The life and sad demise of British actor Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee
Christopher Lee as Saruman (Picture: New Line Cinema)
Anyone who has seen the Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit films will know that Saruman the White is played by Christopher Lee. Anyone who has seen the modern era Star Wars films will know that Count Dooku is also played by Christopher Lee. Lee was born on May 22, 1922 in Belgravia, London, United Kingdom. He had an extraordinary line of ancestry, being related to Confederate general Robert E. Lee, and having a link from his mother to Charlemagne, the first king of a briefly united Europe.

When Lee was four years old, his parents separated, and two years later, they divorced. Soon after, his mother married Harcourt George St-Croix Rose, a banker and uncle of Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, thus making Fleming Lee’s step-cousin. The family then moved to Fulham. While there, Lee was introduced to Prince Yusupov and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, the future assassins of Grigori Rasputin, a Russian monk with great influence over the Czar Nicholas II of Russia. Lee would later play Rasputin in a play many years later.

At age 9, Lee was sent to Summer Fields School, a preparatory school in Oxford. He acted in school plays and was frequently beaten, including at Wellington for being “beaten too often”. However, Lee accepted the beatings as “logical and therefore acceptable” punishments for knowingly breaking the rules.

At age 17, Lee’s 1939 summer term at Wellington was his last, for his step-father had gone bankrupt, owing $25.000. His mother separated from Rose, and Lee had to find a job, his sister already working as a secretary for the Church of England Pensions Board. With most employers on or preparing to go on summer holidays, there was no immediate opportunities for Lee, so he was sent to the French Riviera, where his sister was on holiday with friends. On his way there, he stopped briefly in Paris, where he stayed with the journalist Webb Miller, a friend of Rose, and witnessed the execution of criminal and murderer Eugen Weidmann by guillotine, the last public execution carried out in France.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Lee enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and fought alongside the Finnish Army. After the Invasion of Italy, Lee visited Rome and nearby relatives while on leave. Lee also climbed Mount Vesuvius three days before it erupted. After the war, Lee had trouble finding a particular line of work. While having lunch with his cousin Nicolo Carandini and detailing his war wounds, Nicolo asked Lee, “Why don’t you become an actor, Christopher?” While initially struggling to become an actor, Lee eventually managed to become very successful at acting, his career lasting from 1947-2015, 2015 being the year of his death at age 93 from cardiac and respiratory problems. Although Lee has passed, his legacy endures in all forms of acting and the film legacy.

Star Wars Rebels

Star Wars Rebels is an animated series on Disney XD. It is a follow-up to Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and a prologue to Star Wars: A New Hope. The series follows a young street orphan named Ezra Bridger on the distant planet of Lothal. At this time, the Jedi Knights are extinct, and the evil Emperor Palpatine and the Galactic Empire are spreading fear and tyranny across the galaxy. All hope of rebelling against this unspeakable evil seem pointless, until young Bridger comes across a ragtag group of rebels who take up arms against the Empire and inspire hope in others. After countless mishaps, Bridger decides to join the rebel crew, which consists of former Jedi Kanan Jarrus, a feisty Mandalorian teenager named Sabine Wren, Twi’lek pilot Hera Syndulla, an intimidating Lasat warrior named Zeb Orrelios, and humorous but also mischievous astromech droid Chopper. The crew faces minor formidable storm troopers and mysterious but also deadly Sith Lords!

12 Years a Slave

Solomon Northup
By Frederick M. Coffin (engraved by Nathaniel Orr) – Solomon Northup (1855) Twelve Years a Slave, Public Domain

My peers and I had the opportunity to watch the film, 12 Years a Slave, in Mr. William’s history class.

This historical film dramatizes the issue of slavery in pre-Civil War America. The main character, Solomon Northup, a violin player, is a free black man from upstate New York living with his family in the year 1841. When Solomon travels to Washington, D.C. with two men for a potential increase in his salary, he is drugged by those two men and was transferred to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he is sold from one slave owner to another, until he is sold to the cruel, aggressive, and gradually insane slave owner Edwin Epps.

As the days turn into months and months bleed into years, Solomon struggles to maintain his dignity and keep his identity as he endures abuse and hardships, such as having to answer to a new name and being whipped daily. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, he meets a Canadian abolitionist who will forever alter his life.

The film details the horrific and unforgettable conditions that African-Americans went through while they were slaves. One slave in particular named Patsey, a female slave at the Epps plantation, was constantly taken advantage of and abused by Edwin Epps, who was obsessed with her, but also hated her at the same time, making Epps an uncontrollable psychopath. His wife, Mistress Epps, jealous about the attention that Patsey was receiving, also abused her and urged her husband to “punish her” if she did anything wrong.

12 Years a Slave is an unforgettable film and a landmark of Hollywood cinema.