British Actors You Should Know: Rufus Sewell

Rufus Sewell as Victoria's Lord Melbourne (Photo: Image courtesy of ITV Plcs)

If you watched Victoria on Masterpiece this past Sunday, you will have surely noticed "Lord M" played by seasoned film and TV actor (and the subject of this installment of British Actors You Should Know) Rufus Sewell. In this historical series we witness Lord Melbourne as a worldly, funny, elegant aristocrat who quickly becomes all things to the teenage monarch, played by Jenna Coleman, during her first years in power. While his official titles are those of prime minister and private secretary, Melbourne is thrust into other roles as well; trusted friend, teacher, father figure and the subject of a young woman’s infatuation.

That being said, Mr. Sewell, an Olivier Award winner, has often played eccentric, brash, even menacing characters in the past quarter of a century on stage and screen. Let’s look at a few of the memorable roles that have made him popular with viewers over the years.

Cold Comfort Farm (1995) – Seth Starkadder

In this comedy film set in the early 30’s, newly orphaned Flora Poste (Kate Beckinsale) decides to leave the familiar surroundings of London society and opts instead for a nice lengthy visit with some rural relatives, the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm. Young Flora wishes to gain life experience for her future as a writer and plans to solve the problems of her eccentric, often gloomy, family members in the process. One of these relatives is cousin Seth Starkadder, a handsome and libidinous young man who is addicted to the “talkies” and is portrayed by a comically smoldering Sewell.


A Knight’s Tale (2001) – Count Adhemar

My first exposure to Rufus was in this anachronistic medieval adventure comedy film playing William Thatcher’s (Heath Ledger) arrogant, villainous rival. William’s apparent superiority at jousting in addition to his blossoming romance with the Count’s intended, Lady Jocelyn, (Shannyn Sossamon) raises Adhemar’s ire to dangerous levels of revenge.


Shakespea-ReTold: The Taming of the Shrew (2005) – Petruchio

Sewell has done the Shakespeare thing before, appearing in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet as Fortinbras. However this adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew puts a distinctly modern twist on the Bard’s relationship comedy. In this version for the BBC, Katherine Minola (Shirley Henderson) is a politician who hopes to become her party's leader in Parliament. She is told that her caustic manner is bad for her image and that it might be good PR for her to get married. When penniless nobleman Petruchio shows up, interested at first in Katherine's money, sparks fly as Katherine seems to have met her her frentetic, campy match.


John Adams – Alexander Hamilton (2008)

Yes, the now very fashionable and cool (due in large part to the phenomenal Broadway musical) Alexander Hamilton was once portrayed by Mr. Sewell too. In the highly acclaimed HBO miniseries John Adams, he and Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane) debate the merits of Secretary Hamilton’s plan to assume state debt and establish a national bank. Not exactly as catchy as the cabinet rap battles portrayed in the musical perhaps, but compelling history all the same.


Zen – Aurelio Zen (2011)

In this detective series, Sewell shows he can play a calmer, truly moral character. Based on the detective novels of Michael Dibdin, Aurelio Zen finds it tough being the only honest cop in Rome. He struggles to maintain his integrity amidst plotting politicians, a frazzled boss and vengeful gangsters.  To make things more complicated, Zen is hopelessly in love with a married co-worker, Tania Moretti (Caterina Murino).


The Man in the High CastleObergruppenührer John Smith (2015)

In this dystopian, alternative history world, the Axis powers won World War II and split the United States into two entities, the Greater Nazi Reich and the Japanese Pacific States.

Sewell portrays John Smith, an American-born citizen who initially served in the U.S. Army Intelligence but subsequently embraced fascist philosophy due to the poverty he suffered in childhood during the Great Depression. Now he is a high ranking Nazi who lives in the suburbs with his family and tries to eliminate the Resistance movement’s freedom fighters.


As always, I could elaborate further on Mr. Sewell’s CV. However a lack of good quality video clips and a limited amount of space conspire to bring my post to a halt. Please continue the list and the conversation by telling us which character of Rufus Sewell’s is your favorite and why in the comments below.