Bob Hoskins, one of this country’s best loved actors and who tragically died in 2014, never wrote an autobiography – in fact one can actually imagine his scorning the pomposity of such a suggestion. And in the absence of such a memoir, It’s All Going Wonderfully Well – Growing up with Bob Hoskins, written by his daughter Rosa proves to be an enlightening and reflective read.
To many around the world, Bob Hoskins was probably most famous for playing private eye Eddie Valiant in Robert Zemeckis’ Oscar winning live action / animation mash up, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? But it was before Hollywood studios were to summons him from North London, back in the early 1980’s, that Hoskins achieved British stardom on screen and stage with two remarkably different and yet towering performances.
In John Mackenzie‘s 1981 release The Long Good Friday, Hoskins played Harold Shand, an old-school London gangster. Colossus-like, Shand bestrode his empire, oblivious to the forces of political crime and terrorism that were eroding his firm from within and which would ultimately destroy his traditional East End villainy. Barrie Keefe‘s script for that movie was as brilliantly funny as it was brutal (only Tarantino has since combined violence with wry wit to similar effect) and much of the film’s success (it is frequently nominated in the top ten of British films and at #1 in British gangster flicks) is credited to Hoskins’ performance.
And then a year later Richard Eyre, in one of the bravest and most visionary casting decisions ever, chose Hoskins to play Frank Loesser’s low-life Nathan Detroit in what was to be the National Theatre’s groundbreaking and first ever musical production, Guys and Dolls. The production scooped countless awards and nominations and is still talked about to this day. With his three fellow leads and a faultless company of actors and creatives, Hoskins learned to tap-dance, polished up his singing and proved that his indomitable Cockney charm could work as well on Broadway as in Bethnal Green. Born in 1983, some months after her dad had moved on from the show’s cast, one of Rosa Hoskins’ fondly spoken regrets is that she had never seen her dad’s take on Nathan Detroit.
Her book however is more than a biography of Bob Hoskins’ career. Rather, it is a deeply personal and incredibly poignant look back and appreciation of a young woman’s love for her father. There is an unpretentious and at times unflinching honesty to this woman’s writing. She speaks with radiant warmth of her dad, but also and without self-pity, talks of her own struggles, both personal and professional and how her father tried at all times to support her. There are also some wonderful glimpses into her father’s private life. In the latter part of his career, when the film parts offered were not quite so glamorous he described the “cameo role” in a movie as “….the governor….you’re paid a lot of money, everybody treats you like the Crown Jewels, you’re in and out and, if the film’s a load of shit, nobody blames you”. If Harold Shand had ever given up crime for acting, those words could so easily have been spoken by him!
The book is meticulously and beautifully researched, with Zemeckis, Dame Judi Dench and Ray Winstone amongst many of the industry greats and not-so-greats sharing their memories of Hoskins with his daughter. Perhaps the only omission is Helen Mirren, whose portrayal of Victoria, Harold’s moll in The Long Good Friday, came close to matching the complex depths of Hoskins’ performance.
As an impressionable sixth former and then student both The Long Good Friday and then Guys and Dolls burned themselves into my appreciative psyche and to this day many of Harold Shand’s phrases, as delivered by Hoskins, can aptly sum up so many of life’s moments. And it is a mark of crafted talent in Rosa Hoskins’ writing that the man she writes of so fondly as her father, is also so recognisable as the man that millions loved on screen. Like myself, one may have never met the man or his daughter personally and yet this book suggests that what we saw on stage and screen was, at all times, the very essence of the man himself – irreverent, witty and above all caring and decent. Rosa Hoskins’ words paint a rich picture and her sentiments will touch the hearts not only of those who admired her father’s work, but quite possibly of anyone who mourns the loss of someone deeply loved.
It’s All Going Wonderfully Well, is a rather wonderful read, hard to put down and keep the tissues close at hand. I never knew Bob Hoskins personally – but after reading Rosa’s book, it turns out I did.
My reflections on The Long Good Friday can be found here.
And my reflections on the National Theatre’s 1982 production of Guys and Dolls can be found here.
It’s All Going Wonderfully Well – Growing up with Bob Hoskins – Can be purchased in bookshops and online through all good distributors.