Good Versus Evil in the Films of Christopher Lee

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Good Versus Evil in the Films of Christopher Lee


Paul Leggett



Publication Date:

May 10, 2018




186 pages


Many filmgoers remember Christopher Lee as the villain Saruman in the Lord of the Rings films. Even before that, he had a sterling reputation for playing aristocratic villains in films like the James Bond series’ The Man with the Golden Gun. Presbyterian pastor Paul Leggett considers how these films explore the spiritual battle between good and evil, and other Christian themes. Leggett considers 16 films or film series, including:

  • The Curse of Frankenstein, a 1950s gothic horror film where Lee played the monster
  • The Horror of Dracula, the first film where Lee played what became his most famous role
  • The Wicker Man, a provocative film about paganism clashing with Christianity on a Scottish isle
  • The Man with the Golden Gun
  • The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film series
  • The Star Wars prequel trilogy, where Lee played Count Dooku

Sixteen years before releasing this book, Leggett published a book that dealt with a key figure in Lee’s career. Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth, and Religion looked at a film director that Lee first worked with on The Curse of Frankenstein, and continued working with through the 1960s. Many of the films Fisher directed included Lee playing opposite their mutual friend Peter Cushing (later known for playing Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars). This 2002 book argued that Fisher had an implicit Christian worldview that informed his gothic horror films: they may have featured Lee playing vampires or Cushing playing evil scientists, but they all affirmed evil exists and must be combatted. Leggett proved this point well and some have built on his ideas—this reviewer has published two essays comparing Fisher to C.S. Lewis. However, Leggett gave the impression Fisher understood his worldview had Christian roots. Newer research indicates Fisher was more of a theist who didn’t realize how much Christianity informed his worldview.

There’s a hint of overstatement in this book too. Leggett notes in his introduction that Lee “identified himself as an Anglo-Catholic” and briefly attended St. Stephen’s in London, the same church as T.S. Eliot. This is correct but skips over the fact that Lee doesn’t talk much about his religious life after he stopped attending St. Stephen’s. In the last version of his autobiography, Lord of Misrule, Lee writes that he began attending due to a particular priest, stopped attending after the priest’s death, and that the priest would be the first to reprimand him for giving up so easily on church. None of this necessarily means that Lee turned his back on Christianity, but makes it hard to say he identified as an Anglo-Catholic throughout his life. It’s a small overstatement, but overstatement nonetheless.

While Leggett may overstate when he talks about Lee and Fisher’s spiritual journeys, his point that Christianity informed their work does stand up. Both were raised in a time when England had widespread religious education and most cultural institutions communicated an overtly Christian viewpoint. They learned more Christian doctrine than many churchgoing Christians do today, and neither disregarded it outright for atheism or other religions. So, it’s no stretch to say Christianity informed Lee’s work.

Since Leggett addresses some of the same movies (Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Mummy) in the past book, it’s no surprise his best insights are when talking about Lee’s gothic horror films. He admits some of Lee’s later Dracula films became gratuitous, but argues the initial ones had a strong model code. Lee’s Dracula was a Satan-like figure who was clearly evil, but charming—a warning that evil can be insidious. Leggett also explores some films that most fans have forgotten—like the fact Lee played Sherlock Holmes in a 1961 movie before playing Sherlock’s brother Mycroft in 1970.

The later sections covering Lee’s performances as Count Dooku and Saruman are interesting, but less profound. Leggett spends most of the Saruman section talking about how Peter Jackson’s trilogy changes Tolkien’s material, rather than exploring how Lee’s performance shows an evolution from his earlier work. Dracula and Saruman are both challenging villains with a regal air, depictions of how evil may be most dangerous when it seems respectable. The difference is Lee’s Dracula was charming, his Saruman was a stern headmaster—which may be even harder to fight back against.

Curiously, Leggett doesn’t include anything on Lee’s work with Tim Burton. Those roles were usually smaller, but Burton’s films often referenced Lee’s gothic horror films. A discussion about their moral themes could be interesting—Lee covering similar ground with a different director, perhaps exploring the same themes in new ways.

This book shows some of the oversights of Leggett’s previous work, but makes a strong case that Lee’s best work contained Judeo-Christian ideas. Leggett also makes another compelling case that Christian themes fit well in scary stories—a very topical idea (see Christian Impact below).

A good conversation starter about what makes a Christian film, and how mainstream movies may contain surprisingly Christian ideas.


Rating (1 to 5 stars):

3.5 Stars

Suggested Audience:

Christians interested in movies that explore Christian themes in unexpected ways.

Christian Impact:

Leggett uses his background as a pastor well, showing how theological themes may appear in the last movies that readers may expect. He particularly shows that horror films, when handled properly, can be interesting vehicles for exploring Christian ideas. Various other Christians have considered that idea in recent years. For example, Daniel Silliman argues in Reading Evangelicals that Frank Peretti’s book This Present Darkness is a Stephen King-style horror novel. Scott Derrickson is currently one of the most successful Christians in Hollywood; outside of his movie Dr. Strange, Derrickson is best known for making horror films like The Black Phone. Michael S. Heiser argues in A World Turned Upside Down that there are surprisingly biblical themes in the TV show Stranger Things. Camilo Peralta recently published an essay on how C.S. Lewis’ friend Charles Williams wrote novels that informed Catholic ghost story writer Russell Kirk. Leggett’s research isn’t as rigorous as some of these writers, but he adds an important voice to the conversation.

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Good Versus Evil in the Films of Christopher Lee

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