In Conversation with Malcolm McDowell (BFI Southbank)

One of the hot tickets at the BFI kicked off the Kubrick season with an appearance from the lead actor in his most divisive film, A Clockwork Orange.

With more than forty years residence in the USA, Malcolm McDowell (slighter than I expected, bespectacled, balding, and swarthed in a showy scarf) has a Yankee twang alongside his original flat Yorkshire vowels.

In conversation with scholar and broadcaster Sir Christopher Frayling, the topics ranged from Kubrick and McDowell’s early mentor, Lindsay Anderson (director of 60s classic If…), to Caligula, the best relationship between actor and director, the high-pitched sarf London voice of HG Wells, Peter O’Toole’s joint chain-smoking, and glittery Nazi underwear.

We were treated to clips from “the big hits” – If…, A Clockwork Orange, Caligula, plus Time After Time (in which McDowell met wife number 2, Mary Steenburgen, and relocated across the pond permanently), and the underrated Gangster No 1.

It is always a privilege to listen in to our senior actors, and this one proved a charming and fun raconteur. I can’t help wondering, though, whether A Clockwork Orange has its cult status through years of oppression, and what would have happened to McDowell’s career trajectory had his first film been Ken Loach’s Poor Cow, as planned.

My personal favourite of his performances are quieter films – The Raging Moon and Aces High, and his showy return to television in Our Friends in the North in the mid-90s, when there was still such a thing as “event TV”.

The Kubrick season continues at the BFI Southbank, in tandem with a visiting exhibition on the filmmaker at the Design Museum which opens mid-April.