uncle, Fenge. He remained in literary mode to essay the expiring Mr Dashwood in Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility (1995), the Golden Bear-winning version of the Jane Austen classic that earned Emma Thompson the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

A still from Ride with the Devil (1999)
A still from Ride with the Devil (1999)

Lee would hire Wilkinson again to play Orton Brown in Ride With the Devil (1999), by which time he had become one of Britain's most 'in demand' character actors. However, there was a detour back into television before cinema became his medium of choice. In 1996, Wilkinson was paired with Anna Carteret as Hugh and Harriet, the parents of Cambridge-bound Pippa 'Muffin' Lloyd (Laura Howard) in Eskimo Day (1996). This amusing take on teenage expectation can be found, with its sequel, Cold Enough For Snow (1997), on Jack Rosenthal: At the BBC.

Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer were Wilkinson's co-stars in Stephen Hopkins's The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), as finagling 19th-century financier Robert Beaumont seeks to profit from the building of the Uganda-Mombasa railway. Climactic conditions changed considerably as Smilla Jasperson (Julia Ormond) questions the findings of autopsy surgeon Professor Johannes Loyen in Bille August's Smilla's Sense of Snow (1996). This Peter Høeg adaptation is currently unavailable on disc, but Cinema Paradiso members can see Wilkinson as Anglican minister Hugh Stratton opposite Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett in Gillian Armstrong's take on Peter Carey's Booker Prize-winning tome, Oscar and Lucinda. They can also admire his blustering bellicosity as the Marquess of Queensberry threatening Oscar Wilde (Stephen Fry) and son Lord Alfred Douglas (Jude Law) in Brian Gilbert's Wilde. But one Wilkinson performance from 1997 stood out above the rest.

Wilkinson was a great believer in luck. 'There's no point being a good actor in bad stuff,' he once averred. 'The crucial moment for an actor is to be good in a hit. Then it works.' However, he nearly blew his big chance, as he was considering ditching 'a possible part in a low-budget movie' for the lead in a TV show. 'I remember phoning a friend,' Wilkinson disclosed, 'and he said, "Take the TV, take the TV." But I didn't follow his advice, and the TV turned out to be crap.' The 'low-budget movie' turned out to be The Full Monty (1997).

Written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Peter Cattaneo, the story of how four laid-off Sheffield steel workers form a striptease troupe with their ex-foreman cast Wilkinson as Gerald Cooper. Too humiliated at losing his job and status to tell wife Linda (Deirdre Costello) how he spends his day, Gerald sheds his sense of superiority along with his inhibitions, as he embraces teamwork. The scene in which he rehearses dance moves in a dole queue to Donna Summer's 'Hot Stuff' undoubtedly contributed to his receipt of the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor. But two decades of learning his craft lay behind this 'overnight' success. 'He is very, very detailed,' Richard Eyre explained. 'He is very intelligent, he cares about the world. The thing you can't fake is that he has a moral authority, which is why he's very good at playing particular parts. He brings a sense of gravity and detail and intelligence.'

One of the consequences of The Full Monty's success was a need to deal with the kind of ambition that Wilkinson had previously considered 'a bit distasteful'. Indeed, he had always felt 'that actors should have a degree of anonymity about them'. But, as he mused later in his career, 'I figured, look, the United States is where the big boys play, and if you want to sit at the table, you've got to go into movies. Which was a tough decision to make, because in some ways it was having to prove myself all over again.' He continued, 'I've always been quite successful. I was a leading performer on stage and getting great roles on television. I saw a lot of my friends doing films, and there's a bit of you that says: "I want to sit down with the big boys."'

A still from Shakespeare in Love (1998) With Geoffrey Rush And Tom Wilkinson
A still from Shakespeare in Love (1998) With Geoffrey Rush And Tom Wilkinson

Having played Wyatt opposite James Purefoy and Geraldine Somerville's erstwhile sweethearts in Dan Zeff's little-seen romcom, Jilting Joe (1997), Wilkinson displayed scientific hauteur as pioneering 1830s photographer Charles Cavendish alongside Minnie Driver in Sandra Goldbacher's Skye-set saga, The Governess. But he made more impression as Elizabethan money-lender Hugh Fennyman, who gets the acting bug when cast as the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet in John Madden's Shakespeare in Love (both 1998), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Another double role cropped up in Brett Ratner's Rush Hour (1998), as Chief Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) and Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) discover the connection between British diplomat Thomas Griffin and Hong Kong crime boss Juntao. Wilkinson was just as despicable as drug baron John Dyke resisting a takeover by likely lad Jason Locke (Sean Bean) in Terry Winsor's reimagining of the 1995 Rettendon murders in Essex Boys (2000).

