Kevin Maher is Alisdair Stewart from The Piano

The Piano
The Piano

Journalist Kevin Maher was born in 1972 in Dublin and headed over to London in 1994, where he wrote about film for The Face, The Guardian and The Observer. While his debut novel The Fields explained 80s Ireland, his latest, Last Night on Earth (Little Brown, £14.99), gets to grips with millennium London in a dizzy, fizzy rush of words as a young Irish man reveals himself to be at the mercy of his own unwise impulses in the heady, druggy world of TV. Eithne Farry

My screen alter ego is Alisdair Stewart, the 46-year-old English planter from The Piano. Fact. There’s no contest. It’s always been that way. From the moment I saw the film, in Dublin in 1993, I knew that he was the man for me. Or, at least he was me. Or, maybe better still, he was us. For, as played beautifully by Sam Neill, he is the real-time alter ego to all of us, us men. He is the great tentative, unsure, lip-trembling, confidence-faltering, error-prone, angst-ridden reality of modern man in an increasingly phony and delusional world of fake-fronted masculine yawps. I’m talking here about Harvey Keitel’s George Baines, the other male protagonist from The Piano, and a character that I’ve always loathed, and done so with the same degree of passion with which I feel my love for Stewart. For Keitel’s Baines, with his muscles, his tattoos and his pervy surety (‘There’s things I’d like to do while you play!’), comes from a long line of specious romantic heroes that include everyone from Achilles to Heathcliff to Ryan Gosling to the swarthy berk in TV’s Poldark. These are masculine phantasms, governed by ancient codes that exist only in story books. They are, to paraphrase Yeats, men who are but a dream, men who do not exist.

Stewart, on the other hand, is painfully real. He is the Lockwood to Baines’s Heathcliff. He is gorgeously fragile and noticeably vain (proud of his achievements as a planter, careful about his appearance, he assiduously combs his hair before the ‘wedding’ photograph). He is sexually unsophisticated (Ada’s hand to the buttock gesture almost blows his mind). He feels the pressure of providing (he’s land-grabbing from Baines). He’s complying to social norms (as exemplified by the snooping Aunt Morag). But mostly, simply, he’s trying. He’s trying so hard to understand who he is, and what’s expected of him, in the specific context of the world around him. And for that reason alone I can’t ask for a better alter ego. Naturally, I could’ve done without the axe-wielding finger-chopping finale. But, hey, nobody’s perfect.

Kevin Maher