Richard Harris was like a „howling storm” says his son, award-winning actor Jared Harris. That is how this new, wonderfully shot and edited documentary introduces us to the enigmatic Richard Harris, a force of nature who embraced both colossal success and epic failures.
From the frantic opening moments, we are instantly drawn into the story of a man who devoured life with a voracious appetite for success and indulgence. Filmmaker Adrian Sibley [The Road to Palmyra] takes us on an intimate journey alongside Harris’ three adoring sons, Jared, Jamie, and Damian Harris, as they embark on a quest to connect with their late father’s spirit. The emotional depth of their journey leaves one feeling privileged to witness their memories and (recurring) dreams of their dad.
What makes “The Ghost of Richard Harris” truly remarkable is its ability to paint a more complex image of the man than what we typically perceive. Harris was complicated and intense but he also considered his boys „the loves of his life”. As his sons empty his old storage, together we discover the poetry Harris wrote, his cherished photos, a prop crown from Camelot, and even a puppet of him as Dumbledore. We start from the very end just to go back to the beginning of his story.
Set against the serene backdrop of Kilkee, Ireland, where Richard spent summers on the beach and dominated racket competitions, we witness the birth of a legend. It was here that “Dickie Harris” invented Richard Harris, a larger-than-life persona that would captivate audiences around the world. He refused to be contained, even during his early days performing Marlon Brando’s “On the Waterfront” alongside college students. Richard thrived on the great, angry revolution present in both the theater and in society.
The documentary skillfully balances personal anecdotes and interviews with beautifully utilized clips of voiceover by Harris himself. His introspective musings draw us into his mind, providing a glimpse into the depths of his passion, struggles, and philosophy on life. Seamlessly transitioning between topics, the film explores his family life, turbulent career in Hollywood, relentless pursuit of entertainment and never-ending cry for affection.
Richard’s fiery temperament was legendary, as he embodied characters with masochistic, sadistic intensity. His commitment to his craft was almost violent, with a physicality that left fellow actors both in awe and slightly terrified. „I have always been angry” Harris tells us.
Some of his collaborators thought he was controlling and narcissistic, while others like Vanessa Redgrave remember him as the most generous and shielding person ever. Quite the contradiction, right? Well, he was a man of extremes.
As we explore Richard’s troubled childhood, marked by a lack of parental attention and learning difficulties, we come to understand the root of his restless spirit. His self-destructive behavior, fueled by a search for affection and meaning, led him down a path of substance abuse and reckless behavior. Yet, throughout his life, he remained a master of entertainment, always delivering laughter and excitement to his audiences.
The anecdotes shared by friends and fellow creatives provide a fascinating look into the life and relationships of an infinitely complex man. From his inclusion on an IRA list to his outspoken condemnation of violence, Harris’s journey is one of growth, learning, and redemption. Director Jim Sheridan’s [My Left Foot] experiences while making “The Field” with Harris offer a poignant reflection on the deep impact the actor had on those around him.
Ultimately, this film is a cautionary tale, reminding us of the price Harris paid for his relentless pursuit of a persona that others expected him to embody. We observe a ride full of lost connections, failed relationships, and fears of failure. It is heartwarming to see that Richard, in his later life, finally dared to be himself. The birth of his granddaughter allowed him to let go of his armor and build meaningful connections. As his family and collaborators remember, eventually he became „a protective lion” and a mentor for those he loved.
“The Ghost of Richard Harris” streams on BritBox.
~ by Dora Endre ~