Nicolas Roeg, who has died aged 90, could, during the 1970s, lay claim to be Britain’s leading director. His output was variable but, taken overall, constituted a forceful, provocative and original body of work.
From his early years as a clapper boy, Roeg had progressed to world-class cinematographer before, by the late 60s, he was ready to direct, although it is unlikely that even the most prescient observer would have anticipated the dazzling quintet of movies that followed.
The first, Performance, on which Roeg was cameraman and co-director with the painter Donald Cammell, and which starred James Fox and Mick Jagger, so shocked its backers, Warner Bros, that they held it up for two years, re-edited it then half-heartedly released it in 1970 to inevitably mixed reviews. Its vivid depiction of gangsters, the London drug scene and sexual ambivalence was heady for the period; and it went from failure to cult classic without ever enjoying success.
Roeg also photographed his haunting solo directorial debut, Walkabout(1971), an altogether more accessible work with a fine screenplay by Edward Bond. It tells of a young girl (Jenny Agutter) marooned with her brother (played by the director’s son Luc) in the Australian outback after their father attempts to kill them and then shoots himself. They encounter a handsome Indigenous Australian boy and the movie becomes a journey of spiritual and sexual awakening.
Concerns with loss, fear and problems of communication were found in his third, most admired, film, Don’t Look Now (1973). Adapted by Allan Scott, a regular Roeg collaborator, from a Daphne du Maurier story, and starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, it blended a horror story with a compelling portrait of a couple’s trauma following the accidental drowning of their daughter.
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