This tall, lithe Scottish actor won international recognition as Olympic hopeful Eric Lidell, the Presbyterian missionary who refused to compete on the Sabbath, in Hugh Hudson's Oscar-winning "Chariots of Fire" (1981). Although he only appeared in a handful of films, Ian Charleson had a distinguished stage career for close to two decades before his untimely death from AIDS complications in 1990.
The red-haired Edinburgh native began his career as a child performer in local productions, but it wasn't until 1972 that he burst onto the London scene with an acclaimed portrayal of Jimmy Porter in a revival of John Osborne's "Look Back in Anger." On stage, he received further attention as Guildenstern in Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" (1974) with the Young Vic. As part of that company, Charleson traveled to Brooklyn, NY to appear in "The Taming of the Shrew," "Scapino" and "French without Tears" in 1974. He first tackled the Melancholy Dane in a 1975 production of "Hamlet" in Cambridge and went on to appear with the National Theatre in a number of Shakespearean productions. After supporting Jane Lapotaire as "Piaf" in 1978-79, Charleson returned to the National where he scored a triumph as Sky Masterston to Julie Covington's Sarah Brown in Richard Eyre's highly praised revival of "Guys and Dolls" (1982-83). He co-starred in Sam Shepard's "Fool for Love" in 1985, earned plaudits for his Brick in Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1988) and shortly before his death completed his second run as "Hamlet" (1989).
Charleson only appeared in seven films in his career. He debut in Derek Jarman's stylized "Jubilee" (1978) and after his success in "Chariots" followed as Charlie Andrews, an aide to Ben Kingsley "Gandhi" (1982), who is eventually asked to leave the independence movement so it can become an all-Indian affair. "Ascendancy" (1983) teamed him romantically with his "Guys and Dolls" co-star Julie Covington in a period drama set in 1920s Ireland. He reunited with Hugh Hudson for "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" (1984). In the black comedy "Car Trouble" (1985), Charleson was the bickering husband of Julie Walters more interested in his new Jaguar than his wife, until she is responsible for the car's destruction. His final screen appearance was in Dario Argento's slasher "Opera" (1987).
On the small screen, Charleson began in a three 1980 BBC Shakespearean productions, playing Fortinbras in "Hamlet," starring Derek Jacobi, Octavius Caesar in support of Colin Blakely and Jane Lapotaire as "Antony and Cleopatra" and Bertram in "All's Well That Ends Well," co-starring Celia Johnson and Michael Hordern. He was in the Scottish TV production "Something's Got to Give" (1982) and made his US debut in the Cinemax miniseries "Louisiana" (1984). Also in 1984, Charleson had featured roles in the network miniseries "The Sun Also Rises" (NBC) and "Master of the Game" (CBS). His final small screen role was in the title role of the spy in "Codename: Kyril" (Showtime, 1988).
Charleson's death was the first show business death in the United Kingdom openly attributed to complications from AIDS.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Had early London stage success as Jimmy Porter in "Look Back in Anger"
Feature film debut in Derek Jarman's "Jubilee"
Early TV appearance, played Fortinbras in British TV production of "Hamlet", staring Derek Jacobi
Played leading role as Eric Liddell in "Chariots of Fire"
Co-starred in "Gandhi"
Starred opposite Julie Covington in "Ascendancy"
Network TV debut in the CBS miniseries, "Master of the Game"
US TV debut in Cinemax miniseries, "Louisiana"
Final feature film, "Opera", directed by Dario Argento
Final TV appearance in the title role of the Showtime miniseries, "Codename: Kyril"
Won rave reviews for his "Hamlet" on the London stage