Did you know the late Sir Christopher Lee played a major role in Lord Chancellor Michael Gove’s brief acting career? The two co-starred in 1995 slapstick comedy A Feast At Midnight – a full decade before Gove was elected to Parliament as Conservative MP for Surrey Heath – alongside Robert Hardy, Samuel West, Edward Fox and Lisa Faulkner.
Following a young boy who organises a society for midnight feasts at his strict boarding school, the film starred Lee as Latin master V.E. Lonfellow – known to the boys as Raptor – while Gove played the chaplain.
Of course, the benefit of hindsight tells us that butter-wouldn’t-melt look of Gove’s did little to establish him as an actor of the same stature as Lee whose screen CV includes appearances as Saruman in Lord of the Rings, a Bond villain in The Man With The Golden Gun and his recurring Hammer Horror role playing Count Dracula.
But the former Commons’ Chief Whip remained a firm admirer of his co-star, even writing a piece for the Spectator back in 2002 where he called for Lee to receive a knighthood – an honour that was subsequently bestowed on the actor in 2009.
Discussing a New Year’s Eve spent watching The Lord of the Rings and The Wicker Man, Gove referred to Lee as “the undisputed star of both, whose brilliance never fades”.
He went on to lament: “The pleasure of watching two great movies illuminated by his presence was diminished only by the publication that same day of an Honours List in which his name, once again, inexplicably failed to appear among the list of Knights Bachelor. Lee is now in his seventies, and following the death of Sir Alec Guinness he is easily our most distinguished actor, as worthy to enjoy a knighthood alongside Sir Ian McKellen as his Samman is to do battle with the latter’s GandaIf.
“I cannot help but fear that it is his association with Hammer’s House of Horror that leads Her Majesty’s advisers to conclude that the dark lord of schlock should not be favoured with a knighthood. But not only was Hammer a significant export earner when the rest of the British film industry was mired in introspective mediocrity; Lee himself has come a long way from Transylvania.”
Gove also referenced his “own brief film career”, adding that his experience on set was made far more bearable thanks to his esteemed co-star. “I can attest not just to the majesty of his craft, but also to the grace of his person,” he wrote. “He helped calm my butterflies and those of other inexperienced performers with impromptu digressions on all manner of subjects including his favourite cuisine — Danish. It was impossible to feel nervous when listening to Lee explain, There are no end to the pleasures one can derive from a herring.’ Or indeed from a prime old English ham.”
For a taster of Gove’s fleeting career on screen alongside Lee, take a look at the video below: