Lord Attenborough


Suggested Films:


Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Gandhi (1982)
Shadowlands (1993)

Richard Samuel Attenborough was born in Cambridge on 29 August 1923, one of three brothers including the BBC naturalist and presenter David Attenborough. He
began dabbling in theatricals at the age of 12. Then while attending London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1941, he turned professional, making his first stage appearance in a production of Eugene O'Neill's ‘Ah, Wilderness!’ With his vulnerable baby face, Attenborough entered film while still a RADA student as the faint-hearted seaman in "In Which We Serve" (1942).

After three years of service with the Royal Air Force, Attenborough rose to film stardom in the 1947 film version of Brighton Rock — a role that caused him to be typecast as a working-class misfit over the next few years. One of the best of his characterizations in this vein can be found in The Guinea Pig (1948), in which the 26-year-old Attenborough was wholly credible as a 13-year-old schoolboy. As the '50s progressed, he was permitted a wider range of characters in such films as The Magic Box (1951), The Ship That Died of Shame (1955), and Private's Progress (1956).

Frustrated by the British film industry, Attenborough teamed with actor-writer Bryan Forbes to form Beaver Films in 1959, which produced a slew of small, ambitious and often socially-conscious films often directed by Forbes. Their sympathy for "the little people" came through best in the delicately offbeat "Whistle Down the Wind" (1961), produced by Attenborough and directed by Forbes, in which three children mistake a fugitive murderer for Jesus Christ. The duo enjoyed another triumph with the story of an unwed, expectant mother and the motley crew she meets in a shabby London boardinghouse, "The L-Shaped Room" (1962).

During the '60s, Attenborough exhibited a fondness for military roles: POW mastermind Bartlett in The Great Escape (1963); hotheaded ship's engineer Frenchy Burgoyne in The Sand Pebbles (1966); and Sgt. Major Lauderdale in Guns at Batasi (1964), the performance that won him a British Academy Award. Since his boisterous, if uneven, directing debut, "Oh! What a Lovely War" (1969), a satirical anti-war musical revue, Attenborough has frequently made films involving social and political issues, often as large-scale epics with star-studded casts. He subsequently helmed the historical Young Winston (1972) adapted by Carl Foreman from Winston Churchill's book about his early years. The film met with very mixed reviews.

With more and more of his time consumed by his directing activities, Attenborough found fewer opportunities to act. One of his best performances in the '70s was as the eerily "normal" real-life serial killer Christie in 10 Rillington Place (1971).

Attenborough then made a film in partnership with independent producer Joseph E. Levine and screenwriter William Goldman. The film was adapted from Cornelius Ryan's book A Bridge Too Far, The resulting film (1977) is an excellent attempt of the dramatisation of the disastrous attempt by the Allies to take possession of a series of bridges behind enemy lines in Holland. A stellar cast and tremendous attention to historical detail made the film one of his best in my eyes.

In 1982, Attenborough brought a 20-year dream to fruition when he directed the spectacular biopic Gandhi. The film won a raft of Oscars, including a Best Director statuette for Attenborough; he was also honoured with Golden Globe and Director's Guild awards, and, that same year, published his book In Search of Gandhi, another product of his fascination with the Indian leader. All of Attenborough's post-Gandhi projects have been laudably ambitious, though none have reached the same pinnacle of success. Some of the best of his latter-day directorial efforts have been Cry Freedom, a 1987 depiction of apartheid; 1992's Chaplin, an epic biopic of the great comedian. "Shadowlands" (1993) was a biopic of writers C S Lewis and Joy Gresham, featuring poignant work from Hopkins and Debra Winger and proved Attenborough a director capable of some subtleties. It told the story of the Christian writer, his faith and the relationship with his wife – beautifully short and tastefully directed it is one of my favourite Attenborough pieces.

Attenborough returned to the screen during the '90s, acting in character roles, the most popular of which was the affable but woefully misguided billionaire entrepreneur John Hammond in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993), a role he reprised for the film's 1997 sequel. Other notable performances included the jovial Kriss Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street (1994) and Sir William Cecil in Elizabeth (1998).

The brother of naturalist David Attenborough, he has been long married to actress-turned-magistrate Sheila Sim, with whom he appeared onstage and in several films in the 40s and 50s.

He was chairman of the British Film Institute between 1981 and 1992 and continues to play a crucial role in British film culture. Attenborough was knighted in 1976 and became a Lord in 1993. Attenborough has chaired dozens of professional organizations and worked tirelessly on behalf of Britain's Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.














Richard attenborough , british film, british director, british movie