As the plaudits and praise rightly pile up about the late and impressive actor, Alan Rickman, people will ponder his best films. Of course, the blockbusting and memorable films such as ‘Die Hard’, ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ and ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ will be high on most people’s ratings. But I have seen little praise for ‘Snow Cake’ and I think it is one of his most astonishing films. If you haven’t seen it, watch it: you won’t be disappointed. It was directed by Marc Evans and was released in 2007.
It features Rickman as Alex Hughes. He is lonely, emotionally stunted and he has been in prison. Travelling through Canada, he picks up a teenage hitch hiker, Vivienne, and the story begins. No spoilers from me, but I cannot listen to Free’s ‘All Right Now’ without remembering the impact of the scene which propels Alex to visit Vivienne’s mother, Linda, played by Sigourney Weaver. Linda is autistic and we, through Alex, begin to see beyond her inability to express emotions and her obsessive -compulsive domestic habits. As we watch their relationship develop, humour, humanity and warmth bring about a bond between the characters which is both touching and compelling .
Carrie-Anne Moss excels as Maggie, a neighbour with whom Alex becomes romantically involved. The three characters merge and move apart, leaving you the space to form conclusions about human relationships.
It is a film which is profoundly well-performed by three supreme actors. The premise may be unlikely, but the commitment to plot and character makes it not only plausible, but makes it impossible not to connect with Alex Hughes on an emotional level. Rickman’s Alex develops from a quirky outsider to someone we warm to, we respect and, eventually, he is heroic.
Weaver’s performance is detailed and intelligent: it brings dignity to a role which could have been predictably sentimental, contrived or a parody stereotype of someone with autism. Instead, scenes such as Linda and Alex on the trampoline are poignant and powerful, and there are the impactful moments where we realise that she has more ability to be perceptive than we initially give her credit for: the Scrabble game where Linda invents words is one such example.
Rickman’s performance is a triumph: slowly, through his languorous, stunted initial rapport with the other characters, we realise the depth of his loneliness: we find out his back story and we celebrate his later achievements.
The visual backdrop underpins the characters’ dilemmas: the small town Canadian setting is snow-laden and stunning. Rickman and Moss have an exposition scene by a lake where water drips from melting ice: the cold is physical and emotional and there is a kind of healing in the acceptance of the hard landscape which turns into a thing of beauty.
‘Snow Cake’ is, in some ways, a gentle film: in other ways, it is disturbing and allegorical. It typifies what Rickman does so well: he develops a character gradually; he is aloof, a little awkward, and then the ice melts and we realise he is funny, likeable and, above all things, he is a good man, despite past mistakes. His performance, alongside Weaver’s in-depth and complex portrayal of Linda and Moss’ strong, philosophical foil, Maggie, add up to a thought-provoking and satisfying film, set amid scenery which will take your breath away.
Of course, we will celebrate Alan Rickman through Snape and Gruber and the Sheriff of Nottingham. He was a tremendous actor. But spare a couple of hours to watch ‘Snow Cake’. It’s a great celebration of the man’s talents and a powerful film which you won’t forget in a hurry.