Nationality: British. Born: Richard Samuel Attenborough in Cambridge, England, 29 August 1923. Education: Attended Wyggeston Grammar School, Leicester; Leverhulme Scholarship, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London. Military Service: Royal Air Force, 1943–46 (assigned to RAF Film Unit, 1944). Family: Married the
In Which We Serve (Lean and Coward) (as young Stoker)
The Hundred Pound Window (Hurst) (as Tommy Draper); Schweik's New Adventures (Lamac) (as railway worker)
Journey Together (John Boulting) (as David Wilton)
A Matter of Life and Death ( Stairway to Heaven ) (Powell and Pressburger) (as English pilot); Secret Flight ( School for Secrets ) (Ustinov) (as Jack Arnold)
The Man Within ( The Smugglers ) (Knowles) (as Francis Andrews); Dancing with Crime (Carstairs) (as Ted Peters); Brighton Rock ( Young Scarface ) (John Boulting) (as Pinky Brown)
London Belongs to Me ( Dulcimer Street ) (Gilliat) (as Percy Boon); The Guinea Pig ( The Outsider ) (Roy Boulting) (as Jack Read)
The Boys in Brown (Tully) (as Jackie Knowles)
The Lost People (Knowles) (as Jan); Morning Departure ( Operation Disaster ) (Baker) (as Stoker Snipe)
Hell Is Sold Out (Anderson) (as Pierre Bonnet); The Magic Box (John Boulting) (as Jack Carter)
The Gift Horse ( Glory at Sea ) (Bennett) (as Dripper Daniels); Father's Doing Fine (Cass) (as Dougal)
Eight O'Clock Walk (Comfort) (as Tom Manning)
Private's Progress (John Boulting) (as Pvt. Cox); The Ship that Died of Shame (Dearden and Relph) (as George Hoskins)
The Baby and the Battleship (Jay Lewis) (as Knocker White)
Brothers in Law (Roy Boulting) (as Henry Marshall); The Scamp ( Strange Affection ) (Rilla) (as Stephen Leigh)
Dunkirk (Norman) (as John Holden); The Man Upstairs (Chaffey) (as Peter Watson); Sea of Sand ( The Desert Patrol ) (Guy Green) (as Trooper Brody)
I'm All Right, Jack (Roy Boulting) (as Sidney de Vere Cox); Jet Storm (Endfield) (as Ernest Tilley); S.O.S. Pacific (Guy Green) (as Whitey); The League of Gentlemen (Dearden) (as Edward Lexy); Danger Within ( Breakout ) (Chaffey) (as Captain "Bunter" Phillips)
The Angry Silence (Guy Green) (as Tom Curtis, + co-pr)
All Night Long (Relph and Dearden) (as Rod Hamilton)
Only Two Can Play (Gilliat) (as Probert); The Dock Brief ( Trial and Error ) (Hill) (as Fowle)
The Great Escape (John Sturges) (as Big "X" Bartlett)
Seance on a Wet Afternoon (Forbes) (as Billy Savage, + co-pr); The Third Secret (Charles Crichton) (as Alfred Price-Gorham); Guns at Batasi (Guillermin) (as RSM Lauderdale)
The Flight of the Phoenix (Aldrich) (as Lew Moran)
The Sand Pebbles (Wise) (as Frenchy)
Doctor Dolittle (Fleischer) (as Albert Blossom)
The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom (McGrath) (as Robert Blossom); Only When I Larf (Dearden) (as Silas)
The Last Grenade (Flemying) (as General Charles Whiteley); The Magic Christian (McGrath) (as Oxford Coach); David Copperfield (Delbert Mann—for TV) (as Mr. Tungay); A Severed Head (Dick Clement) (as Palmer Anderson); Loot (Narizzano) (as Truscott)
10 Rillington Place (Fleischer) (as John Reginald Halliday Christie)
And Then There Were None ( Ten Little Indians ) (Collinson) (as Judge); Brannigan ( Joe Battle ) (Hickox) (as Commander Swann); Rosebud (Preminger) (as Sloat); Conduct Unbecoming (Anderson) (as Major Lionel Roach)
Shatranj Ke Khilari ( The Chess Players ) (Satyajit Ray) (as Gen. Outram)
Mother Teresa (Ann Petrie and Jeanette Petrie—doc) (as narrator)
The Human Factor (Preminger) (as Colonel John Daintrey)
Jurassic Park (Spielberg) (as Dr. John Hammond)
Miracle on 34th Street (Columbus) (as Kris Kringle)
E=MC2 (Fry) (as the Visitor); Hamlet (Branagh) (as English Ambassador)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Spielberg) (as Dr. John Hammond); Elizabeth (Kapur) (as Sir William Cecil)
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Mallet/Pimlott) (Jacob); Ljuset håller mig sällskap ( Light Keeps Me Company ) (Nykvist) (as himself); The Railway Children (Morshead—for TV) (as the Old Gentleman)
Whistle Down the Wind (Forbes) (pr only)
The L-Shaped Room (Forbes) (co-pr only)
Oh! What a Lovely War (co-pr)
Young Winston (co-pr)
A Bridge Too Far
A Chorus Line
Cry Freedom (co-pr)
In Love and War
Grey Owl (pr)
In Search of Gandhi , London, 1982.
Richard Attenborough's Chorus Line , with Diana Carter, 1986.
Cry Freedom: A Pictorial Record , 1987.
"An Actor's Actor," interview with C. Hanson, in Cinema (Beverly Hills), March 1966.
"Why I Became a Director," in Action (Los Angeles), January/February 1969.
