It’s a long standing tradition in Hollywood to cast British actors as sly and evil villains who prey on their (usually American) innocent victims unprovoked and often without meaning. The reason our much-loved performers are often cast as such horrible characters isn’t clear, perhaps it stems from the trans-Atlantic rivalry originating from the British colonization of the United States and the subsequent Revolutionary war, or maybe filmmakers simply like to disassociate Americans with evil. Whatever the reason, although this type-casting of British male actors comes across as quite silly and immature, there is no denying that the following performers do a great job in their sadistic roles. This article may contain spoilers.
Known to many for his memorable role in the Harry Potter series as Lucius Malfoy, a death eater and father of Hogwarts bully Draco, Isaacs successfully scared teenagers around the globe with his cold and malicious performance, all whilst donning a striking white wig and a sharp, precise English accent.
But perhaps his meanest character is the unbelievably callous William Tavington in The Patriot, a Colonel in the British Infantry during the Revolutionary war, who carelessly kills two of Mel Gibson’s sons and many American citizens, both unprovoked and without substantial reason. In this role Jason Isaacs epitomizes snobbery, racism, sexism and a general disregard for human life with sense of authority, evil and cruelty… he really knows how to make audiences hate his characters.
Another Harry Potter veteran, Alan Rickman is best known as the greasy haired, sinister and malicious Potions Master Professor Snape who appears to hold a grudge against protagonist Harry Potter. Rickman’s excellent portrayal in the series brought a sense of mystery to the reclusive teacher, and the plot twist that revealed Snape’s loyalty to Hogwarts Headmaster Dumbledore and Harry Potter and his secret fight against evil secured his fate as a fan-favourite anti-hero.
Rickman’s deep, distinctive voice was an invaluable asset in his role as organised criminal Hans Gruber in Die Hard which brought him international attention. Alan portrayed determination and callousness alongside protagonist Bruce Willis and victims at a hold-up in a skyscraper during a Christmas party, but was able to simultaneously pull off charming, humorous and was, at times, very likeable. Alan Rickman’s performance in Die Hard is exemplary of his skill, versatility and earned him praise and recognition as a great villain.
Loved for his chilling presence in the horror genre, Christopher Lee gained notoriety as Dracula in the Hammer horror series and Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man. Known for his intimidating 6’5 height and deep voice, Lee is the perfect candidate for villainous roles and performs them perfectly with a sense of intelligence and importance.
He portrayed powerful White Wizard and servant to the Dark Lord Sauron, Saruman in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and balanced depicting old and wise with being sinister, calculating and ultimately cowardly. Lee’s extensive knowledge of the trilogy is evident in his perfect portrayal of Saruman, and audiences can enjoy his presence in the Hobbit films.
With a massive range of roles to his name, Gary Oldman isn’t necessarily associated with the bad guy, but his portrayals as evil characters are memorable, and exemplary of his extraordinary talent and versatility. In contrast to the other roles mentioned in this article, Oldman perfects the angry, loud and psychotic villain as opposed to the calm and calculating one, as exemplified in Léon, in which he portrays a crazed corrupt DEA officer.
His skill in depicting psychopaths was also hinted at in the Harry Potter series when his character Sirius Black was wrongly thought to be a murderer, and in The Book of Eli as a leader determined to enforce religion on his people in order to control them. Oldman perfects power hungry, psychotic and blood-thirsty antagonists, but with one look at his extensive filmography, it is clear that he is multi-talented and definitely not type-cast to such roles.
After becoming extremely popular amongst young women and fans of British TV show Sherlock in which he stars, Benedict Cumberbatch attracted the attention of Hollywood with his deep voice, dark hair and slight Alan Rickman resemblance. Whilst portraying the witty and loveable Sherlock, he has proven to be talented at depicting evil, vindictive and terrifying with roles in The Hobbit and Star Trek: Into Darkness.
While his presence in The Hobbit hasn’t been fully established yet with a small role as the Necromancer in the first film, his larger position as the voice of dragon Smaug is much anticipated. Benedict has gained positive recognition as notorious Star Fleet villain Khan in the latest Star Trek film skilfully portraying the tormented ex-agent who is determined to avenge the deaths of his former crew. Benedict is versatile in his role, radiating charm and evil simultaneously, and he is convincing in his character’s passionate crusade.
British women are also sometimes confined to antagonistic roles, who are some of your favourite villainous British women? Let us know below!