Richard Attenborough: A British Film Great
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To some, Richard Attenborough was the baby-faced killer in 1947's Brighton Rock. Others knew him as a force behind the camera, directing the biopic Gandhi. Many more knew him as a firm fixture in the Christmas TV schedule, appearing as the plucky RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett in The Great Escape. But for thousands who grew up in the 1990s, Richard Attenborough will be fondly remembered as the genial, white-bearded old man who saved the spirit of Christmas and brought dinosaurs back from the dead. Here, we take a look at a few of Attenborough's best films and reflect on one of British cinema's greats.
Brighton Rock (1947)
There is something really rather sinister about Brighton Rock, largely thanks to Richard Attenborough's performance as Pinkie, the teenage gang leader, serial-killer and general hoodlum. Critics called Attenborough's menacing performance one of the “scariest noir villains of all time” and he certainly established himself as a compelling screen presence.
The Great Escape (1963)
Attenborough's big-screen profile was dramatically increased by his appearance in prisoner-of-war thriller The Great Escape. Appearing alongside Steve McQueen and James Garner, Attenborough's role as “Big X”, the mastermind behind the escape, earned him recognition in the United States and arguably laid the foundations for his later Hollywood career.
Among the eight Oscars won by Gandhi was the Best Director award: surely no higher endorsement of Attenborough's skill behind the camera, as well as in front of it. With its thousands of non-CGI extras, and 3 hour running time, Gandhi was perhaps the last true historical epic and Attenborough's finest work as director. As well as directing the film, Attenborough produced the film which starred Ben Kingsley and which was well-received by critics and audiences alike.
Jurassic Park (1993)
It was in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park that Attenborough found a new generation of fans, starring as John Hammond, the passionate dinosaur enthusiast with a vision to see dinosaurs walk the Earth once again. A film which still thrills to this day, Attenborough reprised his role in the sequel Jurassic Park: The Lost World. Spielberg has paid tribute to Attenborough, saying he was the “perfect ringmaster to bring the dinosaurs back to life. He was a dear friend and I am standing in an endless line of those who completely adored him.”
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
A remake of a remake, Attenborough starred as Kris Kringle, the man said to be the real Santa Claus in the Christmas fantasy Miracle on 34th Street. A kindly old man with warmth and a genuine heart, Attenborough's performance demonstrated his huge acting range: who'd have thought a serial killer would end up playing Father Christmas? As Attenborough says in the film. “If you can't believe, if you can't accept anything on faith, then you're doomed for a life dominated by doubt.”
Lord Attenborough died just a few days short of his 91st birthday and enjoyed a varied, and respected career, campaigning for charity and other causes outside of his film work. Actress Mia Farrow tweeted: “Richard Attenborough was the kindest man I have ever had the privilege of working with. A Prince. RIP 'Pa' - and thank you”. A sentiment which is shared by many on the loss of one of British cinema's finest.