From TV to the silver screen, Alison Campsie tallies Scotland’s most brutal fictional characters
Robert Carlyle as Albie, Cracker
Robert Carlyle’s breakthrough role in Cracker as the disaffected Albie remains one of his most haunting. An outwardly ordinary man, Albie undergoes a Falling Down-style transformation after a Pakistani shopkeeper refuses to budge on a four-pence shortfall for teabags and a newspaper. After going back home to shave his head and sling on military fatigues, Albie murders the store owner. He then threatens to kill a journalist and end the lives of 96 police officers to avenge the death of the 96 who died in the Hillsborough stadium disaster. Carlyle’s fully-charged chants of “L-I-V-E-R-P-O-O-L, Liverpool FC” still stick in the mind, underscoring a visceral performance of a deeply damaged man.
Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecktor, Manhunter
Brian Cox’s turn as Hannibal Lecktor – spelled “Lecter” in other films – is often overlooked due to Sir Anthony Hopkins’ famous portrayal, but I’d argue Cox’s Lecktor is more realistic, and all the more terrifying for it. Playing the bad guy comes easy to Cox, who channels Lecktor’s professorial chilliness with quiet menace. The scenes where he torments FBI profiler William Peterson from his prison cell are truly dark.
Cox based his performance on Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel, who was convicted of seven murders across Lanarkshire and southern Scotland during the 1950s
The actor described Maniel as “very clever and very plausible” and that he had wanted to play Lecktor in that “intrinsically evil” vein.
Cox described Anthony Hopkin’s version of the character as mad, while judging his own Lecktor to be insane.
James McAvoy as DS Bruce Robertson, Filth
Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson is a true villain – a corrupt, drugged, drunk, sexually abusive bully. An ambitious Edinburgh copper gunning for promotion, Robertson spends most of the film trying to undermine his colleagues using every dirty trick he can muster.
McAvoy bridges Robertson’s highs and lows with flickers of guilt and shame, sometimes shown through chemically-assisted dream sequences. That the audience feels any sympathy for such a horrible character is testament to McAvoy’s all-in performance. But he’s not a man you would want to meet on a dark street. Or any street at all.
Alex Ferns as Trevor Morgan, Eastenders
Eastenders has had its fair share of villains – Dirty Den, Nick Cotton, Janine Butcher – but none can match Alex Ferns’ psychotic streak. Playing the abusive husband of Little Mo Slater. the Lennoxtown-born Morgan became the nation’s most hated man after his character raped his on-screen wife and forced her to eat her Christmas dinner off the carpet. Morgan played Trevor brilliantly: his vile temper and inner hatred jarred against his sweet-natured wife. Even when he referred to his wife as “Wee Mo” in his west coast accent, you could feel the fear start to rise. When an iron and Trevor were placed in the same shot, you knew – and perhaps hoped – something terrible was about to happen.
Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine, Star Wars
Darth Vader is Star Wars’ most iconic villain, but Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine was its most powerful. The Carnoustie-born McDiarmid first appeared in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, but returned to the prequels as an ambitious and outwardly noble senator. As the prequels showed, his rise to power came about through Machiavellian levels of scheming and power plays, slowly manipulating the Galactic Republic’s politics until he becomes the cloaked and disfigured that Vader introduces Luke Skywalker to.
Robert Carlyle as Begbie in Trainspotting
Robert Carlyle has a thing for playing villains – besides Albie, he was also Bond villain Renard in The World Is Not Enough – but Begbie remains his most terrifying character: a psychotic wee man who concealed frightening levels of rage under his Pringle jumper and slicked-back hair.
In Trainspotting, Renton summed up his pal when he said: “Begbie didn’t do drugs, he did people.”
The wildest example of this is a scene on the first floor of a pub, where, after fabricating a story to make himself look the hard man, he tosses his just-emptied glass over his shoulder and waits for the commotion to start. Begbie heads into the crowd and begins a foul-mouthed inquisition, but before long his true intentions become clear. It’s the stuff of Friday night nightmares.