Bob Hoskins

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Monalisa’ poster on King’s Boulevard, King’s Cross,London N1C © London Intelligence, 2012

Bob Hoskins, one of London’s finest character actors, passed away on 30 April, 2014.

Paul Coleman reflects.

 Farewell, ‘Ornamental Spaghetti’

 

I still kick myself to this day. 

Especially today (Wednesday, 30 April).

One afternoon, donkeys’ years ago, actor Bob Hoskins emerges from the side door of Dillons bookshop on Malet Street in the Bloomsbury area of London. 

Bob sports a beard. Wears a fawn raincoat. He looks right at me. Nods. Smiles And trundles off in the direction of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Wallop!

Ever since, I’ve wish I’d turned, trotted after him, and gushed something like: ‘Thank you so much for playing gangster developer Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday (Director: John Mackenzie, 1981,UK), a great London film reflecting the reality of the Thatcherite sale of east London to property magnates. And thanks, Bob, for playing George in another London classic film, Monalisa (Director: Neil Jordan, 1986, UK).’

Hoskins, as an actor and a Londoner, was perfect for both films. For instance, BBC archive footage shows Hoskins explaining how property developers are buying up land either side of the Thames at Butler’s Wharf and at Wapping, cutting ordinary Londoners off from their river.

 

‘Race’ and sex

For Monalisa Hoskins received an Oscar Best Actor nomination for playing small-time crook George, employed by Mortwell (Michael Caine) as a chauffeur to Simone, an enigmatic call girl servicing wealthy clients, (played by Kathy Tyson).

Neil Jordan and David Leland wrote a beautiful yet ‘noir-infused’ love story for white working class George, and Simone, a discerning streetwise black woman from Liverpool. Their initial mutual distaste, born out of George’s race prejudice and Simone’s class snobbery, transforms into genuine affection, despite a seedy 1980s London backdrop. Monalisa takes us to kerb-crawling King’s Cross, peep show Soho, and to the Highgate mansions of affluent, creepy men who use and abuse young girls like Simone. 

George’s contempt for Simone rapidly gives way to respect and real affection – but this leaves George vulnerable to vultures hailing from a connected London establishment and underworld where sex industry girls are dispensable currency. These vultures’ vicious attentions compel George to fall back on his solid friendship with Thomas (Robbie Coltrane) – but only after George unravels Simone’s secret.

By gently putting ‘race’ and sex near the heart of this love story, Monalisa stands as a brave London film – as Hoskins sensitively imbues George with all his London working class frailties and strengths. 

And, as a piece of 1980s London nostalgia, Monalisa remains unrivalled.

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Ornamental spaghetti

Again, donkeys’ years ago, this author won a DVD copy of Monalisa by correctly answering a question posed on the Robert Elms BBC London radio show: ‘What song accompanied George as he searched for Simone’s friend Cathy (Kate Hardie) in Soho’s sex parlours?’

‘In Too Deep’ by Genesis.

‘We have a winner,’ says Robert.

Of course, it’s Nat King Cole’s sublimely pleading ‘Monalisa’ croon that plays the film in and out as Monalisa’s credits roll. 

 

Tea

As much as those two songs, though, I remember Bob Hoskins delivering many of George’s great lines, including:

“See I’m cheap, I can’t help it. God made me that way.”

Later; George says to a Savoy Hotel waiter: “I’d like a pot of tea please.”

Waiter: “Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong?

George: “No, tea.”

Waiter: “Very good sir.”

And a bit further on,after briefly discussing the merits of his best friend Thomas’ bid to sell plastic ‘ornamental spaghetti’, Thomas and George share their thoughts about Simone.

George: “Well, she’s a woman of substance. She’s a lady.

Thomas: “I thought you said she was a tart…a tall, thin, black tart.”

George: “Well, maybe. But she’s still a fucking lady.”

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Farewell

After Monalisa, Hollywood film audiences benefit from Hoskins’ London-honed craft.

But he retires from acting in 2012 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Sadly, on this day – 30 April, 2014 – we hear Bob Hoskins, suffering from pneumonia, has passed away.

At just 71. 

Born in Suffolk but a Finsbury Park schoolboy in north London, twice-married Bob Hoskins is survived by his wife and four children. So, farewell, ornamental spaghetti.

Rest in peace. Wallop. 

 

Bob Hoskins 1942-2014

 

 

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© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, April 2014