Rowan Atkinson

Rowan Atkinson

Date of birth: 06-01-1955
Born in Consett, near Durham, Rowan Atkinson was educated at Durham Choristers School, and St Bees School, before going on to study electrical engineering at Newcastle University and a master's degree at Queen's College, Oxford. There he performed sketches with the Oxford University Dramatic Society and the Experimental Theatre Club, where he met writer Richard Curtis.

He took part in various student revues at the Edinburgh Fringe from 1973 to 1977, followed by a revue in London's Hampstead Theatre in 1978 called Beyond A Joke.

That year, he was offered his own television series by ITV but turned it down in favour of Not the Nine O'Clock News, for which he also wrote many of the sketches.

His performance in the Secret Policeman's Ball Amnesty benefits in 1979 - where he was one of the most junior comics alongside the likes of John Cleese and Peter Cook - helped cement his reputation. And he returned for the Secret Policeman's Other Ball in 1981. That year, he also performed in revue with Richard Curtis at London's Globe Theatre.

His growing success led to his starring in the medieval sitcom The Black Adder, which he also co-wrote with Richard Curtis, in 1983. For the remaining three series (in 1985, 1978 and 1989), Ben Elton replaced Atkinson as co-writer.

Atkinson toured with Angus Deayton as his sidekick in 1986 and again in 1991. He also appeared at Montreal's Just For Laughs festival in 1987 and 1989. His stand-up shows were released in two albums: Live In Belfast in 1982, and Not Just A Pretty Face in 1987.

Also on stage, he performed in The Nerd in 1984-85 and in Chekov's The Sneeze in 1988-89, both at the Adwych Theatre in the West End. In 2009, he will return to the stage to play Fagin in the revival of Oliver!

Other than Blackadder, his most famous creation is Mr Bean, a silent nerdish character, a version of who first appeared in the live shows. A total of 18 half-hour specials were made for ITV between 1990 and 1995. A huge international hit, thanks to the comedy not depending on language, the character appeared in his own blockbuster movie in 1997 and a follow-up is due for release in 2007. An animated children's series was launched in 2002.

Atkinson's other film credits include The Tall Guy in 1989, a cameo as a vicar in 1994's Four Weddings And A Funeral, the voice of Zazu in The Lion King in 1994, spy spoof Johnny English in 2003, and Love Actually also in 2003.

He was also one of the founders of Comic Relief, appearing in the original 1986 live show and making various appearances in the telethons over the years. He also starred in the Ben Elton-penned police sitcom The Thin Blue Line in 1995-6.

Away from his work, Atkinson prefers a life out of the spotlight, living in a secluded manor house in Oxfordshire with his wife Sunetra, who he married in 1990, his two children, Lily and Benjamin, and large collection of cars.

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Johnny English Strikes Again

Movie review by Steve Bennett

The premise of Rowan Atkinson’s third Johnny English film – a good seven years after the last – is that our titular secret agent is an analogue hero in a digital age.

 So when a hacker exposes all Britain’s spooks in the field, our accident-prone protagonist is called out of retirement, where he’s teaching geography and a bit of spycraft on the side in a fusty public school, to track down the super-villain responsible, sans any vulnerable high-tech devices (except for the occasional exploding cotton bud). It’s Skyfall, essentially, stealing a plot from the genre it’s spoofing.

But it also feels like this parody is something of a relic, with sluggish and perfunctory action in the age of high-octane Bondalikes such as Kingsman, which have a strong parodic element and don’t take themselves too seriously.

Johnny English Strikes Again does contain some very funny set pieces that showcase Atkinson’s undeniable physical comedy chops, undimmed at 63 years old, but anything In Between feels like a drag, however much money has been lavished on it. Director David Kerr – making his big-screen debut after an esteemed career in  TV including Inside No 9 and Fresh Meat –  keeps the story as brisk as possible between these skits, yet still the running times feels longer than its 88 minutes.

And for all the big-budget pieces and lavish French Riviera locations, the smallest scenes are the best: Atkinson trying to play it cool after tasting a super-spicy bar snack is a delight, as is his fighting the comedown after taking a particularly potent pick-me-up drug,

There are laughs, too, in a contrived set piece in which he causing chaos as he walks into the streets of London while wearing a virtual reality headset playing a combat simulation – a scene worthy of Clouseau. The white-suited antics on the dancefloor are a little more clumsily shoehorned-in, but are simple entertainment.

Of the supporting cast. Emma Thompson brings a touch of class as the beleaguered Prime Minister, desperate to sign a deal, however bad, to get her out of a political impasse (where did writer William Davies get his ideas?). 

Real-life former Bond girl (and Death Of Stalin actress) Olga Kurylenko can’t do much with the two-dimensional role of an eye-candy Russian agent, Jake Lacey is a bland  boilerplate evil tech billionaire Volta (Elon Musk does unhinged visionary so much more convincingly) and Ben Miller, returning to the franchise after skipping the second instalment, just has to be quietly competent as English’s partner Bough, which he does. And there’s surely an in-joke in that Alexa’s evil twin, the voice of artificial intelligence who does Volta’s bidding, is named after Miller’s sometime double-act partner Xander Armstrong. 

Good cameos from Kevin Eldon (though he’s gone after the first 20 seconds), Johnny Sweet as a tour guide English attacks and Vicki Pepperdine as Mrs Bough, a typically no-nonsense nuclear submarine commander stand out, but it’s not enough 

For the story is anaemic and lethargic while gags are more heavily signposted than a motorway turn-off. What could possibly happen after English poo-pooh’s Bough’s suggestion they put some petrol into their Aston-Martin?

Perhaps we shouldn’t expect more from a movie franchise that started life as a credit-card commercial, but Johnny English Strikes Again is a collection of visual sketches – some excellent, others not – held together by the most threadbare of structures. Forget the anti-tech message and wait until you can stream this on your phone, it’s not really worth a cinema trip.

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Published: 5 Oct 2018

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