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6 Performances by Christopher Eccleston Worth Re-Evaluating: Part One

To celebrate Christopher Eccleston’s 53rd birthday, it feels right to cast our net beyond the confines of Doctor Who, and look at his other work.
It’s time to remember and maybe re-evaluate the other shows and films he’s appeared in. Here’s a brief sample of his extensive credits that deserve another look.

Thor: The Dark World

In arguably one of his most high-profile roles, Christopher played Malekith, the frosty ruler of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, in Thor: The Dark World (2013), alongside Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, and Anthony Hopkins as Odin. Based on Norse mythology, Marvel’s iterations of the legends are fairly tough-going if you’re put off by otherworldliness. Then again, you’re a Doctor Who fan, so you should be fine.
Malekith is the Big Bad, and Marvel’s been unfairly criticised by a small section of the media for its villains; Eccleston’s character has been held as an example of this, but it’s unwarranted. He may not be as charismatic as Loki, the antagonist in the first Thor movie and Avengers Assemble (or whatever we’re calling the ensemble movie nowadays), but he’s not meant to be. He’s meant to be scary, a more than credible threat in the world of deities, and he succeeds in that.
Similarly, there’s a motivation behind his quest for a weapon called the Aether: as Eccleston explained, Malekith’s a tragic part, his family having been murdered, but some of this was left in the editing suite:

“Of course, as in any film, the script that we shot is not the script that people see. There were various scenes in there, which for whatever reason didn’t make the final cut, which shaded in Malekith’s background. So even though the audience don’t hear about it, I’m hoping that it’s still present in the performance… There was a scene where Malekith was in a certain area of Svartalfheim and remembering his children, his wife and children bathing there, and they had been lost to him. And some of the actions of Odin’s father, Bor, also. There was an extended scene with Anthony Hopkins where they discussed what had caused this ancient grievance between The Dark Elves and themselves.”

Lennon Naked

This 2010 biopic proved hugely divisive – but then, that’s what an examination of the life of one of the most famous artists in musical history was always going to be. The drama certainly has its problems, but it’s drawn a lot of unfair criticism.
One such critique was of Eccleston, then a man in his 40s, portraying a man in his 20s and 30s. He does, however, do it brilliantly. Frankly, if that’s your problem with it, you’re going into the TV Movie looking for holes to pick. It’s not without its issues: it can come across as too disjointed, Yoko Ono might not be the most defined of presences, and, if you’re a stickler for the right accents, you could be pained by some scenes.
Nonetheless, it’s quite a tour de force, presenting a haunting sketch of such an influential figure. While we’re elsewhere confronted with the seemingly-2D antics of reality TV stars, wannabes with sob stories, and manufactured celebrities, Lennon Naked is an artistic assessment of a very troubled but clever man. It’s also harsh, making us confront the reality of John, someone who preached peace yet didn’t shy away from hurting the ones he loved.
Eccleston really gives it his all, and the rest of the cast – including Torchwood‘s Naoko Mori as Yoko Ono, Flatline‘s Christopher Fairbank as Freddie Lennon, and Andrew Scott (Sherlock) as Paul McCartney – make this biopic something you need to see.
It’s also pretty astonishing knowing that the entire piece was filmed in just 18 days. The Ninth Doctor actor said:

“You almost feel like a criminal achieving that schedule in TV; it shows a very good film can be made in no time at all.”

Safe House

This is a funny one, and I don’t mean laugh-a-minute. The first series of this thriller screened in 2015, and Christopher Eccleston was undoubtedly a core reason so many tuned in and stayed with it. It was a solid story: Robert and Katy (Eccleston and Marsha Thomason) turn their idyllic cottage in the Lake District into a Safe House. Good premise, right? Also fairly self-explanatory from the title.
Directed by Marc Evans (Hinterland), the stunning scenery is certainly a reason to tune in, as is its brooding nature. Indeed, Chris viewed Evans as one of the show’s strongest assets:

“The main attraction of Safe House for me was the director Marc Evans, who is about the most visually literate director I’ve ever worked with. I worked with him in 1992 on Friday On My Mind and he is a fine director of actors. I’ve previous experience with him shooting in the valleys of Wales so I knew what to expect in terms of the demands he’d make on the cast and crew. He is a brilliant visual storyteller. I feel we’ve created a great visual language for the drama and told it with imagery as much as we possibly could.”

You can also play a fairly effective game of “Spot The Doctor Who Star”, with appearances from Paterson Joseph (Bad Wolf/ The Parting of the Ways), Sarah Smart (The Rebel Flesh/ The Almost People), and Peter Ferdinando (Deep Breath), who especially puts in an engaging and creepy performance. You might find it slightly slow, but most complaints arose from the ending which some felt wasn’t the strongest… although I really enjoyed it throughout.
Eccleston is a marvel here, and in some ways, he’s flexing the same muscles as in The A Word (which if you haven’t seen already, is highly recommended). But Safe House has been recommissioned – without Chris.
We don’t really know whether he quit or if the production team ousted the main cast entirely in an early attempt to start afresh on a show that could fly if certain elements were tweaked. But the cast wasn’t the issue. That makes the first series of the ITV drama an interesting, isolated tale with great promise.

Come back tomorrow for the concluding part, in which we recall heroic efforts and tiny roles.

Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. Writer of The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, The Silver Archive: The Stone Tape, and 100 Objects of Doctor Who.

6 Performances by Christopher Eccleston Worth Re-Evaluating: Part One

by Philip Bates time to read: 4 min
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