I can’t remember the first time I saw Alec Guiness on the Tv? I’m not entirely sure what film it was either, but I do know that I was mesmerized by his acting. Kind Hearts and Coronets is one of my favourite films of all time. I read that when asked if he wanted to play 4 of the Dascoyne family he replied “Why not 8?” Despite being in his 30’s he managed to play characters of all ages. He made it look so very easy. That calm voice made you feel at ease.
He was very British and played the British man very well. He was lucky to be around at a time when British film was doing well. The Ealing comedies were brilliantly funny and he was well known for starring in them. The lady killers is another film he excels in. That famous scene where he introduces himself to the old dear who soon becomes his landlady is iconic. Peter Sellers is also involved but is outshone by Alec Guiness. The lavender Hill Mob is another fabulous performance and quintessentially British.
A very early part was Mr Pocket along side John Mills in Great Expectations. This was one of the best adaptations of a Dickens novel. All that know me, know how much I love a Dickens novel. He plays the very lively upper class fellow who rooms with Pip and teaches him how to be a gentlemen. He also played the best Fagin on screen, taking the part back to its Jewish roots. He was extremely scary in David Leans adaptation. The make up and prosthetics made him unrecognizable. These two films are British classics.
We then have the masterpiece that is Bridge Over the River Kwai where he plays Colonel Nicholson a colonel who oversees the building of the Japanese railway during WW2. This again is a quintessentially British part and very patriotic. The scenes where he is held and punished in the oven for days on end show an actor at his very best. The power that comes from this film is very rarely seen today. You never see Alec Guiness you only ever see the character. For this he won his first Oscar.
He played a number of roles under David Leans direction and again they were masterpieces. An actor with films such as Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago on his filmography shows you how a great he was. He was the master of disguise.
We see him as British, but he could play many parts. A part he played so well was of an old Indian man called Godbole in a passage to India. This could have been awful and comedic, but it really worked in a very good film.
He was also well known for he his theatre work. I love film, but there is nothing like a great performance at the theatre. He was seen as one of the greatest alongside the likes of Lawrence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and John Guilgud. To be so accomplished on screen and on the stage is extremely rare today. It takes a lot to get it right there and then and not to have the security of having another take to sit on.
I find it a shame that so many see Alec Guiness’ face and only see Obi Wan Kenobi. He was again great as the Jedi, but most of his films were far superior to Star Wars. Fortunately he lived a comfortable life off the back of Star Wars and he was grateful for that although he wasn’t the films biggest fan.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this great man and I hope I have encouraged you to see beyond Star wars and watch the many other great films.
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