We woke this morning to the news that James Gandolfini had died. It felt like losing an old friend of the family.
We came late to The Sopranos in our house. We missed the start of the first episode and it was a while before we realised that behind the violence and the overweight men swearing at each other, there lay a sharp script complemented by marvellous acting.
As the stories unfolded, I couldn’t help wondering whether the Mafia is a spiritual descendent of ancient Roman ancestors. Roman society was deeply hierarchical: everyone was dependent upon someone higher up – apart from the Emperor, who was at the mercy of the gods and sharp knives. In the absence of a police force or a public prosecution service, you hoped that in return for your loyalty, your superior would also be your protector.
The brilliance of the Sopranos script was that we saw behind the façade of the Great Man. We saw a character who could terrorise his business associates but couldn’t control his children, and was paralysed by the impossibility of ever pleasing his ghastly mother. We sat in on Tony’s secret visits to his therapist, who of course could never do much to resolve his problems because he could never tell her the truth. Yet when the therapist was the victim of crime it was Tony, her powerful ally, who administered justice.
It was wonderful writing and Gandolfini, a man with the body of a bear and the innocent grin of a child, was ideally cast.
Rest in peace, James Gandolfini. We remember your work with great pleasure, and – as Tony Soprano would have wanted – with respect.