Albert Finney: the most almighty physical screen presence

Finney was the face of the vibrant new wave of working-class postwar British cinema, and maintained a fierce vitality in his distinguished later performances

From moon-faced youth to weatherbeaten later years, Albert Finney was an almighty force on screen: a clenched fist of physicality, a battering ram of uningratiating power, almost priapic with defiant confidence, with the battle-readiness of a prop forward or sumo wrestler. His presence was very different from the long-limbed spindliness or feline charm of contemporaries such as Peter O’Toole, Tom Courtenay and Terence Stamp, those other young lions of postwar British cinema who showed that regional and working-class voices had a new, real power. And, in retirement, Salford-born Finney lived long enough to hear his name invoked as a lost hero by those enraged that, in the 21st century, working-class actors were being marginalised in Britain once again.

Finney was a unique actor, although it was his fate to be compared, wonderingly, to other people. Ken Tynan famously reeled away from Finney’s Rada graduation show calling the teenager a new Spencer Tracy. Later in his theatrical career, he was dubbed a new Olivier. I would say that he was Britain’s Jean Gabin. But none of that is quite right. He was a brilliant and utterly distinctive actor, deeply rooted in a theatrical tradition but capable of naturalistic performances, a product of Britain’s vital new “kitchen-sink” cinema. And as a producer, Finney gave early breaks to Tony Scott and Stephen Frears, helped get Lindsay Anderson’s If… off the ground, and was a driving force behind Mike Leigh’s first feature, Bleak Moments. Continue reading

Whatever happened to the working-class heroes of British film?

ALBERT FINNEY

John Lennon’s voice dripped with bitter irony when he sang that a working-class hero is something to be. In the years immediately preceding The Beatles’ peak, though, British filmgoers were familiar with such figures in a way they would never be again. The starting-gun was fired in 1959, as Richard Burton’s bedsit-dwelling, jazz-playing misanthrope stalked through the Derby of Look Back In Anger, and Laurence Harvey destroyed himself and his lover Simone Signoret by trying to crash across the class divide in Room at the Top.

A new wave of kitchen-sink realism then introduced a generation of charismatic working-class stars: Albert Finney in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Rita Tushingham in A Taste of Honey (1961), Tom Courtenay in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), and Richard Harris in This Sporting Life (1963).

A working-class actor or writer was certainly something to be then, in a prelude to the working-class, Beatles-led British music which lit up the world. Michael Caine and Terence Stamp became the more glamorous acting equivalents of that later, liberated surge. [ . . . ]

Read more: THE INDEPENDENT Whatever happened to the working-class heroes of British film? | The Independent