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Last Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006, 18:05 GMT
Faces of the week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are RAY WINSTONE (main picture), with DR HANAN ASHWARI, LORD MERLYN-REES, ALEXANDRE GAYDAMARK and PETE TOWNSHEND

RAY WINSTONE

This week's production of Sweeney Todd has marked another triumph for one of Britain's most successful actors. Once again, Ray Winstone has demonstrated the talent that has made him a star both in the UK and in Hollywood.

Sweeney Todd is a violent melodrama, the story of an antisocial barber, seen in this production as an abused child with a confused sexuality.

He is drawn inexorably to his clients, and eventually gets too close to each with his razor. They end up filling the pies of his neighbour, Mrs Lovett.

Monstrous depths

It's all in a day's work for Ray Winstone. For the past decade, both on television and film, he has specialised in playing menacing characters with a violent streak that is all too palpable.

Before he was the demon barber of Fleet Street, he played a paedophile in Tim Roth's The War Zone. He was a wife-beater in Nil by Mouth, a safe-cracker in Sexy Beast and a tough Confederate soldier in Cold Mountain.

Ray Winstone as Sweeney Todd
Winstone played Sweeney Todd as a bewildered loner
What marks him apart is his ability to take each of these beyond the limit of villainous cartoon. He carries into these parts a back-story, the idea that there is more to each than being a spare Mitchell brother. He explains his way of playing such a role: "If you make him more of a man, you make him more of a monster."

Ray Winstone himself is undoubtedly tough. Born in the East End of London, he started boxing at 12, won 80 fights and competed twice for England. When his parents paid for him to go to drama school, he was expelled at 16 for bursting the tyres of the principal's car.

'Overnight success'

This happened the very same day he was spotted by the director Alan Clarke, who noticed his teenage swagger and cast him as the leader of a borstal gang in Scum. The film made Winstone's name, with his own memorable line, "I'm the Daddy now."

This precocious achievement, however, marked a false dawn in his career. Winstone had some theatre success and television bit parts but, in fact, spent the best part of the next two decades struggling with drink and bankruptcy. He was arrested for brawling, and parted temporarily from his wife.

Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast
Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast
He reflects now, "Being bankrupt motivated me. I got into a few fights, but not because I had problems, I was just young and foolish." It is certainly a bygone era for this stable family man, although the pain may have furnished him with an on-screen authenticity that accounted for his "overnight" success in 1997.

That was when his fellow actor Gary Oldman cast him as a completely believable, alcoholic thug in his disturbing, semi-autobiographical Nil by Mouth. Winstone again won critical acclaim and has not been out of work since.

He has cornered the market in his particular type of anti-hero, and branched out to embrace the classics. His portrayal of Henry VIII on television earned him an Emmy award, and he has just finished filming the Old English tale of Beowulf with Angelina Jolie.

English ties

Winstone spent the majority of last year making The Departed with Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio. Even Winstone, by now accustomed to such elevated company, commented, "I was the only one I didn't know!"

With his halo glowing ever more brightly in Hollywood, Winstone could have easily followed the likes of Michael Caine, Dudley Moore, more recently Steve Coogan, and headed west to the Californian sunshine. But Winstone remains firmly rooted in England, bonded by his family - he has three daughters, the youngest is four - and his enduring passion for all things British from the television to the rain.

Ray Winstone as Henry VIII
Winstone won an Emmy for his portrayal of Henry VIII
His love for his country sometimes leads him into political waters. Cold Mountain and even the streets of Sweeney Todd's London were shot in Romania for financial reasons.

Winstone laments the state of the British film industry, where he believes there are no longer any incentives for people to invest. He says: "That's why I said no when the Labour Party asked me to make a broadcast for them."

Ray Winstone may take the content of films like Nil by Mouth and The War Zone even more seriously - "they might change something, might mean something" - but is far more laid-back about the course of his own career.

He says: "I never thought I'd be an actor and every job surprises me. What a ridiculous way to earn a living. Dressing up pretending you're someone else. Get a proper job, son."


DR HANAN ASHWARI

Palestinian politician Dr Hanan Ashrawi was barred by Israeli authorities from canvassing in East Jerusalem. Ashwari, a veteran legislator standing as an independent candidate, was stopped as she toured the Old City. Israel says that electioneering there is illegal, and has threatened to bar Palestinian residents from voting. Dr Ashwari insisted "the Palestinians of Jerusalem have a right to elect" in these, the country's first parliamentary elections in a decade.

LORD MERLYN-REES

Lord Merlyn-Rees died aged 85. As Merlyn Rees, the Labour peer served under both Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. He was Northern Ireland Secretary - considered then the most gruelling job in politics - during a crucial time in the province's history, the early 1970s, when he tried to devolve power and phase out internment. He was also Home Secretary, when he said he believed that vandals needed a good "old-fashioned wallop".

ALEXANDRE GAYDAMARK

Portsmouth fans are dreaming of an Abramovich-like makeover, now that Russian businessman Alexandre Gaydamark has bought a 50% stake in the team. Gaydamark's billionaire father, Arcadi, was this week accused of money-laundering by Israeli police, but 29-year-old Alexandre said this was "not a crisis" as he signed his 15million Pompey cheque. Both father and son are, apparently, "crazy" about football.

PETE TOWNSHEND

Pete Townshend gave a warning to the iPod generation. His band The Who made the record books in 1976 as the loudest group ever, with a concert of 120 decibels. But their guitarist Townshend spoke this week of the damage done to his hearing by listening to music on his studio headphones. He said of those who enjoy their personal sounds made public on the bus, "there is terrible trouble ahead".

Compiled by BBC News Profiles Unit's Caroline Frost


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