But his classical side resurfaced as the narrator of Simon Curtis's two-part interpretation of Charles Dickens's David Copperfield, which saw Daniel Radcliffe make his acting debut in the title role. He also donned a cassock again, as Brother Joseph Duton opposite David Wenham as Father Damien De Veuster in Molokai: The Story of Father Damien, Paul Cox's earnest account of the founding of a leper colony on a Hawaiian peninsula in the 1870s. A century earlier, the 13 Colonies had fought the War of Independence against Britain and Wilkinson's Lord Cornwallis proved a doughty opponent for Mel Gibson's composite hero, Captain Benjamin Martin, in Roland Emmerich's The Patriot (all 2000), which would make an instructive double bill with the aforementioned Ride With the Devil, a Civil War epic in which Wilkinson's Missouri homesteaders find themselves caught between the Irregulars and the Jayhawkers.

An Outstanding Decade

Having played billionaire Robert Bollngsworth being blackmailed by Jeff Goldblum in Traktor's misfiring heist comedy, Chain of Fools (2000), Wilkinson took the role of Maine lobster fisherman Matt Fowler in Todd Field's In the Bedroom (2001). Stricken with grief following the murder of his son, Frank (Nick Stahl), Fowler has to cope with the fury of his wife, Ruth (Sissy Spacek), who is desperate for revenge. Despite his deadpan demeanour in the tense closing scenes, Wilkinson potently conveys the conflicted confusion of a working family man confronted with a daunting situation. He lost out to Denzel Washington in David Ayer's Training Day in the Best Actor category at the Academy Awards. But the nomination fulfilled Wilkinson's ambitions for the project by proving, 'One, I could play the lead role in a movie. Two, I could play an American lead role. And it did both of those things.'

Back in Britain, Wilkinson appeared as Mr Carlton in Another Life, Philip Goodhew's account of the notorious 1920s Thompson-Bywaters murder case. Thence, he headed back to the Middle Ages to support Martin Lawrence as Sir Knolte of Marlborough in a bid to overthrow the tyrannical King Leo (Kevin Conway) in Gil Junger's Black Knight (both 2001). Weightier historical matters came into focus in Richard Loncraine's The Gathering Storm (2002), as Foreign Office Under-Secretary, Sir Rober Vansittart (Wilkinson), covertly backs the anti-Appeasement stance taken from the back benches in the late 1930s by Winston Churchill (Albert Finney).

Edging back into Victorian times, Wilkinson displayed his gift for comedy, as Dr Chasuble in Oliver Parker's reading of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. He also got laughs as the uncommunicative Frank dealing with bereaved stepdaughters Julie Walters, Joanne Whalley, and Victoria Hamilton in veteran director Lewis Gilbert's swan song, Before You Go. But he returned to his roots to play Yorkshire farmer Sam Wheeler helping 10 year-old May (Charlotte Wakefield) recover from the trauma of losing her parents in the Blitz in Harley Cokeliss's time-travelling teleplay, An Angel For May (all 2002).

Staying on the small screen, Wilkinson earned Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his portrayal of Roy Applewood, the Midwestern factory worker who shocks Irma (Jessica Lange), his wife of 25 years, by announcing that he wants to transition to become Ruth in Jane Anderson's tele-drama, Normal. By contrast, he played predatory males in his next two outings, as 17th-century Dutch patron Pieter van Ruijven makes a clumsy play for Griet (Scarlett Johansson), the servant of the artist Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth), in Peter Webber's adaptation of Tracey Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring (both 2003), and as Howard Mierzwiak, the brain surgeon who takes advantage of besotted receptionist Mary Svevo (Kirsten Dunst) in Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

A still from Piccadilly Jim (2004)
A still from Piccadilly Jim (2004)

The latter was one of five features in a busy year. Having reunited with Gil Junger to play the London cabby who proves instrumental in Paul Nicholls's pursuit of Jennifer Love Hewitt in If Only, Wilkinson found himself essaying a silly ass posing as his own butler as Bingley Crocker in John McKay's Piccadilly Jim, which Julian Fellowes had adapted from the novel by P.G. Wodehouse. Harking back to Restoration times, Wilkinson was recruited by Richard Eyre to portray thespian Thomas Betterton opposite Claire Danes as pioneering actress Margaret Hughes in Stage Beauty, before he went Wilde again, this time as Tuppy in A Good Woman, Mike Barker's take on Lady Windermere's Fan, which co-starred Helen Hunt and Scarlett Johansson.

