The 12 Best Ian McKellen Roles That Aren’t Gandalf

The 1989 film “Scandal” exhumes one of the more notorious chapters in British political history, the so-called Profumo affair. In the film, Ian McKellen plays John Profumo, Britain’s secretary of state for war, whose affair with 19-year-old dancer Christine Keeler (played by Joanne Whalley), to whom he was introduced by shady osteopath Stephen Ward (John Hurt), led to his political downfall, when it was revealed that Keeler was also dating a suspected Soviet spy. For McKellen, the role had special significance since it was his first screen portrayal after coming out as gay in 1988. As he explained in a 2004 interview with Total Film, he was keen to play a heterosexual character, and John Profumo fit that bill. “That part was a gift because I had just come out, and the perceived wisdom is that once you’re openly gay, that’s the end of your career,” McKellen recalled. “So I thought, ‘I’ll show them.’ Coming out affected my career entirely for the better; my film career has since taken off.”

While McKellen also told the outlet he didn’t think his performance as Profumo was one of his better ones, critics disagreed. “McKellen perfectly captures the wounded pride of a man hoisted on the twin petards of lust and hypocrisy,” wrote Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. “Profumo’s shame came not from betraying his wife, family and country, but from betraying his class.”

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