Human beings, reflects Sir Ian McKellen in Joe Stephenson’s winsome new doc McKellen: Playing the Part, are acting all day long. It’s not yourself you offer to the world, but part of yourself. This insight is characteristic of a film that continually racks focus to the man behind the famous actor who, at the age of 78, has thought deeply about his work and life and whose attitude toward himself appears bracingly unpretentious and down-to-earth.
With his hypnotic blue-green eyes shining under tweedy brows on a well-weathered face, Sir Ian is still an attractive man able to seduce and manipulate an audience at his pleasure. […] This is clearly not a tell-all autobiography, but the story of a wildly successful career as seen through the protagonist’s own eyes. Later in the film, biography alternates with the social issues that have preoccupied McKellen for decades, particularly his outspoken championing of LGBT rights. Since belatedly making his homosexuality public at the age of 49, he has thrown himself into the fight for legal and social equality for gay people by appearing on talk shows and committees, fundraising, and speaking in schools against homosexual bullying.
Structured very simply as an on-camera interview while McKellen reminisces about his life from the comfort of a red library chair, the film exudes a personal warmth springing from the fact that most of it is told in Sir Ian’s own words.
Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter