Everything Is Fate: Julian Sands (1958-2023) | Tributes

He was born in Yorkshire, England on January 4, 1958, and studied acting at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. He began appearing on the stage and television, making his screen debut in 1983 in the odd post-WWII comedy-drama “Privates on Parade.” The next year saw him appear in a television adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and as the roommate and teammate of American hustler-turned-Oxford rowing champion Rob Lowe in “Oxford Blues.” Later that year, he turned up in a better project when he portrayed British journalist Jon Swain in the highly acclaimed drama “The Killing Fields.” In 1985, he made his first excursions into the horror genre that he would return to time and again—first in the perplexing psycho-thriller “After Darkness” and then in “The Doctor and the Devils,” a prestigious project inspired by the infamous case of Burke & Hare and based upon a screenplay written by no less a figure than Dylan Thomas.

Outside of “The Killing Fields,” none of those films made much of an impact but that was not the case with his next film, the Merchant-Ivory adaptation of EM Forster’s “A Room with a View,” in which he played George Emerson , the free-spirited young man who charms the repressed Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) during a brief shared idyll in Tuscany to such a degree that she finds it difficult to return to her proper life and priggish fiancee (Day-Lewis). Perhaps the most sheerly entertaining of all the Merchant-Ivory collaborations, the film would go on to become an unexpected hit around the world—running for a year or so in some theaters—and would go on to win three Oscars (out of eight nominations ), five BAFTAs and a Golden Globe, plus making international stars out of then-unknowns Carter, Day-Lewis and Sands. Of the three, it was Sands who had perhaps the greatest impact on viewers, who found themselves practically swooning every time he turned up to woo Lucy, not to mention the memorable moment in which he was seen skinny-dipping in a pond.

Thanks to his presence in both “The Killing Fields” and “A Room with a View,” Sands was clearly on the verge of stardom. With his next major role, he went in a decidedly different direction by turning up as Percy Shelley in “Gothic” (1986), Ken Russell’s hair-raising, if factually questionable, take on that infamous meeting of the minds between Shelley, his wife Mary (Natasha Richardson), John Polidori (Timothy Spall) and Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) that led to Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein. Like most Russell films, this was less a coherent narrative than an excuse for Russell to indulge in bizarro shock effects and in-jokes—not that there is anything wrong with that in this particular case—and Sands does a good job of bridging the gap between the staid period piece some might have expected and the wild cult eccentricity that it proved to be. To prove that this particular choice was no fluke or whim, Sands would move on to an even loopier project with “Siesta,” Mary Lambert’s strange 1987 erotic fantasia in which he plays one of the many oddball characters encountered by daredevil Ellen Barkin in the days leading up to a potentially fatal stunt.