Review – McKellen: Playing The Part

Ian McKellen

McKellen: Playing the Part is a laid-back but frank documentary on the career of British theatre and film sweetheart Ian McKellen. A methodical, chronological account from director Joe Stephenson.

As the title suggests, McKellen embraces the argument that storytelling is fundamental to people, and that acting is innate. Aren’t we all acting, all of the time? Don’t we go through life choosing which aspects of ourselves to display? In this way, it is a surprisingly philosophical account of life in the public eye. The narrative is all from the horse’s mouth. Appearances from other British acting royalty are anecdotal: Maggi Smith; Judi Dench; and of course, McKellen’s bestie Patrick Stewart. Serious and thoughtful throughout, McKellen gives way to whimsical camp old man in the closing credits.



McKellen: Playing the part presents the argument for waiting until you are ready in terms of children (potentially never) and career moves. He willingly accepts that he would not have thrived in the film world at a younger age, and professes a deep love for theatre.



This documentary serves as a reminder that being apolitical is a privilege, especially for those in the LGBTQ+ community. It is a demonstration of one man’s journey into political activism. McKellen came out on national television and was a vocal campaigner against Section 28: a political injustice that came immediately after the peak of the AIDS crisis. Having avoided politics thus far, he felt that he could no longer sidestep these issues. Producers of the 2018 Freddie Mercury biopic take note: Films about gay men in the late 1980s that omit the AIDS crisis are incomplete.

McKellen: Playing the part will be screened across the UK on 27th May 2018

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Esme Betamax is a writer and illustrator. Often found in the Cube Microplex. Favourites include: I ♡ Huckabees, Where the Buffalo Roam, Harold & Maude, Being John Malkovich and In the Shadow of the Moon.


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