MCM: Ian McKellen


Best known today as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings movies and Magneto in the X-Men series, Sir Ian McKellen is a classically trained theater actor who’s done his fair share of historical costume dramas over the years. He won a Tony in 1981 for Best Actor in Amadeus, and Sir Ian has won six prestigious Olivier Awards (the U.K.’s equivalent of Broadway’s Tony) between 1977 and 2006 for acting. He’s never been shy in his roles or with fellow actors about his sexual orientation, but it wasn’t until 1988 that he came out as gay publicly, specifically to protest homophobic legislation under consideration at the time. Since then, Ian McKellen has been an active supporter of LGBTQ rights and even co-created Stonewall UK, which lobbies for LGBTQ legal and social equality. And he’s used his increasing fame over the years to draw attention to this matter, as well as for arts and education charities that he’s passionate about. Sir Ian is a fine human being and a fabulous actor, so let’s celebrate all his historical costume movie and TV roles this Monday!



David Copperfield in David Copperfield (1966)

Ian McKellen in David Copperfield (1966)

His first big TV role.


King Edward in Edward II (1970)

Ian McKellen in Edward II (1970)

This looks like it’s a TV broadcast of a stage play (which Ian McKellen had been in earlier), but I’ll take it because it’s still historical.


D.H. Lawrence in Priest of Love (1981)

Ian McKellen in Priest of Love (1981)

Biopic focusing on the controversial author’s time in Taos, New Mexico, during the 1920s.


Paul Chauvelin in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)

Ian McKellen in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)

A brief foray into the 18th century.


Dr. Reinhardt Lane in The Shadow (1994)

Ian McKellen in The Shadow (1994)

Did this 1940s sci-fi film foreshadow (heh) Ian McKellen’s later success in SF/F franchises?


Amos Starkadder in Cold Comfort Farm (1995)

Ian McKellen in Cold Comfort Farm (1995)

“There is no butter in hell!”


Richard III in Richard III (1995)

Ian McKellen in Richard III (1995)

McKellen co-wrote and co-produced this Shakespearean masterpiece.


Will Gates in Restoration (1995)

Ian McKellen in Restoration (1995)

17th-century wingman.


Tsar Nicholas II in Rasputin (1996)

Ian McKellen in Rasputin (1996)

This role earned Ian McKellen the Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor, Television, award, plus a nomination for an Emmy Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie.


James Whale in Gods and Monsters (1998)

Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters (1998)

Ian McKellen received a Oscar nomination as Best Actor for his deeply compelling performance in this film.


Creakle in David Copperfield (1999)

Ian McKellen in David Copperfield (1999)

Always amazing when an actor has played both sides of a story in the same film!


King Lear in King Lear (2008)

Ian McKellen in King Lear (2008)

Yeah, it’s a film of a play, but he’s just so good.


Sherlock Holmes in Mr. Holmes (2015)

Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes (2015)

Ian McKellen plays an elderly Sherlock Holmes in his most recent historical costume film.


What’s your favorite historical costume movie/TV role of Ian McKellen’s?

13 Responses

  1. Misty Smith

    Epic choice! He’s amazing -& I’ve read he’s a complete sweetheart as well-… I do love your choices in both this & WCW,

  2. Susan Pola Staples

    Gandalf is my favourite, but LOTR are my favourites book and movie. If I had to choose a couple of others. I really liked his Nicholas II, his Sherlock, his Amos Starkadder in Cold Comfort Farm. Also his Shakespeare kings.
    Besides his modern roles. Sir Ian is just amazeballs.

  3. mmcquown

    Apparently Sir Ian and I share a trait in common: raging at checkout machines in supermarkets. I suspect we are not alone in this. Aside from that, his range and career are extremely impressive. Always fascinating to see the chemistry he creates with his co-stars.

  4. Janette

    Saw the name and smiled. Impossible not to love Ian McKellen after LOTR and his brief appearance in “The Five-ish Doctors”. His is also, from what I have read, an admirable human being. Of his historical film roles however it is the devious cruel Richard III that stands out for me. My favourite Richard III to date.

  5. Kathleen Norvell

    I first became aware of him as Chauvelin in “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” then saw him in his one-man show “Acting Shakespeare.” I was thrilled to meet him during that run (and yes, he IS a sweetheart). I have to tell the story. He had been doing the show at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and it was about to end. A local summer theater (now a year-round theater) had a performance run fall through. Sir Ian volunteered to fill in the gap by taking “Acting Shakespeare” to that theater. THEN, when he found out that the air conditioning in the actors area was dying, he suggested that if the theater would sell posters of the show, he would autograph them for $5 each, all money to go to the A/C replacement fund. I still have mine. And that’s when I got to meet him.

    By the way, if you haven’t seen him in Cold Comfort Farm, you are in for a treat.

  6. Caroline

    Anthony Andrews is wonderful as the hero in The Scarlet Pimpernel, but McKellen nearly steals the film as the Iago-like villain.

  7. Charity

    Gandalf. He’s marvelous as Gandalf.

    I squealed at that young picture of him in David Copperfield. I’ve never seen him that young before! I love that version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, also.

    I have spent many an evening watching interviews with him on YouTube. He really IS a wonderful human being.

  8. Peacoclaur

    Permit me to share a shameless anecdote:

    I was very lucky to see Sir Ian on stage as Lear (the live version of the Lear mentioned above) in 2007 for high school English even though I now have the image of his genitals (no lie) seared on my brain as he downed trou in the mad scene after Lear’s daughters chuck him out of the palace. Still a great performance and exactly like what I managed Lear to be in the play, blustering, vulnerable and absolutely devastating when it all falls apart when the French king invades and he is all alone. The main reason the production came to Wellington in the first place was because he had enjoyed living here during the filming of LOTR. Needless to say he is welcome to come back anytime he likes :).

  9. Frannie Germeshausen

    Happy to see Cold Comfort Farm get a shout out. He’s one of many things that’s wonderful (and hilarious) in that film.


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