An obituary for Christopher Plummer: one of the greats

When the world thinks of Christopher Plummer, who died a fortnight ago at the age of 91, it’s a tragedy that the vast majority will only remember his performance as Captain Von Trapp in the acclaimed 1965 film The Sound of Music. This was an actor of versatility first and foremost. With a career spanning more than seven decades across film, television, and theatre, he starred in a fascinating range of roles that allowed Plummer to exhibit the very best of his skills, far beyond the dour captain he portrayed alongside Julie Andrews. Surely, the world will remember Christopher Plummer for more than this one, solitary role? As it happens, there are reasons to think that this esteemed actor will, in time, have the popular recognition he deserves.

Christopher Plummer was born in 1929 in Toronto. Like many exemplary actors, he began his career in theatre, with a Broadway debut in 1953. Alongside working with notable actors and directors like Julie Harris and Elia Kazan, Plummer was a prolific performer of Shakespeare: by 1958, he had starred as Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, and the title roles in Hamlet and Henry V. It was in that same year that he transitioned to film, appearing in Sidney Lumet’s Stage Struck.

From that point onwards, his career became ever more successful, with further roles in film and high-profile theatre, leading up until the pivotal year of 1965, where he starred as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music.

It was this musical that brought Christopher Plummer startling popular fame, but also great personal frustration.

His portrayal of a harsh, widowed military man who grows close to Julie Andrews in Nazi Austria was praised in earnest, but Plummer’s own thoughts on the film were legendarily negative.

He hated the filmmaking process, refused to engage with post-film reunions and often simply declined to mention the film’s name at all, citing his character as dull and the film as “awful and sentimental.”

Despite a softer tone in more recent years, Plummer had clearly no interest in revisiting the film or allowing his career to fade after such a moment of popularity.

Indeed, most of Plummer’s best work came after The Sound of Music, with a wide variety of roles. He continued to star in theatrical productions as late as 2010, taking the lead in performances of the works Shakespeare, Pinter, and Chekov.

Plummer’s film appearances have been similarly varied, but always excellent: He was lauded for his performance in The Insider (1999), appeared in less serious films such as Star Trek VI (1991), lent his voice to the villain of Pixar’s Up (2009), and finally received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Beginners (2011), continuing to act right up until his death in 2021. He was as determined as he was talented.

It might seem inevitable that Christopher Plummer is remembered only for one of his most personally disliked films.

But hope remains that his legacy might end being as rich as his career. Even in his old age, Plummer continued to create a name for himself.

His work on well-known, high-budget films in the past 5 years such as Knives Out (2019) and All the Money in the World (2017), in which he famously replaced Kevin Spacey, has ensured that his name remains relevant and that a new generation of viewers are aware of him beyond his most famous role.

The notoriety of these more recent films will hopefully help cement a different image of Christopher Plummer in the minds of audiences, and ensure that this exceptionally talented and varied actor gets his deserved recognition as one of the greats.

Image: gdcgraphics via Wikimedia Commons.