McKellen: Playing the Part

Out Now On-Demand

Documentary on the life and work of Sir Ian McKellen, featuring rare footage of his early work, never-before-seen photos from McKellen's private collection and cinematically reconstructed scenes from his life starring Milo Parker, Luke Evans, Frances Barber, Scott Chambers and more.


Directed by



Rating: M Offensive language & sexual references


From the start, the subject of Joe Stephenson's documentary lays his cards on the table: “It’s very difficult just to be yourself. So I treat it as a piece of acting. Here he comes… What side of Ian McKellen am I going to present?” What follows is a captivating insight into the life and times of a much beloved stage and screen actor, whose roles have ranged from Shakespearian to supervillain. Mixing dramatic recreations, archive footage, photographs, and a central interview, it’s a warm and witty sojourn through the life and career of the renowned thespian.

From his roots in Wigan, England, through his discovery of acting, his early, repressed, homosexuality, and later LGBT activism, coming out in his 40s with the loss of friends during the 1980s AIDS epidemic, McKellen’s thoughts on life and death are peppered throughout by his sparklingly wicked sense of humour, and some great trivia from the sets of the likes of The Lord of The Rings and X-Men movies. It’s a fitting tribute to a span for which McKellen sees no grand plan, observing that: “Your life is a series of events – interconnected.”

Overall, it’s pretty straightforward biographic fare. The questions aren’t too searching, there are no grand revelations to be had on the craft of acting, and there’s little by way of juicy gossip or dissing his fellow thesps. Rather, we are treated to a lively and engaging celebration, replete with enough footage to remind us what an exceptional and longstanding acting career he’s had, and we’ve enjoyed, over many years.

Hollywood Reporter


Structured very simply as an on-camera interview while McKellen reminisces about his life from the comfort of a red library chair, the film exudes a personal warmth springing from the fact that most of it is told in Sir Ian’s own words.

Empire (UK)


An absolute treat of an interview with a man who has told other people’s stories wonderfully for decades and tells his own just as well.

Time Out London


Director Joe Stephenson paints a beautiful portrait, but the actor’s sensitivity, storytelling and strength of character are captivating enough.

Guardian (UK)


McKellen occasionally slips into the part of twinkly super-cool gay uncle that he tends to play in interviews these days. But mostly he’s thoughtful and self-reflective.

The Times (UK)


Yet even - perhaps especially - in morbid mood, [Ian McKellen] is never less than beguiling. (James Croot)


Essentially based around a single interview, Playing the Part allows McKellen's avuncular personality, warmth and wicked humour to shine.

NZ Herald (Francesca Rudkin)


As the documentary ends with him discussing his funeral plans you appreciate what a treat it is to have the Oscar-award winner telling his own story in his own words. (Graeme Tuckett)


McKellen: Playing the Part is a celebration of a life particularly well-lived. McKellen emerges as a clear-eyed, impish, utterly professional and pragmatic optimist.