Richard Attenborough: A Life Remembered

The passing of Richard Attenborough has sparked an outpouring of tributes and memories from the world of film in both the UK and the US.

The legendary actor turned director, who has died at the age of 90 on 24th August 2014, just 5 days away from his 91st birthday, was undoubtedly a great influence on British cinema over the past 60 years.

We pay tribute to Richard Attenborough and his film career, and take a look at his career in pictures.

Richard Attenborough was born on 29th August 1923 in Cambridge. The eldest of three boys, his brothers are David Attenborough, the broadcaster and naturalist, and John Attenborough, an executive in the motor industry.

Attenborough made his screen debut in 1942s In Which We Serve, directed by Noel Coward and David Lean, in an uncredited role as a sailor. His first speaking role in a film was in 1946s A Matter of Life and Death, with the line ‘It’s Heaven, isn’t it?’

In 1947, Attenborough appeared in Brighton Rock, an adaptation of the Graham Greene novel. This is often seen as Attenborough’s breakthrough role, and brought him into the limelight.

In 1952, Attenborough appeared in the opening production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, alongside his wife, the actress Sheila Sim. At the time of his death, they had been married for 69 years. The Mousetrap is the world’s longest running production, and is still running in London as of 2014.

With his career taking off, Attenborough appeared in many films over the next 20 years, including I’m All Right Jack (1959) with Peter Sellers, The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) with James Stewart and Doctor Dolittle (1967) with Rex Harrison.

In the late 1950s, Attenborough and fellow actor Bryan Forbes set up the production company Beaver Films, leading to both establishing careers as producers. Their most famous film was 1961s Whistle Down The Wind, staring Hayley Mills and Alan Bates. Forbes directed, whilst Attenborough produced.

Attenborough eventually moved from acting into directing, and made his directorial debut in 1969 with Oh! What a Lovely War, featuring an all-star cast including John Mills, Laurence Olivier, Dirk Bogarde, John Gielgud and Vanessa Redgrave. He also directed Young Winston (1972), A Bridge Too Far (1977), A Chorus Line (1985) and Chaplin (1992).

In 1982, Attenborough directed the historical epic Gandhi with Ben Kingsley in the title role. The led to Attenborough winning Best Film and Best Director at the 1982 Academy Awards ceremony, and Kingsley winning the Academy Award for Best Actor. Gandhi is now regarded as a classic of British cinema.

After a 14 year gap from acting, Steven Spielberg convinced Attenborough to appear in Jurassic Park in 1993, and also the sequel in 1997. This led to Attenborough taking supporting roles in film over the next few years, including Kris Kringle in 1994s remake of Miracle on 34th Street, and Sir William Cecil in 1998s Elizabeth.

Having been made a CBE in 1967, a Knight Bachelor in 1976 and a life peer in 1993 with the title Baron Attenborough, it cannot be denied that Richard Attenborough had a long and successful career. He undoubtedly had a great influence on British cinema, and his greatly admired films are a lasting legacy of his great talent, as both an actor and a director.

Richard Attenborough, 29th August 1923 – 24th August 2014

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About writingsuzanne

Film Lover
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2 Responses to Richard Attenborough: A Life Remembered

  1. bobmann447 says:

    Nice tribute article Suzanne. An interesting snippet is that Attenborough took a 10% profit share stake in “The Mousetrap” out of his wages, which was a ‘nice little earner’ and he eventually gave up to keep the shoot of Gandhi afloat. As good a business decision as Guinesses’ 0.5% stake in the Star Wars merchandise!


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