Comic-books came calling in 2005 and Wilkinson responded with a knowing turn as Gotham City mob boss Carmine Falcone alongside Cillian Murphy as The Scarecrow in Christopher Nolan's reboot blockbuster, Batman Begins. An OBE would be doled out during another hectic year that saw Wilkinson play detective John Webster on the trail of Barry Pepper's Tom Ripley in Roger Spottiswoode's Ripley Under Ground and Fr Richard Moore being defended on a charge of negligent homicide by sceptical lawyer Annaliese Michel (Laura Linney) after a ritual culminates in death in Scott Derrickson's The Exorcism of Emily Rose (all 2005).

Wilkinson starts off on the right side of the law, as London solicitor James Manning tries to protect wife Anne (Emily Watson) from a hit-and-run charge in Julian Fellowes's directorial debut, Separate Lies (2005). Wife Francis Fisher wants nothing to do with Texas oil tycoon Max Hagen (Wilkinson) in Amy Tarkington's obscure comedy, The Night of the White Pants, while he was little more than a guest turn as Jacinda Barrett's father in Gabriele Muccino's Paul Haggis-scripted dramedy, The Last Kiss (both 2006).

Illustrator Rudy Holt (Wilkinson) meets an early end in actor-turned-director Justin Theroux's Dedication. But his voice is heard from beyond the grave to guide wayward children's author, Henry Roth (Billy Crudup) through a series of crises. As plastic surgeon Howard, Wilkinson leads nephews Ian and Terry Blaine (Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell) off the straight and narrow by asking them to bump off the ex-partner threatening to ruin his reputation in Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream. But his final role of 2007 proved to a career highlight.

First heard in Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton fulminating against the corrupt nature of corporate America, litigator Arthur Edens (Wilkinson) becomes a problem for the New York firm of Kenner, Bach, and Ledeen when he has a manic episode while representing a major agricultural conglomerate. Refusing to take his medication, Edens bustles around the city with several baguettes under his arm and counters the suggestion he's bipolar with the chillingly memorable line, 'I am Shiva, the god of death.' Wilkinson would be nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars, where he had the misfortune to come up against Javier Bardem for his iconic depiction of Anton Chigurh in Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men (both 2007).

Compensation came in the form of the Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe awards Wilkinson won for playing Benjamin Franklin alongside Paul Giamatti in Tom Hooper's garlanded historical reconstruction, John Adams. Such was Wilkinson's seeming ubiquity that he wound up competing against himself at both ceremonies after being nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Globes and the Emmys for his performance in Jay Roach's Recount as James Baker, the legal adviser to George W. Bush following the disputed Florida ballot during the 2000 US presidential election.

Watching these towering turns, Cinema Paradiso users will only be able to agree with Wilkinson's longtime agent, Lou Coulson, who said in 2008: 'When other actors know he's involved in a project they are always interested. I just think he's one of the best, I just do. Even after 25 years I stand back and look at what he does and I'm always amazed. His performances are never the same, he will always bring something new to a part, he has an intangible instinct for it and will always bring something exciting.'

A still from Valkyrie (2008) With Tom Wilkinson
A still from Valkyrie (2008) With Tom Wilkinson

Guy Ritchie clearly agreed, as he cast Wilkinson as London hoodlum Lenny Cole, who keeps threatening to feed foes to the crayfish in RocknRolla. In playing Claus von Stauffenberg, Tom Cruise similarly sought Wilkinson for the role of Colonel General Friedrich Fromm in Bryan Singer's wartime conspiracy thriller, Valkyrie. However, Wilkinson's other outing in 2008 isn't currently available to rent, which is a shame, as he and Rhys Ifans impress as the creator and a clone in Caryl Churchill's BBC teleplay, A Number.

Still on the small screen, Wilkinson voiced Fox in Max Lang and Jacob Schuh's short animated adaptation of Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo (2009), a role he would reprise in Johannes Weiland and Uwe Heidschotter's sequel, The Gruffalo's Child (2011). Tony Gilroy lured Wilkinson back into film with Duplicity, a teasing crime comedy in which he reunited with Paul Giamatti for some slow-motion fisticuffs as Howard Tully and Richard Garsick, the heads of the Burkett & Randle and Equikrom intelligence agencies respectively playing Julia Roberts and Clive Owen against each other. Director Malcolm Venville also saw Wilkinson as a fine ensemble player and lined him up as the acerbic Archie alongside Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Ian McShane, and Stephen Dillane in the darkly witty underworld gabfest, 44 Inch Chest (both 2009).