"Elements of Truth," in Films and Filming (London), June 1969.
Interview with K. Freund, in American Film (New York), vol. 14, no. 7, 1972.
"Dialogue on Film: Richard Attenborough," in American Film (New York), March 1983.
Interview with M. Buckley, in Films in Review (New York), December 1987.
Interview in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), March and April 1988.
"Sir Richard Replies . . . ," in Eyepiece (Greenford, Middlesex), vol. 11, no. 6, 1990.
Interview with David Robinson, in Times (London), 22 March 1990.
"Attenborough on Ray," in Sight and Sound (London), August 1992.
"Les faits plus que la fiction," interview with J. Lefebvre, in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), April/May 1993.
"Richard Attenborough: Droga do wolnoœci," interview in Kino (Warsaw), May 1994.
"Hemingway in Love and War," interview with Mary Hardesty, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), February, 1997.
"Richard Attenborough's Romantic Return to WWI," interview with Mary Hardesty, in DGA (Los Angeles), March/April, 1997.
Castell, David, Richard Attenborough: A Pictorial Film Biography , London, 1984.
Woods, Donald, Filming with Attenborough: The Making of Cry Freedom, New York, 1987.
Eberts, Jake, and Terry Ilott, My Indecision Is Final: The Rise and Fall of Goldcrest Films , London, 1990.
Dougan, Andy, The Actors' Director: Richard Attenborough behind the Camera , Edinburgh, 1994.
Ratcliffe, Michael, "The Public Image and the Private Eye of Richard Attenborough," in Films and Filming (London), August 1963.
Castell, D., "His 10-Year Obsession," in Films Illustrated (London), September 1974.
A Bridge Too Far Section of American Cinematographer (Hollywood), April 1977.
Screen International (London), 17 October and 4 December 1981, 22 January and 14 May 1983.
National Film Theatre Booklet (London), October/November 1983.
Current Biography 1984 , New York, 1984.
Tanner, L., "Sir Richard Attenborough," in Films in Review (New York), January 1986.
Houston, Penelope, "Parker, Attenborough, Anderson," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1986.
Hacker, Jonathan, and David Price, "Richard Attenborough," in Take 10: Contemporary British Film Directors , London, 1991.
Stivers, C., "Trampled," in Premiere (New York), January 1993.
Stars (Mariembourg), Winter 1995.
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Today, Richard Attenborough is primarily recognized as the director of prestigious, large-scale message pictures and historical epics ( Gandhi , Cry Freedom , A Bridge Too Far ), and biographies ( Young Winston , Chaplin ). Prior to his directorial debut in 1969 with Oh! What a Lovely War , however, he enjoyed a quarter-century-long career in front of the camera. His on-screen debut came in the kind of film he might have directed himself: Noël Coward's In Which We Serve , a World War II drama set aboard a British destroyer. He portrayed a coward and, unfortunately, found himself typecast as characters who at least start out as fainthearted and indecisive before (occasionally) redeeming themselves: the RAF pilot trainee in Journey Together ; the young seaman in The Man Within ; the gutless submarine crew member in Morning Departure .
Physically, Attenborough was stocky and boyish; he lacked the required good looks to become a leading man. And so, early in his career, he also was cast as characters far younger than his real years: most incredibly, as a schoolboy in The Guinea Pig (released when he was 25 years old); the thief who is sent to a borstal in The Boys in Brown ; the South London boardinghouse resident convicted of murder in London Belongs to Me ; and, most memorably, as Pinky Brown, the ill-fated adolescent killer, in Brighton Rock (in which he gives his foremost early career performance).
Eventually, Attenborough was able to transcend this typecasting, becoming a solid and reliable character actor who won supporting and occasional lead roles in a variety of films. He had the ability to convey considerable shadiness behind genial bluster, particularly in the Boulting comedies I'm All Right, Jack and Brothers in Law and the Basil Dearden-directed dramas The Ship that Died of Shame and The League of Gentlemen . Still, some of his best characters remained submissive ones, such as the compliant mate of deranged medium Kim Stanley in Seance on a Wet Afternoon . Additionally, he was perfectly cast as unbending intellectuals (the soldier who concocts a breakout from a German POW camp in The Great Escape ) and characters of unyielding integrity (the victimized factory worker in The Angry Silence ). In the latter two films, he offers appropriately intense performances which are among the best of his career.
By the late 1950s and early 1960s, Attenborough was envisioning a career behind the cameras. In 1959, he formed Beaver Films, his own production company, with Bryan Forbes and Guy Green, and began producing or co-producing films in which he appeared ( The Angry Silence , Seance on a Wet Afternoon ) and others in which he did not ( Whistle Down the Wind , The L-Shaped Room ). A segue into directing was part of his natural progression.
By the time he directed Gandhi in 1982, Attenborough already had established himself as a filmmaker. He had desired to tell the story of Mohandas K. Gandhi since the 1960s; "This is what I've wanted to do more than anything else I've been involved with," he explained. "Everything I've directed was a sort of training. I didn't want to direct per se, I wanted to make Gandhi ." The film was a multi-Academy Award winner; included in its honors was a Best Director statue for Attenborough. Nevertheless, in recent years Gandhi (as well as Attenborough's other big-budget projects) has come to be regarded as ponderous: a stuffy, overblown epic which did not extend on the stylistic innovation he displayed in Oh! What a Lovely War . Perhaps his best film, which harks back to his more intimate stints as an actor, remains the thriller Magic , which showed that Attenborough the director, without the benefit of a cast of thousands and a huge backdrop, could spin a compelling yarn.
—Quen Falk, updated by Rob Edelman