Edward Woodward: The Odds Were Definately For Him

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Best known to American TV audiences as “The Equalizer”, a series that ran for a few years in the 1980’s, Edward Woodward had by then established a fine reputation as a quality lead actor in both film and television. His stoic demeanor, solid looks, and his extraordinary ability to show his character’s emotional turmoil through his eyes made him a highly sought after actor until his death in 2009.

Born in England in 1930, Edward made his stage debut at the age of 16. From there he fell into a variety of plays until one of them, “Where There’s A Will” in 1954, was then made into a movie which gave Edward his first film role. And as with most famous British actors, he kept working at his trade between stage, television, and film roles until 1967 when he landed the lead role in the British TV series, “Callen”, which brought him a substantial jump in fame and is still one of his most celebrated roles.

In choosing a few selections from all of his film and television work is not an easy proposition, but here are two more film and one aforementioned TV role that may peak your interest in this remarkable actor.

The Wicker Man

Police Sergeant Howie (Woodward) is summoned to an island town to investigate the disappearance of a local girl. Upon arrival he’s quickly confronted by the residents who claim that no such girl existed. Undeterred, Howie presses on to find the truth and he discovers far more than he bargained for.

“The Wicker Man” is certainly a strange film that’s probably more unsettling than scary. Woodward is perfectly cast as the determined Howie, whose own personal virtues are turned against him. Christopher Lee, who plays the town’s leader, seems to be having the time of his life playing this role in a lighter that usual vein compared to his previous works in the horror genre. Britt Ekland also makes her mark playing “Willow”. Her seductive dance to entice Howie into her room is one of the more famous scenes in the film, although it must be noted that she is doubled in certain scene because she was actually pregnant at the time the scene was filmed.

If there is one quality that gives “The Wicker Man” its edge, it’s the clear disconnect between the time of year the film is supposedly set in, which is May, and the time the film was shot, in September and October. While everything is still green, the spring-like feel is dampened by what is clearly the oncoming cooler weather. This actually gives the film an unsettling, disconnected atmosphere that works perfectly with the storyline.

The conclusion, which is suppose to be a real shocker though it’s featured in the trailer, still packs real power and Woodward plays it to the hilt. A testament to his abilities as an actor and perhaps his fortitude given the situation he is in.

Breaker Morant

This is the true story of three Australian soldiers fighting in the Boar War (right at the turn of the 20th century) who are accused of war crimes, despite being under orders. Woodward plays the title character, a renaissance man who writes poetry (some of the actual poetry written by Morant is in the film) whose character has been twisted by the death of his commanding officer. His performance, as well as the rest of the cast, is really breathtaking. This may be the finest film performance of Woodward’s distinguished career. Certainly his celebrated speech about how they used “Rule 3 – 0 - 3” in dealing with the Boar prisoners is one for all time.

“Breaker Morant” is mostly set in a court room as Morant and the two other accused officers are defended by a lawyer (a wonderful Jack Thompson) who had never worked in criminal law before. The event leading to the trial are told in flashbacks and director Bruce Beresford keeps the pacing quick, the action taut, and the suspense brimming.

There are many great moments in the film, but perhaps the best one is when the hapless lawyer, who’s trying to cross-examine witness seems totally lost until he asks a rather obvious question, then the entire film turns from a tone of certain doom for Morant and his fellow defendants to how can the possibly lose this trial. It is a powerful, wonderful moment that Thompson to his great credit plays to the fullest.

The Equalizer

Ex-detective and possible former spy Robert McCall (Woodward) sets out to atone for his former sins by letting himself be hired out by ordinary citizens to right the wrongs that are being done to them.

The series, which ran for four seasons, was like a breath of fresh air at the time. Woodward played McCall as a deadly serious man who often had to kill those who were threatening his clients. Yet he managed to connect with the audience because you could see that underneath McCall was trying to make a better life, not for him, but for all those he could help. Woodward’s performance week in and out was magnetic, focused, and frankly honest. He seemed to pull off such a serious character with ease, and legend has it that he was so convincing that fans who recognized him on the streets would approach him with their problems, thinking that he was that character.

“The Equalizer” also benefitted from having one of the best title sequences in TV, complete with a nifty soundtrack done by Stuart Copeland, who at the time was the drummer for “The Police” who were at the height of their popularity.

Edward Woodward’s career should be celebrated; his body of work and dedication to his craft has few rivals.

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