A Robert Harris novel proved irresistible in 2010, as Wilkinson took the role of Harvard Law School professor Paul Emmett in The Ghost Writer, which earned Roman Polanski the Best Director prize at the Berlin Film Festival. Dark deeds also informed John Landis's Burke & Hare, as Wilkinson's Dr Robert Knox commissions Edinburgh graverobbers Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis to keep him supplied with fresh cadavers. And more nefariousness abounded in the McHenry Brothers animation, Jackboots on Whitehall (all 2010), which challenged Wilkinson to voice both plucky old soldier Albert and Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels.

Despite his customary August break to holiday with the family, Wilkinson packed two more pictures into 2010. He added to his gallery of historical worthies in Robert Redford's The Conspirator by playing Reverdy Johnson, the Maryland senator who defended Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) after she was charged with participating in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. In John Madden's The Debt, however, he shared the role of Mossad agent Stefan Gold with Marton Csokas, as Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) looks back three decades to recall their 1960s assignment to capture the Nazi war criminal known as 'the Butcher of Birkenau'.

The Actors' Actor

Following a cameo as James Reid, the father of Daily Sentinel publisher and masked crime fighter Britt Reid (Seth Rogen), in Michel Gondry's The Green Hornet, Wilkinson joined Tom Cruise for an uncredited walk-on as the IMF secretary in Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. But this was a quieter cinematic year than usual, as he and Hardcastle had signed up to play Joseph P. Kennedy and his wife, Rose, in eight episodes of Jon Cassar's mini-series, The Kennedys (all 2011). Having received another Emmy nomination, Wilkinson would return briefly in The Kennedys: After Camelot (2017), by which time he had added several new titles to his filmography.

Perhaps the most fondly remembered took Wilkinson to Jaipur, where gay judge Sir Graham Dashwood returns to his childhood home to find the friend he had betrayed after their clandestine romance had been discovered. Hardcastle accompanied her husband for John Madden's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) and reprised the part of Carol in the sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015). Indeed, the pair reunited as Detective Inspector John Halden and his wife, Marie, in Henrik Ruben Genz's Good People (2014), which lands Americans Tom and Anna Wright (James Franco and Kate Hudson) in hot water in London.

Although he was now a familiar face, Wilkinson resisted any talk of stardom. 'I can see it in other actors who love being famous,' he explained. 'Me, I don't care for it at all.' In another interview, he insisted, 'I like to go to Waitrose and not be recognised.' He was never particularly fond of working away from home, even when it meant teaming with the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and Johnny Depp. The former stars as Foley, a con man who leaves jail after 25 years and becomes involved with crooked club owner, Xavier (Wilkinson), in David Weaver's Fury (aka The Samaritan, 2012). Depp took the role of Tonto opposite Armie Hammer in Gore Verbinski's The Lone Ranger (2013), which featured Wilkinson as hissable Transcontinental Railroad tycoon, Latham Cole.

A still from The Lone Ranger (2013) With Tom Wilkinson
A still from The Lone Ranger (2013) With Tom Wilkinson

He further demonstrated ruthlessness as Detective Carl Summer protecting buddy Mal Toohey (Joel Edgerton) after a hit-and-run accident in Australian Matthew Saville's police procedural, Felony. But Wilkinson exhibited greater nobility as William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice of 1790s Britain and great-uncle of the Caribbean-born Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in Amma Assante's fact-based costume drama, Belle (both 2013)

The more recent past beckoned Wilkinson Stateside to play President Lyndon B. Johnson struggling to decide how to deal with Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) in Ava DuVernay's Selma (2014). This compelling Civil Rights drama contrasted starkly with Wes Anderson's quirky comedy, The Grand Budapest Hotel, in which Wilkinson could heard narrating as the older version of the revered author essayed in 1960s Zubrowka by Jude Law.

