The legendary actor Sir Christopher Lee, who passed away Thursday at the age of 93, is best remembered for his unforgettable turn as Dracula, in the 1958 classic which sends shivers down fans’ spines even today.
However, Sir Christopher’s was a terrifically long and extraordinarily prolific career which stretches back to 1948 and included hundreds of motion pictures, from Bond films to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
One surprising film he worked on – one which many are unaware – is ‘Jinnah’ in which Sir Christopher essayed the role of Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of modern Pakistan.
The film was released in 1998 in Pakistan and the UK and caused a not-insignificant amount of controversy.
Pakistanis were outraged that the man who had once played the bloodthirsty Count Dracula would be chosen to play their country’s revered founder.
The Pakistani government withdrew funding from French Pakistani writer-director Jamil Dehlavi’s project halfway through the production while Lee received death threats.
The actor had to be surrounded by armed guards throughout the shoot.
Remarkably enough, there was little opposition to the fact that a European actor was playing a Pakistani icon.
The film was timely in that at its heart, it dealt with the issue of Islamic extremism.
Released at a time when Pakistan was debating whether to adopt Islamic law, the spirit of Lee’s Jinnah bemoans his beloved country’s path towards extremism.
Sir Christopher said it was “the most important film” he had made because it had had “the best reviews I’ve ever had in my entire career – as a film and as a performance.”
Whilst Pakistanis may not have immediately taken the film to heart, ‘Jinnah’ has become something of a cult in the country and is played on TV every 14 August – Pakistan’s Independence Day.