I was one of many people around the world absolutely dumbfounded to discover that beloved thespian and character actor Alan Rickman. He was the ultimate actor – he managed to become a fan-favorite of the biggest film franchise of all time, all the while balancing a healthy amount of comedic and dramatic fare, and being a truly noticeable actor of the stage. An actor who had his film debut in his early 40s, Rickman’s career was diverse and varied, and every performance was unique and wonderful. However, he seemed to be typecast as villainous, sinister characters (to be perfectly honest, he was brilliant at playing them), but we often forget that Rickman had a very tender side, and had the ability to play sweet and sensitive characters. Love Actually is a perfect example of the tenderness Rickman can bring to a role, however, there is one film that shows Rickman’s ability to be absolutely transcendent and vulnerable. That film is Truly, Madly, Deeply, a meditation on love and death, but most importantly on what matters the most – life.
Before Rickman becomes the subject of this review, I must just say that despite most people remembering this film because of him, the true revelation of this film was Juliet Stevenson, who plays the leading role of Nina, the bubbly young woman blind-sided by the death of her boyfriend Jamie (played by Rickman). Stevenson is absolutely magnetic as the energetic and excitable Nina, who has to deal with the fact that the death of her boyfriend has cast a long shadow on her previous joie de vivre and lust for life, and how she has to feel the brunt of emotions that come with grieving, because she and Jamie had a perfect life, and an unexpected death caused her life to spiral out of control, because she felt that the love of her life was part of the reason why she loved living so much. It might seem saccharine and overly sentimental, but seeing the emotion Stevenson brings to the role shows a woman who understands the complexities of mourning and grieving the lost of a loved one, and how one needs to find a way to memorialize her dearly departed loved one, while still trying to move forward in her life. Stevenson is quite an obscure leading lady, rather taking notable roles in supporting characters in prestige films. However, this film shows a deeply talented actress with a knack for displaying a complex range of emotions in a way that isn’t ever artificial or inappropriate, but rather wildly fascinating and deeply human.
Now as I mentioned before, Rickman is absolutely brilliant here. Stevenson was fantastic, but she was more of a discovery, whereas Rickman in a way redefined his entire image in his role as Jamie. For once, he isn’t a snarling, sinister villain, intent on destroying the motivation and will of the protagonists, but rather as a sensitive, sweet man (or rather, ghost) who returns to the mortal world to teach the woman he loved that just because his life has ended, that doesn’t necessarily mean that hers can’t go on. It is a truly dedicated performance, because the role requires Jamie to go through a complete transformation, from guardian angel and perfect memory, evolving into a messy, intolerant and short-tempered nuisance – however, it is for a reason – his mission is to erase the idea that he was perfect from Nina’s memory, so that she can move on and not limit her own life because she has an image of the perfect man of Jamie in her mind. Rickman manages to capture both sides of the character very well, and makes Jamie both a wonderfully endearing character, but also a dreadfully frustrating one, and any actor that can make you both absolutely adore and intensely dislike a character has done their duty of a manipulator of emotions very well, and Rickman did it perfectly. It is undeniable that this is Rickman’s greatest performance (or most certainly one of them).
Truly, Madly, Deeply is such a lovely film, because it is absolutely natural. Many similiar films use heavy manipulation and cliche to make the audience feel emotions that the filmmakers think would help create a connection with the story, and in many ways, romantic films have started to seem like faded photocopies of the same original romantic film, that just becomes more and more undistinguishable and noticeable as time goes on, and drawing on the same stories and plot points to allow for a safe, but effective story. Honestly, I won’t claim that Truly, Madly, Deeply is much different, or truly unique from all the other romantic films ever made. To be blunt, Truly, Madly, Deeply isn’t even the most unique romantic film of the year when it was released (Ghost, a slightly inferior but far more iconic film, was released in the same year, and also shows the death of a young man who returns to the mortal world to try and connect with the lover he left behind), but it certainly is one of the most effective, because of how it relies rather on natural emotion rather than artificial film construction. One example of this is in the very famous scene where Rickman plays the cello, and serenades Stevenson with the classic love song “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”, which she dances around gleefully, later joining him with a tearfully sweet duet. It is a sensitive, wonderfully quaint moment, and the fact that Rickman recently departed in real life makes watching this scene (and the entire film), truly very poignant and breathtakingly sad.
Truly, Madly, Deeply is a brilliant film. It is small and unassuming, and one can be forgiven for not knowing about its existence. However, it is a truly wonderful film that I adored, not only because I love and miss Alan Rickman, but because it is a quaint, sweet and truly well-made romantic comedy-drama, that tells a beautiful story of love and life, and how we deal with tragedy, even through the most difficult times. It is a fantastic film, and if you were a fan of Alan Rickman, perhaps considering watching this film as a remembrance of his legacy and his brilliance as a performer, and how he truly was one of our most talented actors. However, Truly, Madly, Deeply is also certainly worth it for the wonderful performance from Juliet Stevenson, and the way this film portrays grieving and loss. It is a beautiful film, and definitely a film that touched me deeply.