Severous Snape, Where are you?
The last time Alan Rickman was in Sonoma he was busy organizing the Judgment of Paris, wherein Napa winery Chateau Montelena beat the best French chardonnay, ushering California wine into global respectability and bestowing enological cred on Napa and, by association, Sonoma.
Rickman played real-life wine merchant Steven Spurrier in the 2008 docu-drama Bottle Shock, produced by former SIFF directors Marc and Brenda Lhormer. The Lhormers are now running the Napa Film Festival, and Rickman’s life has been redefined by Harry Potter, but there was a well-watered hope that he would be back in town to shepherd his latest directorial effort, A Little Chaos, to the 18th annual Sonoma International Film Festival.
The film, Rickman’s first directing effort in 17 years, concerns a fictional female landscape gardener daringly hired to help design the gardens at Versailles. Kate Winslet plays the gardener and Rickman elegantly inhabits the role of Louis XIV with an imperious pomp that fits him like a frilly jacket on the Sun King.
Rickman’s new film opens the 2015 festival Wednesday night at the Sebastiani Theatre, but Rickman won’t be there. Following some behind-the-scenes entanglements involving the film’s distributor, Focus Features (which reportedly delayed the release date, thus incurring a little Rickman rage), plans for his appearance took a turn away from Sonoma.
But even absent a Rickman-in-the-flesh, hopes continued that a live phone interview could congeal with the man whose acting portfolio covers remarkable range, from the Royal Shakespeare Company to Bruce Willis’ first Die Hard nemesis Hans Gruber. For that role he earned the American Film Institute’s designation as the 46th best film villain in history. Interestingly, he has also been rated as the 34th sexiest star in film history by Empire magazine, a rating that will bewilder Harry Potter fans who followed him through eight films as the tortured, unctuous villain/cum hero Severus Snape. In that role, many Potter aficionados argued, he should have been nominated for and awarded an Academy Award.
Alas, as the hours ticked down toward the festival deadline, Rickman’s people reported him to be somewhere in Australia. Efforts to arrange a mutual phone connection drifted into the atmosphere, so we may never know what he really thinks about Sonoma.
Still, we will have the pleasure of enjoying one of the world’s truly great actors, as director and performer, at the film festival’s gala presentation of A Little Chaos at 7:30 p.m. on March 25.
Story David Bolling