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TCM Memorial Tribute: Albert Finney
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TCM Memorial Tribute: Albert Finney - 7/25

Albert Finney, who passed away in February of this year, was the last of a generation of great British actors that also included Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris and Alan Bates. Virile and earthy, with a charisma that brought sympathy to his rough-hewn characters, Finney projected a working-class vitality and directness.

Finney enjoyed a long and fruitful career in film, television and theater, and he was beloved by audiences everywhere. He was invariably the bright spot of any project he undertook. The distinguished British actor Sir Alec Guinness once described him as "a shiny English apple."

Finney was born in Salford, Lancashire in England, on May 9, 1936. He was the third child and first son of Albert Finney Sr., an illegal bookmaker; and Alice Hobson Finney, who had left school at age 14 to work in a mill and help support her family.

Finney Jr. graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1956, whereupon he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. After acting roles on the BBC and with the Birmingham Rep, he made his first appearance on the London stage in 1958 in Charles Laughton's production of Jane Arden's The Party. Following more television work, including playing Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1959, Finney replaced an ailing Laurence Olivier at Stratford in the title role of Coriolanus. His breakthrough year was 1960: He made his film debut playing Olivier's son in The Entertainer, secured movie stardom in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and played the lead role in Billy Liar on stage and British television.

Finney's prolific and illustrious career included more than 40 movies. He earned five Oscar nominations (although never the award itself) for Tom Jones (1963), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), The Dresser (1983), Under the Volcano (1984) and Erin Brockovich (2000, Supporting Actor). The full list of his major acting awards and nominations is voluminous, containing more than 50 entries.

In addition to those shown below, many of his other significant films include: Two for the Road (1967), Charlie Bubbles (1968), Scrooge (1970), Shoot the Moon (1982), Orphans (1987), Miller's Crossing (1990), A Man of No Importance (1994) and Big Fish (2003). His final film was Skyfall (2012).

Finney had at least 15 major theater credits including such titles as Luther, Black Comedy, Miss Julie, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Hamlet, The Cherry Orchard, Orphans and Art. His many impressive TV roles include that of Winston Churchill in The Gathering Storm, which brought him a slew of awards including an Emmy Award as Outstanding Lead Actor.

He was married three times. With first wife Jane Wenham (1957-61) he had a son, Simon, who works in the film industry as a camera operator and has a long list of movie and TV credits. Finney's other marriages were to French actress Anouk Aimée (1970-78) and travel agent Penelope Delmage (2006-his death).

Diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2007, Finney underwent surgery and chemotherapy. He died of a chest infection on February 7, 2019. On the occasion of his death, his friend and fellow actor Tom Courtenay commented that "Albert didn't need any tricks as an actor. He just came on with a bit of sunshine."

Here are the movies in TCM's tribute.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), starring Finney as Arthur, a young machinist in Nottingham who spends his weekends carousing, was a significant entry in the British New Wave of filmmaking. Tony Richardson produced, Karel Reisz directed and Alan Sillitoe wrote the screenplay and the novel on which it is based. Shirley Anne Field costars as Finney's girlfriend, and Rachel Roberts is the older, married woman with whom he has an affair. Critic Philip Horne writes in The Telegraph that, as conveyed by Finney, Arthur's "mixture of aggression and decency makes him one of the great characters of British cinema."

Tom Jones (1963) affords Finney another great role as the title character of Henry Fielding's classic 18th century novel, which was adapted by John Osborne and directed with great imagination by Tony Richardson. A lovable rascal who is stigmatized as a bastard, Tom loves the gentle Sophie (Susannah York) but becomes entangled with the lusty Lady Bellaston (Joan Greenwood). This bawdy classic was nominated for 10 Oscars (including one for Finney and three for supporting actresses) and won four (including Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay).

Night Must Fall (1964) is a reworking of the Emlyn Williams classic stage thriller, originally filmed in 1937 with Robert Montgomery as the ingratiating bellhop who is really a psychopathic killer. Finney takes on the role in this remake, adapted by Clive Exton and directed by Karel Reisz. Reaction was divided between those who resented changes made to the original and others who appreciated Reisz's more explicit style and Finney's compelling performance.

Annie (1982), a big-screen version of the Broadway hit based on Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie comic strip, stars Finney as Daddy Warbucks, along with Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan, Tim Curry as Rooster and Bernadette Peters as Lily. The film marks the only time in John Huston's 40-year directing career that he helmed a musical. Critic Roger Ebert wrote that, "If there is a center to the film, it belongs to Albert Finney."

The Dresser (1983) is a British film version of Ronald Harwood's stage success, adapted by Harwood himself and directed by Peter Yates. Finney plays Sir, a once-great, now faltering old-school actor performing at a regional theater in Britain during World War II. His slavishly devoted and longsuffering dresser, Norman, is played by Tom Courtenay. These two brilliantly matched actors were nominated for Oscars, BAFTA Awards and Golden Globes for their performances.

by Roger Fristoe

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