Albert Finney Jr (9 May 1936 – 7 February 2019) was an English actor, producer and director of film, television and theatre. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and began to work in the theatre as a Shakespeareanactor before attaining prominence on screen in the early 1960s, debuting with The Entertainer (1960), directed by Tony Richardson, who had previously directed him in the theatre. He maintained a successful career in theatre, film and television.
He is known for his roles in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (also 1960), Tom Jones (1963), Two for the Road(1967), Scrooge (1970), Annie (1982), The Dresser (1983), Miller’s Crossing (1990), A Man of No Importance(1994), Erin Brockovich (2000), Big Fish (2003), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007), The Bourne Legacy (2012), and the James Bond film Skyfall (2012).
A recipient of BAFTA, Golden Globe, Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Awards, Finney was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor four times, for Tom Jones (1963), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), The Dresser (1983), and Under the Volcano (1984); he was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Erin Brockovich (2000). His performance as Winston Churchill in the BBC–HBOtelevision biographical film The Gathering Storm (2002) saw him receive a number of accolades.
Finney was born in the Charlestown suburb of Salford, the son of Alice (née Hobson) and Albert Finney, a bookmaker. He was educated at Tootal Drive Primary School, Salford Grammar School and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), from which he graduated in 1956.
In February 1956 John Fernald, principal of RADA, gave Finney his first major role in the Vanbrugh Theatre’s student production of Ian Dallas’ play The Face of Love, as Shakespeare’s Troilus. Finney graduated from RADA and became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. His career began in the theatre, and he made his first appearance on the London stage in 1958, in Jane Arden’s The Party, directed by Charles Laughton, who starred in the production along with his wife, Elsa Lanchester.
Then, in 1959, he appeared at Stratford in the title role in Coriolanus, replacing an ill Laurence Olivier. Finney created the title role in Luther, the 1961 play by John Osborne depicting the life of Martin Luther, one of the foremost instigators of the Protestant Reformation. He performed the role with the English Stage Company at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt, Paris, the Holland Festival, the Royal Court Theatre, London, the Phoenix Theatre, London, and the St. James Theatre, New York.
His first film appearance was a role in Tony Richardson’s The Entertainer (1960)
His first film appearance was a role in Tony Richardson’s The Entertainer (1960), with Laurence Olivier, and he made his breakthrough in the same year with his portrayal of a disillusioned factory worker in Karel Reisz’s film version of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (also 1960). This led to his starring in the Academy Award-winning 1963 film Tom Jones. Prior to this, Finney had been chosen to play T. E. Lawrence in David Lean’s production of Lawrence of Arabia after a successful, and elaborate, screen-test that took four days to shoot. However, Finney baulked at signing a multi-year contract for producer Sam Spiegel and chose not to accept the role.
The success of Tom Jones saw British exhibitors vote Finney the ninth most popular star at the box office in 1963.After Charlie Bubbles (1968), which he also directed, his film appearances became less frequent as he focused more on acting on stage. During this period, one of his high-profile film roles was as Agatha Christie’s Belgian master detective Hercule Poirot in the film Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Finney became so well known for the role that he complained that it typecast him for a number of years. “People really do think I am 300 pounds with a French accent,” he said.
While being known for his dramatic roles, Finney appeared and sang in two musical films: Scrooge (1970) and the Hollywood film version of Annie (1982), which was directed by John Huston, who then directed him once again in Under the Volcano (1984) two years later. He also sang in Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride(2005).
Finney made several television productions for the BBC in the 1990s, including The Green Man (1990), based on a novel by Kingsley Amis,[the drama A Rather English Marriage (1998) (with Tom Courtenay),[ and the lead role in Dennis Potter’s final two plays, Karaoke (1996) and Cold Lazarus (both 1996). In the latter he played a frozen, disembodied head. Finney also made an appearance at Roger Waters’ The Wall – Live in Berlin, where he played “The Judge” during the performance of “The Trial”.
Even with his success on the big screen, Finney never abandoned his stage performances. He continued his association with the National Theatre Company at the Old Vic in London, where he performed in the mid-1960s in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothingand Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.
He received Tony Award nominations for Luther (1964) and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1968), and also starred on stage in Love for Love, Strindberg’s Miss Julie, Black Comedy, The Country Wife, Alpha Beta, Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, Tamburlaine the Great, Another Time and, his last stage appearance, in 1997, ‘Art’ by Yasmina Reza, which preceded the 1998 Tony Award-winning Broadway run. He won an Olivier Award for Orphans in 1986 and won three Evening Standard Theatre Awards for Best Actor.
