5 of the best James McAvoy performances

Ring the alarm bells, James McAvoy is back. He’s versatile, he’s gorgeous and he’s Scottish. After an inexcusably long absence (something about a baby), McAvoy’s everywhere. Eran Creevey’s Welcome to the Punch and Danny Boyle’s Trance both grace our screens within close proximity, and due to reasons beyond my control, I will not have seen Jay Mac’s latest starring roles on their days of release. To drown my sorrows, here’s a recap of Mr McAvoy’s finest five performances.


Shakespeare Retold (2005)

McAvoy’s broad Glaswegian brogue is allowed to run wild in one of the BBC’s Shakespeare revamps. McAvoy is, of course, Macbeth, with Keeley Hawes as his Lady. Macbeth is depicted as an ambitious chef (complete with graphic pig butchery), and McAvoy is really very impressive. Tortured emotion and multifarious relationships are played with conviction, and Macbeth’s fall from grace is realised through McAvoy’s clear physical investment in the role. Dark, dangerous yet bewilderingly sympathetic, it’s no wonder that he’s reprising the role in the West End this spring.

The Chronicles of Narnia (2005)

When James hit Hollywood. In Big Mac’s breakout role, he played the cutesy faun with paedophilic tendencies, curiously suiting his false ears and nose. It may not have been particularly stretching, but this role proved his irrefutable versatility, and scored numerous adorability points which even his part in Wanted couldn’t shake off. He and Georgie Henley perfectly portrayed the relationship between Tumnus and Lucy, and he cemented his place in the hearts of a new generation of Narnian fans.

Starter For Ten (2006)

One of the coming-of-age films that litters McAvoy’s early career, he plays the idealistic, poetry spouting Brian. Adapted from David Nicholl’s titular novel, Brian has his eyes set on becoming a University Challenge star, and his journey to fame throws up many obstacles. A familiar yarn depicting the struggles of beginning university, with conflicts between new friends (Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall) and old (Dominic Cooper, James Corden), romance and, of secondary concern, that English degree. Catherine Tate plays his mum.

Atonement (2007)

Playing Robbie in Joe Wright’s adaptation of Ian McEwen’s novel earned McAvoy a bunch of BAFTA nominations, and rightly so. This impassioned tear jerker charts the loves and losses of three tangled lives in the First World War. It saw McAvoy in a more serious role, and his performance alongside Keira Knightley stands out as one of the romantic greats of the 21st century (that letter, that library). There’s also the impressively gritty depiction of war, most notably in the five minute Dunkirk tracking scene, in more than a nod to Saving Private Ryan. Visually resplendent, emotionally agonising, the Atonement script was apparently the best McAvoy had ever read.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Once again donning his roguish English accent, James plays Charles Xavier (Professor X) in Matthew Vaughn’s prequel to X-Men.  They needed someone special to aptly portray a younger reincarnation of the bald, wheelchair-bound demigod Patrick Stewart, and McAvoy sure does deliver. He perfectly conveys the cockiness and vulnerability of a young Oxford professor, his charm providing the perfect fold to Michael Fassbender’s equally impressive Magneto. McAvoy puts his own stamp on Professor X, no mean feat, laying the groundwork for some serious character development; paralysis and hair loss are yet to hit. Top marks.

And the rest…

I could spend hours defending McAvoy’s every move, so it’s a hard task to pick just five examples of his prowess – there are plenty of others that deserve a mention. McAvoy hit the animated world in another Shakespeare revamp, Gnomeo and Juliet (2011), and last year’s Arthur Christmas, which were both good fun. Sadly less well known roles include Valentin in the Tolstoy biopic, The Last Station (2009), and as a lawyer investigating Lincoln’s assassination in The Conspirator (2010) – both worth a watch. He also played the saucy Tom Lefroy, Jane Austen’s first love, in Becoming Jane (2007). Essentially, you name it, McAvoy’s done it. From the brutal The Last King of Scotland  to his stint in Channel 4 series Shameless (2004-5), he’s proved his worth as a chameleonic actor, and any weak performances (Penelope – excruciating) can be attributed to poor screenplay. He’s emerged from a bout of romantic typecasting as impressive lead actor. This viewer will certainly be keeping a close eye on his upcoming ventures.

What’s next?

Trance and Welcome to the Punch are in cinemas now, whilst this year should also see him star in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby and Filth. He’s also reprising his role in next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.