The Peter Cushing Scrapbook review

Review Aliya Whiteley 2 Jul 2013 - 06:49

This year would've seen Peter Cushing's 100th birthday. Aliya reviews a book celebrating the actor's life and career...

This is the centenary year of Peter Cushing’s birth and the respect he engenders in cinema lovers is stronger than ever. Cushing was a precise, particular actor, and a lot of his appeal stems from the juxtaposition of his screen persona with his quiet and gentlemanly approach to life. He could chill you as Baron Frankenstein, and has a steely gaze as Grand Moff Tarkin that eats up the screen, but when work was over he went home to his beloved Whitstable and tended roses, painted, and rode his bicycle every day.

The Peter Cushing Scrapbook concentrates on Cushing’s life off the set, and puts together a fascinating and in-depth collection of photographs, documents, and memorabilia that gives us an insight into his character with very few words wasted. The pages are filled with his notes and cartoons, including annotations he made on his scripts and illustrations he drew for his wife throughout their marriage. Cushing was a very artistic man, and it’s great to see his painted models, tableaux, silk scarves he designed and jewellery he made, as well as his watercolours and sketches represented here.

For those who prefer to remember the famous roles, the book includes a host of interesting reminiscences, and scripts, contracts and quotes. For instance, the section on Hammer’s Dracula (1958) includes some great foreign-language posters, screen-shots, and Cushing’s contract for the role of Van Helsing. There are shots of Cushing’s own copy of the original novel, signed by many involved in the film including Christopher Lee and Jimmy Sangster. The final two pages of the original script are also reproduced, giving Hammer fans a chance to see how Cushing brought elements to the confrontation by coming up with ideas such as holding two candlesticks together in the shape of a cross. Through these papers we get a sense of Cushing’s involvement in all aspects of film production, and his commitment to the roles he played.

Overall, this is a book for real Cushing aficionados, whether in his TV period, his time at Hammer, or the later films of his career. Although the short introduction is provided by George Lucas, in fact Star Wars fans don’t get too much to look at. But there are a few good photos of Cushing in Tarkin’s uniform complete with the slippers he asked to wear instead of uncomfortable boots. It’s good to finally see what those famous slippers looked like.

This is not a book of film criticism, although the brief written introductions to each movie are effective. Instead, we’re given a treasure trove of items that form a fresh picture of a much-loved man. It’s the kind of book that contains too much detail to be read through in one sitting, but would be perfect to browse. Each time you open it, new pieces of information leap out at you. The final section of the book, The Cushing Gallery, is an eclectic mix of posters, passports, sketches, cartoons and costume designs, and these alone deserve more than a quick flick through. For those with a casual interest in Cushing, this might all be far too much information. But fans can take their time and soak up every aspect of the man’s life and art. It’s a very rewarding read.

The Peter Cushing Scrapbook is available directly from Peveril Publishing.

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