Eccleston is a memorable actor. His structured features and intense manner often portray characters who are tortured or having to face emotional tragedy.
This revealing autobiography shows how seriously his transformation from man to actor is somewhat blurred, for his basis for all his characters is his father and his life.
Born in Salford, Chris is the youngest son of Ronnie and Elsie, who had already had twin boys, his brothers Alan and Keith. The personal photographs and text unveils a vivid portrait of how his father’s role in his life has shaped Chris’s entire career from the factory and working-class roots where he was brought up to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford.
Eccleston says what he thinks and more importantly what he feels. He has had (and may well have further) ups and downs in his life, from stage and screen triumph to breakdown, anorexia and self-doubt. Many actors are troubled by their own self image. Eccleston also compounds this with his views that boys like him have more to overcome as the marginalised, the oppressed and feeling like the outsider in the elite world of theatre and film.
But it is the work which we remember. And, of course, we cannot forget ‘Our Friends Up North’ in 1996. Considered a landmark drama in British TV history look at the photographs of the young Eccleston, Daniel Craig and Mark Strong to see the start of so much talent.
But with Eccleston every success has a downside and I think I will never watch him again on screen without now not knowing (as with ‘Doctor Who’ and’ The A Word’) of the torments with which he was struggling. At one point Ecclestone takes himself to a psychiatric hospital and asks to be admitted fearing he will die. Not suicidal but worried that his mind and body will give up on him.
He talks lovingly of his two children, Albert and Esme, and there are some wonderful lines where he retells their conversations with him as dad trying to understand the roles he has undertaken. But although he doesn’t ignore how his mental illness has impacted on his relationships – he has a reputation as ‘difficult’ with actors and crews, he somewhat skirts around how the mother of his children no longer has a part of his life and therefore he is only a part time father who rails against the law keeping dads at a distance.
Eccleston has worked with great directors – Danny Boyle, Michael Winterbottom and writers Peter Flannery, Jimmy McGovern and of course Russell T Davies when he was Dr Who.
I thought he was excellent as the Doctor but Eccleston could not stand the ‘politics’ of the programme and has taken many years to become reconciled with the conventions and fans.
Overall, the thread of his father’s influence is one that draws us back with him, especially when Ronnie is diagnosed with dementia and the family observe the disintegration of the man and his recognition of the people he so closely loved.
When Eccleston finally got to play ‘Macbeth’ at the RSC it was a performance the critics slated. During one performance Eccleston even fell off the stage, an image that seemed to sum up the difficulty he was having with a part which for years he had coveted.
An absorbing if sometimes uncomfortable personal read I think many book groups might struggle with how it is written because of the candour. But when an actor can feel brave enough to reveal his true life and not just the image with which we have been familiar surely we must congratulate Eccleston on a triumph amongst the wide and often disappointing field of celebrity autobiographies. I for one shall never watch him again on screen without feeling that little bit closer to the real man. His father would have been proud.
Philipa Coughlan 5/3
I Love The Bones of You: My Father and the Making of Me by Christopher Eccleston
Simon & Schuster UK 9781471176319 hbk Sep 2019