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Six Definitive Films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Christopher Lee

One of the most prominent acting talents of all time, Christopher Lee is remembered for his extensive and diverse career during which he played a wide variety of roles. Ranging from The Lord of the Rings trilogy to his appearance in the Star Wars universe, Lee worked on popular franchises as well as cult classics.

Born in London, Lee served in different military capacities during the Second World War which provided him with various experiences that he later incorporated into his work. From a prison official to an intelligence officer, Lee was heavily involved in the geopolitical conflicts during that time before he established himself as an icon.

Even after Lee passed away, his body of work as well as his beliefs are primary sources of inspiration for many aspiring actors who are looking to follow in his footsteps. Talking to the future generations, the legendary actor once said: “The most dangerous thing that a young actor or actress can do is to believe their own publicity.”

Christopher Lee’s six definitive films:

Dracula (Terence Fisher, 1958)

Christopher Lee’s first rendition of the iconic titular character in the Hammer Horror series, this 1958 film by Terence Fisher is a fascinating cinematic experience which is often cited by many fans and scholars as a classic gothic horror work.

Regularly ranked among the greatest British films in history, Dracula has a lot of great horror elements but the one thing that solidified its status in the books is Lee’s portrayal of the horror character which popularised the image of the figure.

The Whip and the Body (Mario Bava, 1963)

Mario Bava is among the undisputed pioneers of the horror genre, known for creating seminal works such as Black Sabbath and Kill, Baby, Kill among many others. Bava’s films contained many precursors which eventually informed the popular giallo genre.

The Whip and the Body was actually made by Bava under the alias of ‘John M. Old’ and it revolved around the life of a young man (Lee) whose potential marriage is being planned but he engages in an affair with a servant who ends up killing herself.

Umbracle (Pere Portabella, 1972)

While Lee starred in many popular features which became incredibly important parts of his legacy, he also worked on unconventional projects such as this one – a pioneering masterpiece by an experimental Catalan filmmaker called Pere Portabella.

A critical vision of the Francoist State, Umbracle is a collection of fragmented segments that consist of narrative links as well as archival footage with Lee inhabiting and navigating the philosophical labyrinths of an otherworldly Barcelona.

The Three Musketeers (Richard Lester, 1973)

Originally planned as a feature meant for The Beatles by their famous collaborator Richard Lester, this adaptation of the iconic novel by Alexandre Dumas is routinely named among the most faithful interpretations of the original.

Christopher Lee is fantastic as Count De Rochefort and even though he is a secondary character in the novel, Lee manages to stand out during the scenes involving him. Featuring bursts of comedy and a very detailed presentation of that period, The Three Musketeers is an essential experience.

The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)

Among the most engaging horror films ever made and one of the finest British folk horror works, The Wicker Man is partially based on David Pinner’s novel Ritual featuring Christopher Lee in one of the greatest performances of his career.

Exploring the insidious machinations of a cult, the film follows the journey of a police sergeant who travels to an isolated island in order to find out details about a case but he ends up being confronted by the leader of a sinister cult – Lord Summerisle (Lee).

The Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson, 2001 – 2003)

Lee’s contribution to the highly popular Lord of the Rings trilogy needs no introduction since it is well-known among the fans of his older films as well as younger audiences. In fact, many Tolkien fans will always see Lee as the perfect casting choice for the role he played – Saruman.

Lee proved that he was still at the top of his game through his performance as Saruman, the leader of angelic wizards who became corrupted by the promise of power. His rendition of Saruman beautifully complemented the philosophical commentary on power structures and human nature.