Albert Finney: Five memorable roles from a lifetime on-screen

Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Albert Finney, who died Thursday at the age of 82, was an actor of rare versatility, convincing as gruff, refined, lovable and unforgiving, yet always bringing to each role a remarkable and unexpected grace. A five-time Oscar nominee, it is perhaps proper to his character that he never actually won -- he seemed to relish remaining a bit of an outsider, as when he twice turned downs honors from the Queen of England, a CBE in 1980 and a knighthood in 2000.

Asked about his attitude towards awards and accolades in a 1993 interview with The Times, Finney said, "That's not my yardstick. It might be yours, not mine... I think it's wrong to get too attached to prizes or to guns, medals and diplomas, either."

A list such as this will inevitably leave out a few key roles, and, with Finney, it would be easy to fill these five slots many times over. In addition to the roles below, he was also notable in "Two For the Road," "Charlie Bubbles" (which he also directed), "Gumshoe," "Shoot the Moon," "Annie," his Oscar-nominated turn in "The Dresser," two of the "Bourne" pictures and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead." His last substantial screen role was in the 2012 James Bond movie "Skyfall."

Finney came from the city of Salford in the north of England, the son of a bookmaker, and went on to attend the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts alongside Peter O'Toole. In his breakthrough performance in Karel Reisz's 1960 film "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning," Finney helped to usher in a new kind of British acting, one that combined the training and technique of drama schools and stage work with a rough-around-the-edges feeling and interior emotion that drew from everyday life.


Directed by Tony Richardson and adapted by John Osborne, two of the leading exponents of the British "angry young man" school of film and theater, "Tom Jones" managed to be both realist and a romp -- a bawdy period piece. Jones would earn Finney his first Oscar nomination for a performance that perfectly encapsulates the raw sex appeal of his youth and the more thoughtful, emotional depths of which he was also capable. Here bringing heart to what could be a harsh cad, in even his gruffest, roughest performances, Finney always found an emotional center that allowed audiences in.



Finney was only in his late 30s when he took on the role of dandy-ish detective Hercule Poirot in Sidney Lumet's adaptation of Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express," seeming to reject his leading man image to dig deep into an oddball character performance. Leading a large ensemble cast, he made Poirot into a strange, droll man who unnerves everyone he meets in one way or another.

In his original 1974 review of the film, Times critic Charles Champlin said "although the roguish Albert Finney of 'Tom Jones' or the factory-working Finney of 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning' would be almost anybody's last pick for the haughty and debonair Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, he is formidable, merveilleux and a bloody delight."



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