Not a lot of people know this: British acting legend Michael Caine today turns 85. And what a movie career he's had.
Coming to international attention in 1964 war epic Zulu, Caine went on to become the poster boy of swinging sixties London in the likes of The Ipcress File, Alfie and The Italian Job. This was followed by his darker, immediately iconic performance in gangster classic Get Carter.
Hollywood stardom beckoned in the likes of The Man Who Would Be King, and then there are the remarkable character performances he's delivered from the mid-80s onwards. Educating Rita, Hannah and Her Sisters and The Cider House Rules are but three examples of why Caine is so revered (the latter two films winning him Oscars).
Tonight, we're delighted to present documentary My Generation, presented by Caine himself in which he takes us on a whistle-stop tour of the London in which he grew up. This is then followed by a live Q&A in which he discusses his remarkable career.
But before you book your tickets, we want to salute Caine's collaborations with one particular filmmaker, one who rejuvenated the star's twilight years. We are of course talking about Christopher Nolan – here are their collaborations so far.
Batman Begins/The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises (2005 – 2012)
Bruce Wayne's loyal butler Alfred has been played by many actors over the years. Just as Nolan delivered what is, for many, the definitive big-screen Batman, so too did Caine bring compelling layers of complexity to a role that threatens to be a one-dimensional manservant.
Not only the sage, wry-humoured mentor to Christian Bale's titular Dark Knight, over the course of the trilogy, Alfred becomes more of a father figure. His entanglement in Bruce's crime-fighting antics becomes more complex as the series proceeds, culminating in his (well-intentioned) decision to hide a valuable piece of information concerning Bruce's deceased girlfriend, Rachel.
It all comes to a head in 2012's The Dark Knight Rises, allowing Caine his finest acting display in years. Fully conveying the anguish of someone trying to serve their master and protect them at the same time, he stands out amidst the effects and spectacle to give, arguably, the film's most powerful performance.
The Prestige (2006)
Caine is the authoritative heart of Nolan's engrossing puzzle box thriller, acting as both narrator and keeper of secrets. The Prestige is adapted from Christopher Priest's novel, being the story of warring magicians (played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) in Victorian London. Caine plays kindly assistant Cutter, the man capable of transforming tricks and props into the all-important 'prestige': the third part of a magic trick whereby something – or someone – returns after it's disappeared.
Caine's commanding tones immediately pull us into the drama during the eerie opening sequence. But more than that, it's a compelling reminder of how he can use his capacity for understatement to blind us to the character's eventual motivations, as he subtly transforms Cutter from wise sage into a wilier figure who plays both sides.
A great actor can make an impact with relatively little screentime. Indeed, Caine appears for all of 10 minutes in Nolan's perception-shifting masterpiece, but he conveys such gravitas that it's hard to forget him.
In spite of his brevity, Caine's character Professor Stephen Miles is pivotal to the storyline. He is the one who can help Leonardo DiCaprio's mind thief Dom Cobb return to his children in America, and he also initiates the meeting between Cobb and eventual dream architect Ariadne (Ellen Page).
It speaks of Caine and Nolan's collaboration, the fact that the filmmaker entrusts the veteran actor with the moral heart of the story.
Caine has always been skilled at playing flawed, complicated characters. (The likes of Hannah and Her Sisters prove this.) His character in Nolan's galaxy-spanning opus is particularly troubling, least of all because he sends Matthew McConaughey's character Cooper off into space based on a lie.
It all comes out in a tearful deathbed confession scene, in which Caine's Professor John Brand conveys the shocking impact of his deception to Coop's now grown-up daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain). It's a memorable scene in terms of how it twists our perceptions of Brand, changing him from apparently noble world-saver into someone more complex. Caine's inherent humanity and charisma are what make the character's decisions empathetic.
Missed Caine in Nolan's Oscar-winning World War II drama? That's hardly surprising as he doesn't actually appear on screen. However, the director still finds a gap for his regular cohort, with the actor's voice heard issuing commands to Tom Hardy's Spitfire pilot, Farrier. (The vocal cameo is a neat throwback to his role in 1969 war movie The Battle of Britain – check it out 0:21 into the clip below.) It's a heartening reminder of one of the finest director-actor partnerships in the business.