Yesterday I learned the sad news of the death of Maurice Roëves at 83. I was fortunate enough to work with Maurice on Solid Air (2003). He played the lead role of Robert Houston in a story inspired by my late father’s experience of living with an asbestos-related disease and his struggle to win compensation.
When any celebrated figure dies there’s usually a flurry of media interest. When the departed is particularly well-known, customarily they receive a fulsome obituary or a tribute. So I was disappointed to read identical articles in the Herald and the National quoting a director, Paul Carmichael, ‘I once met him outside a hotel in London. One of the nicest people I’ve ever chatted to. RIP.’ I know journalism is having a hard time, I thought, but this isn’t going to win any Pulitzers. ‘Outside a hotel?‘ Is that the best they can offer?
But where does one begin with Maurice? His credits on IMDB reveal a long, varied and often surprising career from The Eagle has Landed and The Last of the Mohicans to Doctor Who and Eastenders. More recently he appeared in the TV shows, Two Doors Down and The Nest.
With Maurice it was more a case of – what hasn’t he appeared in?’ During the shoot for Solid Air between set-ups we would sit drinking coffee and in passing a crew member would mention a TV show. Baywatch? ‘Oh, I was in that,’ he would remark. Jason King? ‘Oh, that Peter Wyngarde…’ or ‘I played Adolf Hitler once, you know’ or ‘I mind that time I was in Ulysses.’
Maurice wore his talent lightly but he was an intelligent and intuitive actor who brought experience and craft to the job. He was also one of the kindest people I’ve ever met in the business. On SA, knowing money was tight, he suggested he move to an apartment rather than a hotel room. At times we tussled over my script – as I do with every actor – and we would always arrive at an amicable solution.
I admit SA wasn’t the easiest film to make. Several factors conspired to make the process harder than it ought to have been; lack of facilities/crew, arguments with funders, my mother’s unexpected death, rows with my husband/producer that proved almost fatal for our marriage, no payment for almost three years of work that put us in penury and – the final straw – our distributor choosing not to release it after three key people left their jobs and when London-based exhibitors dismissed the film as ‘too long, too dark and too Scottish’, their bias mitigated when it won the FIPRESCI Best Director and Best Cinematography awards at the Troia International Film Festival, Portugal in 2004.
At the time I tried to have grace but in truth I was in grief, for both my late mother and for my film. Though I was hurting badly, Maurice stuck by me and I cherished his friendship. He called and emailed regularly to update me on his latest roles – the good, the bad and the even worse. With his wife, Vanessa, he stayed with us on several occasions when we lived in Edinburgh and we with them at their home down south. To his credit, Maurice never forgot Christmases and birthdays – like any true friend. I shall miss him greatly.
At my husband’s persuasion – and for a limited time – I’ve uploaded Solid Air to Vimeo and it’s free to watch. It’s perhaps not the film I intended to make but in it Maurice shines. His performance is warm, funny and heartbreaking. In the final reckoning, Maurice was not only a great actor but a decent human being too, something that’s in short supply and much-needed right now.
The above image, taken on November 5th 2002, is of Maurice and me outside Gartloch Hospital, an abandoned psychiatric hospital in the East End of Glasgow and one of numerous locations used on Solid Air.