Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Albert Finney

Most of the articles I've seen about Albert Finney have gone with a picture of him as Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. And a lot of them have had headlines about him being an "angry young man". Only he wasn't. He was no more an angry young man than Sylvester Stallone was heavyweight champion of the world. That wasn't his accent, that wasn't his attitude. He was playing let's pretend. He was, Heavens-to-Betsy, an actor.

Not long after he was Seaton he had a go at being Tom Jones for the same director. How odd that the headlines didn't mourn him as the last of the good-natured 18th century rakes...

The point is he was that very rare thing, a star actor with an exceptionally wide range. There was no such thing as a Finney role. He played all sorts of different characters- and was convincing in them all- without it ever occurring to anyone to call him a character actor. How many actors have played- or would anyone think of casting as- both Hamlet and Hercule Poirot- oh, and Scrooge? The adjective is "protean". Olivier was protean- and among people who are still going strong, there's Gary Oldman. I can't, offhand, think of another. The only thing that limited him was his physique. He was never going to be asked to play a little man or a thin man.

He kept busy. He never deserted the theatre. He never- that I can see- worked simply for the money. He didn't do much TV drama, but he was tremendous in Denis Potter's tremendous swan-song- the two linked plays, Karaoke and Cold Lazarus. There's an early TV interview in which he talks about wanting to stand behind the characters he played- and I think that remained constant. He didn't push himself as a brand, he wasn't a regular on the chat shows; I have very little idea what he was like as a person- away from the greasepaint- and I'm sure that was as he chose. In his last film appearance- in the Bond movie Skyfall- he was completely unrecognisable as a shotgun wielding gamekeeper with a bushy white beard and a braw Scottish accent. Judging by the clip I've seen he'll have done it because it was fun.
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