On the morning of 11th June, beloved British actor Sir Christopher Lee passed away. Aged 93, Lee’s career has covered both genres and generations, spanning a total of seven decades and including a filmography of over 250 roles.
Here, several of The Edge’s writers look back at his wonderful body of work and some the films, roles and scenes that have moved viewers the world over.
Frankenstein’s Monster (The Curse of Frankenstein, 1957)
Hammer’s first ever colour horror film helped to cement the studio as purveyors of fright cinema. Christopher Lee brilliantly brought to life Frankenstein’s monster thanks to some then-cutting edge prosthetic make-up and a performance tinged with pathos. Lee’s performance would cement this film as the go to for schools and horror lovers alike.
Curse of Frankenstein boasted the dream team of Lee, Peter Cushing and director Terence Fisher, who later collaborated on Dracula and The Mummy. Frankenstein, though, was an early box office smash and helped make Hammer a success on the international stage.
Words by Natalie Fordham
Dracula (Dracula, 1958)
Despite being a noticeable face within the industry throughout the 1950s, it wasn’t until Lee began his tenure with Hammer Films towards the end of the decade that he became the star we know of today. Quite possibly the most definitive of all of his roles to date, Dracula was very much Lee’s breakthrough, terrifying audiences as the prince of darkness from 1958’s simply titled Dracula, all the way into the 1970s. Over the course of seven separate cinematic outings, Lee’s dominating screen presence proved his worth, relying almost entirely on physical performance (in many of the Hammer films, Dracula had no lines), making him a bonafide legend of the horror genre.
Words by Ben Robins
Lord Summerisle (The Wicker Man, 1973)
After playing the Prince of Darkness for the final time in The Satanic Rites of Dracula, Lee was eager to explore fresh terrain. He did just that playing Lord Summerisle in horror classic The Wicker Man.
Lee considered this one of his best films, and as the years have rolled by it feels like he’s been proved right. Dubbed “the Citizen Kane of horror movies” by magazine Cinefantastique, its cult status has grown and grown, and the film even spawned a Nicolas Cage-led remake and a belated ‘spiritual’ sequel, 2011’s The Wicker Tree, that Lee himself starred in. This horror still gives me the hereby-geebies.
Words by Natalie Fordham
Francisco Scaramanga (The Man With The Golden Gun, 1974)
The James Bond franchise has certainly had some memorable villains, but that within it’s ninth outing, The Man With The Golden Gun, is remembered by many to be among the best. The film saw Lee (Bond author Ian Fleming’s real-life step-cousin) play the titular villain, assassin Francisco Scaramanga; an athletic, capable man designed to be Bond’s equal and one of the first to give the hero a proper run for his money. That he was; in fact, though the film remains among the least profitable and poorly received in the franchise’s history, Lee’s performance was met with something akin to critical acclaim.
Scaramanga is, undeniably, incredibly cool. He charges a million dollars per hit and, shooting with his golden gun and bullets, is rumoured to be the only man capable of taking out MI5’s finest. He has a giant glittering mansion, plus an ancient Chinese sailing ship. Drawing inspiration from the era’s glitz and glamour – not to mention it’s love of martial arts films – Lee’s Scaramanga was a devious, illusive villain that kept both viewer and Bond guessing, right until the film’s dramatic culmination.
Words by Camilla Cassidy
Saruman (Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, 2001-2014)
Two legendary thespians in their old age using wicked sorcery to throw each other about in a secured tower? Sounds like cinematic gold to me! When Sir Christopher Lee’s Saruman in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring fought Sir Ian McKellen’s Gandalf in Orthanc, the tower in Isengard, my 8-year-old self thought it was the coolest fight scene I’d ever seen (just edging Lee’s fight with Yoda in Star Wars). At such a young age, I found Lee’s performance absolutely terrifying. So much so that when he received his fellowship award from BAFTA in 2011, just seeing him still scared me – 10 years on!
Words by Will Hodgetts
Count Dooku (Star Wars: Attack of the Clones/Revenge of the Sith, 2002-2005)
In 2002, Christopher Lee took the role of main antagonist Count Dooku/Lord Tyranus in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. His height and formidable voice added enormously to the air of mystery surrounding the character – a once respected Jedi Master who fell to the Dark Side and became a Sith Apprentice. Although 79 years old at the time, Lee did not shy away from his share of lightsaber fights, including one of the saga’s most epic battles between Count Dooku and Yoda. Lee holds the record for most sword fights in front of the camera than any other actor, but did use a stunt double where needed.
Lee reprised his role of Count Dooku for a short time in 2005 for Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith.
Words by Jenny Simpson
Dr. Wilbur Wonka (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 2005)
In 2005, Sir Christopher Lee starred as Willy Wonka’s father in Tim Burton’s colourful adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. While Burton’s interpretation stayed relatively truthful to Roald Dahl’s original text, the scenes in which Lee featured were some of the most creative. The zaniness of Johnny Depp’s Wonka is explained to be a side-affect of his troubled relationship with his father, Wilbur – a stern dentist who banned the young Wonka from touching any sorts of candy or chocolate. In the flashback scenes, Lee brought a sense of intimidation and menace that only he could bring to such a role, but in the final sequences in which Willy and Wilbur are reunited through Charlie, Lee also showed that he could be just as warm-hearted as he could be cold.
This was one of five films that Lee and Burton collaborated on together, with others including Sleepy Hollow (1999), Corpse Bride (2005), Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Dark Shadows (2012).
Words by Anneka Honeyball