Marcus Berkmann

Bookends: A friend of mine

The best actor in the world

A friend of mine was throttled by Pete Postlethwaite once. It was outside a TV studio, people were smoking and Postlethwaite was only demonstrating some bit of business he had done while playing Macbeth, but even so, very few of us can claim to have been strangled by someone Steven Spielberg once called ‘the best actor in the world’.

Postlethwaite died in January, to a vast and unexpected surge of public grief. Now arrives an autobiography, A Spectacle of Dust (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20), written during illness, incomplete at death, finished by other hands.

But there’s no doubt it’s the real thing. Postlethwaite was an unusually open, emotional actor, both strong and vulnerable, never terribly bothered about being liked. ‘Unlike many of my contemporaries, I wasn’t interested in a “career in the theatre”. I cared about authenticity. I didn’t just want to make things real, I absolutely had to.’

His writing is as uncom-promising as you would expect, but it’s also passionate, tender and at times very funny. As so often with celebrity autobiographies, the early years are fascinating, the years of achievement less so. But if some of the book feels a little rushed, how could it be otherwise? The overall impression is of a man who lived an extraordinarily full life and enjoyed rather a lot of it. And his unsentimental description of his final illness is a model of dignity and quiet acceptance. His book is nearly as good as some of his performances, which is saying something.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in