Ian Holm did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Charles Dodgson more famously known as Lewis Carroll in Dreamchild.
Dreamchild tells its story in a jumbled fashion as it jumps around from the younger Alice, the older Alice, a reporter hoping to get a good story out of her, and a few fantasy moments depicting sequences from Alice in Wonderland itself. We are given glimpses of Ian Holm's portrayal of the author of that novel, Charles Dodgson, who was more famously known by his pen name Lewis Carroll. We never see through Dodgson's eyes throughout the story, and the film seems to purposefully keep a distance from the man. He has few spoken line, as Holm is often silent. There are times where it seems a pivotal line is coming in terms of explaining the character, yet the film stops just before verbalizing an exact understanding of Dodgson. The character seems left in Ian Holm's hands, and much of the film relies on what he is able to do within the confines set against him which are quite extreme. Dodgson is a ghost in the film, not literally but rather the memories of himself always haunt Alice in the future as she ponders the past. This idea is how we first see Dodgson as he is in and around Alice's life due to Dodgson being one of the lecturers at Christ Church, where Alice's father was the dean.
Holm is a performer who can indicate a great deal without directly revealing himself either as seen formerly in Alien. The brilliance of Holm's work begins with the very image he crafts of Dodgson as a man. The manner Holm takes is striking as there is something inherently withdrawn about his work. Even when he is not trying to communicate Holm effortlessly realize a difficulty in this regard through through the often closed off spirit that Holm exudes in the man. Holm alludes to a painful life in Dodgson as a man who is almost forced into an inherent awkwardness due to the standards of society. Holm is a naturally compelling performer, and that is readily apparent in these glimpses of Dodgson we are given. There is something truly fascinating about Holm's work as he succeeds in creating this sense of unease when we see him, and even by the notion of him. This is not to say this is some sort of horror based performance, it's not, but rather Holm is able to wordlessly inflict the anxiety within the unknown. This unknown being connected to the way the elderly Alice views the man, but also the way we view him since we can only ever see him through her eyes.
The complexity of this relationship is never simplified by Holm's performance, and that sense of discontent does not define Holm's work. Quite the opposite as early on there is a scene where Dodgson entertains Alice and her sisters by regaling one of his stories that would eventually become Alice in Wonderland. Holm in the moments of storytelling reveals an abundance of warmth and a sense of Dodgson calling upon something rather special within him to tell these stories. There is a tenderness about the man Holm brings to these words, but also a comfort in one's self. When Holm speaks these words there is this firm belief in them, and in the moment that unease about the man fades. Holm conveys this through the way he depicts Dodgson living through the stories in his mind while he regales them to the children. What would make Dodgson, Lewis Carroll, a world renowned figure is realized so gently by Holm. That inspiration that created Wonderland seems something fluid in Holm's performance, which gives understanding to the eventual perspective of the man in the greater public eye.
The film stays closer in the private eye of Alice though as she spends time going over her memories in an apparent attempt to decipher the man. Holm is flawless in crafting this difficult perception of the man as he interacts with the little girl. Holm does not falter in terms of maneuvering the conflicting view of the character. The unease of the man seems to come with the man being potentially a pedophile, who is lusting after Alice. Holm glares towards her reflect a definite desire yet he does not allow one to condemn the man so easily, since he does explicitly note the desire. In those sames eyes Holm is able to suggest a certain enchantment of man who only sees a kindred spirit within the child's innocence. When one watches Holm one can also see the somberness of a lonely man, who cannot be exactly who he is. Again this could be a man hiding from society because what he hides is something disturbing, or a man of a purer nature than what society allows for. Holm enablesthis duplicity of view yet he never enforces it precisely. It's fascinating work since Holm doesn't just switch his performance in a Rashomon sort of way, he presents one man exactly as he is, and leaves it to us to see who he is. At the same time this never feels an inarticulate or vague performance, Holm knows who the man is and only ever shows us that man. It's astonishing what he is able to do since he is able to be off putting while we are still able to emphasize with the man. There is an incredible scene for Holm when Dodgson asks Alice about marriage. He doesn't finish his question. Holm in this is a lusty old man propositioning a girl, but also heartbreaking as man wishing a girl to hold on to the innocence he found so special. There are few scenes where Alice lashing against Dodgson since he never explains his intentions clearly to her either. Holm allows you to see it as a creepy man getting his comeuppance in a second, then again he seems like a broken boy who just bullied by one of his few friends. This is outstanding work by Ian Holm as he matches the challenge of the role, by making a challenging character for the audience. Holm realizes an enigmatic yet profound portrait fitting to the mystery of the man that Lewis Carroll was.