Richard Attenborough – Great Director and Actor

Richard Attenborough reached the peak of his career when he directed Gandhi (1982), the spectacular film adaptation of the biography of the famous Indian leader of the peaceful rebellion against the colonial British government

The film won eight Oscars, among others those for Best Film, Director, Actor (Ben Kingsley) and screenplay (John Briley). However, Attenborough became a well-respected actor before embarking on his career as a director. He began his acting career in 1942, with the supporting role of a scared sailor in Noel Coward and David Lean’s In Which We Serve. His persuasiveness with an unusual mix of his boyish looks and negative character traits marked the first part of his career in which his greatest role was that of the teenage criminal in Brighton Rock (1947) by John Boulting and based on the novel by Graham Greene. In order to avoid stereotypical roles, in late 1950’ together with director Bryan Forbes (1926 – 2013) he founded the production house Beaver Films, and then Allied Film Makers when they were joined by another interesting director Basil Dearden (1911 – 1971). During that time he produced some important films in which he also starred - The League of Gentlemen (1960) by Basil Dearden and The Angry Silence (1960) by Guy Green, while in the 1960’s one of his most impressive roles is the one in Robert Aldrich’s film The Flight of the Phoenix (1965).

At the end of 1960’s he directed his first film – Brecht-inspired musical about WW I Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) and began to act much less frequently. Nevertheless, even during the 1970’s he had some interesting roles – as the murderer in 10 Rillington Place (1971) by Richard Fleischer, cruel general Outrama in the Indian film Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977) by Satyajit Ray and as the informer in another film adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel The Human Factor (1979). From then on, he devoted his career to directing and producing his own films. He returned to acting in 1993, when Steven Spielberg managed to persuade him to appear in his film Jurassic Park as the millionaire who built the park. Afterwards, Attenborough continued to appear in interesting supporting roles such as his only portrayal of one of Shakespeare’s characters – the English ambassador in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) who delivers news that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.

As a director, after his unconventional debut he did not especially differ with a particularly original directing solutions from other directors, but he directed rather well very good screenplays based on important historical events giving them special value because of his great talent for working with actors. Besides Gandhi, he achieved success with his other ten films such as Young Winston (1972) about Churchill’s youth, the attractive war spectacle A Bridge Too Far (1977) about the unsuccessful operation of claiming bridges when the allies penetrated into Germany during WW II, Cry Freedom (1987) about fight against apartheid in South Africa, while the biography of the great filmmaker Chaplin (1992) even though it was popular, met some negative criticism. The film that is shown within this program Shadowlands (1993) is one of the best films directed by Attenborough. In this unusual love story between the famous writer C. S. Lewis (The Narnia Chronicles) and his much younger fan the director does not try to achieve a story that is “greater than life” and remains interested in the biographical elements. It is exactly why Attenborough’s directing skill is so great in this film and it manages to describe perfectly the nuanced emotions of the couple masterly portrayed by Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. (Tomislav Kurelec)