Markedly less successful was Ken Scott's Unfinished Business, in which Wilkinson joins forces with Vince Vaughn and Dave Franco in a scrap metal concern. By contrast, Mary Agnes Donoghue's Jenny's Wedding cast him as Eddie Ferrell, the conservative Cleveland Catholic who not only discovers that his favourite daughter (Katherine Heigl) is a lesbian, but also that she's engaged to her roommate, Kitty (Alexis Bledel). In Graham Henman's A Bone in the Throat, Wilkinson was Charlie, a London villain with a taste for the finer things, who offers his godson a chef post in return for keeping quiet about a murder. This is currently unavailable, however, as is Alejandro Gómez Monteverde's Little Boy, a home front drama that saw Fr Oliver (Wilkinson) help an eight year-old Californian understand the realities of the Second World War.

Also missing is Simon Aboud's The Beautiful Fantastic, in which grouchy neighbour Alfie Stephenson (Wilkinson) helps obsessive compulsive librarian Bella Brown (Jessica Brown Findlay) meet a landlord's deadline to spruce up her garden. The other three of Wilkinsons's 2016 excursions are available from Cinema Paradiso, however, starting with Ross Katz's The Choice, which sees love at first sight strike next-door neighbours Travis Shaw (Benjamin Walker) and Gabriela Holland (Teresa Palmer). Wilkinson lends his support as Shep Shaw, a doctor at the hospital where Gabby is training to be a nurse.

Once again, Wilkinson proved in demand for playing actual characters, as he assumed the roles of Guardian journalist Ewen MacAskill in Oliver Stone's Snowden and barrister Richard Rampton in Mick Jackson's Denial (both 2016). The former recreated the run-up to CIA subcontractor Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) blowing the whistle on an illegal mass surveillance exercise carried out by the National Security Agency, while the latter chronicled the libel case brought by David Irving (Timothy Spall) against American historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) for labelling him a Holocaust denier.

These meticulously made dramas would make an intense double bill for Cinema Paradiso regulars. But we're not able to bring you Wilkinson's performance as Swiss physicist Paul Scherrer in The Catcher Was a Spy, Ben Lewin's account of how baseball star Moe Berg (Paul Rudd) was sent behind enemy lines during the Second World War to see how close Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong) is to creating an atom bomb. Also currently out of our reach is Noam Murro's four-part adaptation of Richard Adams's Watership Down (both 2018), in which Wilkinson voices Threarah.

A still from The Titan (2018)
A still from The Titan (2018)

Very much available to rent, however, is Tom Edmunds's directorial debut, Dead in a Week or Your Money Back, to which Wilkinson contributes a splendidly laconic turn as Leslie, the soon-to-retire hitman who offers struggling writer William (Aneurin Barnard) a deal on which he quickly wishes to renege. Once again showing his versatility, Wilkinson next played Professor Martin Collingwood, who makes plans in 2048 to set up a colony fit for human habitation on one of Jupiter's moons in Lennart Ruff's sci-f- thriller, The Titan. But it was back to true-life drama in Andrew Heckler's Burden and Rupert Everett's The Happy Prince (all 2018), as Wilkinson again showed his versatility as Ku Klux Klan leader Tom Griffin and as Fr Dunne, the Catholic priest who administers the last rites to the dying Oscar Wilde (Everett).

Having voiced the title character in Yaniv Raz's Dr Bird's Advice For Sad Poets, Wilkinson made his final big-screen appearance as William Lewis, the head of the Black Swans military company hired to clear a Georgian village for a gas pipeline in Magnus Martens's Andy McNab adaptation, SAS: Red Notice (both 2021). This came after a six-episode stint as Peregrine, Earl of Brockenhurst in Julian Fellowes's historical serial, Belgravia (2019). But Wilkinson had one last assignment to enjoy, as he returned to Sheffield so Gerald Cooper could catch up with his erstwhile stripping pals in the Disney+ series, The Full Monty (2023).

Tom Wilkinson died suddenly at his home on 30 December 2023, at the age of 75. Modest to the end, he insisted he merely had a knack for acting and never considered himself an artist. He was also content to follow the odd game of golf with nights in watching Friends (1994-2003) and Midsomer Murders (1997-). In one interview, he stated, 'Being an outsider is good for actors. I don't know whether I've rationalised my slightly reclusive tendencies in this way, but I've always resisted the clubbiness of some actors.' They respected him, though, as he received nine nods of approval from the Screen Actors Guild, in converting exactly a third of his 75 career nominations. He'll be much missed by us all.

A still from SAS: Red Notice (2021)
A still from SAS: Red Notice (2021)
Uncover landmark films on demand
Browse our collection at Cinema Paradiso
Subscription starts from £15.99 a month.