Last year, our film series saluting Olivia de Havilland’s 100th birthday attracted large and enthusiastic audiences. De Havilland turned 101 on July 1, and her celebration is a hard act to follow! But we’ve found a worthy successor in this summer’s series, Alec Guinness: An Actor for All Seasons. The Times of London observed that Alec Guinness “had the ability to obliterate himself completely within each character he played,” which makes revisiting these career highlights such a treat.
There’s a generational divide in how movie lovers recognize Guinness (1914–2000). In the younger camp are those who know him as Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars trilogy (although he had made nearly 40 films before George Lucas cast him in that iconic role), but much of the fan base has followed Guinness through the decades in memorable comedic and dramatic performances on stage and screen.
A few interesting notes about the legendary actor and his films before you join us this summer:
- In 1932, a 28-year-old Guinness phoned John Gielgud, who was already a star of the London stage, and asked for advice about becoming an actor. The response: Take voice lessons—which Guinness promptly did.
- Guinness told director David Lean that he wanted to play Fagin in Oliver Twist. Hesitant, Lean asked for a screen test. Guinness researched the role by studying illustrations from the original edition of Charles Dickens’s novel. Lean was persuaded!
- The British Film Institute is providing 35mm prints of four films in our series: Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, his first collaborations with Lean; The Ladykillers, which was remade by the Coen Brothers in 2011 (starring Tom Hanks in Guinness’s role); and Tunes of Glory, Guinness’s own favorite performance.
- Guinness grew his comic capabilities at Britain’s Ealing Studios, which produced the series’ funny selections: Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Ladykillers, The Lavender Hill Mob, and The Man in the White Suit. Ealing Studios was renowned for producing low-budget movies about the foibles and triumphs of “ordinary” British people.
- Our tribute concludes with a 60th-anniversary revival of The Bridge on the River Kwai, which earned Guinness an Academy Award for Best Actor. The film marked a reunion with Lean after a nearly decade-long lapse, but a variety of troubles plagued the production, and at one point, the two were not on speaking terms.
Join us in celebrating some of Alec Guinness’s most memorable roles this summer. See the full schedule and get tickets for the series, screening July 7–August 5.