Finney also directed and played the lead role of Sidney Kentridge in The Biko Inquest, a 1984 dramatisation of the inquest into the death of Steve Biko which was filmed for TV following a London run. In 1994 he played a gay bus driver in early 1960’s Dublin in A Man of No Importance. In 2002 his critically acclaimed portrayal of Winston Churchill in The Gathering Storm won him BAFTA, Emmy and Golden Globe awards as Best Actor. He also played the title role in the television series My Uncle Silas, based on the short stories by H. E. Bates, about a roguish but lovable poacher-cum-farm labourer looking after his great-nephew. The show ran for two series broadcast in 2001 and 2003.
A lifelong supporter of Manchester United, Finney narrated the documentary Munich, about the air crash that killed most of the Busby Babes in 1958, which was shown on United’s TV channel MUTV in February 2008.
By his first wife, Jane Wenham, he had a son, who works in the film industry as a camera operator. From 1970 to 1978, he was married to French actress Anouk Aimée. From 2006 until his death, Finney was married to travel agent, Penelope Delmage. In May 2011, Finney disclosed that he had been receiving treatment for kidney cancer. Finney died from a chest infection on 7 February 2019, at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Brompton, London, at the age of 82.
Awards and honours
Finney turned down the offer of a CBE in 1980, and a knighthood in 2000. He criticised the honours system for “perpetuating snobbery”.
He received five Oscar nominations but never won. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor four times, for Tom Jones (1963), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), The Dresser (1983), and Under the Volcano (1984); and once for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Erin Brockovich (2000).
Julia Roberts mentioned Finney in her Oscar acceptance speech for Best Actress in Erin Brockovich, thanking him and “sharing” the Oscar with him.
Finney received 13 BAFTA nominations (9 film, 4 TV), winning two:
- 1960 Best British Actor for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
- 1960 Most Promising Newcomer for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning Won
- 1963 Best British Actor for Tom Jones
- 1973 Best Actor for Gumshoe
- 1974 Best Actor for Murder on the Orient Express
- 1982 Best Actor for Shoot the Moon
- 1984 Best Actor for The Dresser
- 1990 Best Actor (BAFTA TV Awards) for The Green Man
- 1996 Best Actor (BAFTA TV Awards) for Karaoke/Cold Lazarus
- 1998 Best Actor (BAFTA TV Awards) for A Rather English Marriage
- 2000 Best Supporting Actor for Erin Brockovich
- 2002 Best Actor (BAFTA TV Awards) for The Gathering Storm Won
- 2003 Best Supporting Actor for Big Fish
In addition Finney received the BAFTA Fellowship in 2001.
He won an Emmy Award, for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Made for TV Movie, for his performance as Winston Churchill in HBO’s The Gathering Storm. He had previously been nominated for the HBO telefilm The Image (1990).
He received nine Golden Globe nominations, winning three:
- 1963 Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for Tom Jones
- 1963 Most Promising Newcomer (Male) for Tom Jones – Won
- 1970 Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for Scrooge, Won
- 1982 Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama for Shoot the Moon
- 1983 Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama for The Dresser
- 1984 Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama for Under the Volcano
- 2000 Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for Erin Brockovich
- 2002 Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television for The Gathering Storm Won
- 2003 Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for Big Fish
For his work on Broadway, Finney was nominated for two Tony Awards, both for Best Actor in a Play, for Luther in 1964, and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg in 1968. For the London stage, he won the Olivier Award, for Best Actor, for Orphans in 1986. He won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actor three times, for A Flea in Her Ear in 1966, Tamburlaine the Great in 1976 and Orphans in 1986.
Other awards include: a Golden Laurel for his work on Scrooge (1970) and for his work on Tom Jones, for which he was the 3rd Place Winner for the “Top Male Comedy Performance” for 1964. He was honored by the Los Angeles Film Critics’ Association as Best Actor for Under the Volcano (which he tied with F. Murray Abraham for Amadeus), the National Board of Review Best Actor award for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and the New York Film Critics’ Circle Best Actor award for Tom Jones.
Finney won two Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, for Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role, for Erin Brockovich, and as a member of the acting ensemble in the film Traffic. He was also nominated for The Gathering Storm, for Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries, but did not win.
He won the Silver Berlin Bear award for Best Actor, for The Dresser, at the 34th Berlin International Film Festival in 1984.
He won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor, for Tom Jones, at the Venice Film Festival.