Sunday, 15 December 2013

"Breeding Speaks to Breeding" - farewell Peter O'Toole

The world said good bye to a giant of stage and screen today with the passing of Peter O'Toole. Famous from the start for his complex portrayal of T.E. Lawrence in David Lean's 1962 epic, he acted prolifically on stage and in film, with no fewer than eight Oscar nominations as well as winning a BAFTA, an Emmy and four Golden Globe awards. In the films Beckett and The Lion in Winter, he brought to life two distinctly different portrayals of King Henry the Second, while he was infinitely more sympathetic in Goodbye Mr Chips.

But it was the role of Jack Gurney, the accidental14th Earl of Gurney, in The Ruling Class which gave him perhaps the fullest opportunity to demonstrate his range of characterisation and his penchant for satire. Without plot spoiling, his speech to the nobility on taking his place in the House of Lords splendidly destroys the whole conceit of inherited authority.

He grew up in Leeds, of mixed Scottish and Irish parentage and set out as a journalist on the Yorkshire Evening Post before being called up to do national service in the Royal Navy. It was with the encouragement of an officer there that he entered theatre on leaving service via a scholarship to the Royal Academy.

Although dogged by ill health and marital breakdown, complicated by drinking problems, he said he had a good life and was both surprised and grateful for it. With friends numbering Richard Burton and Richard Harris as well as his long and successful career, few would demur. He will be long remembered and his work enjoyed by posterity.

And The Ruling Class remains as pertinent now as at its release in 1972.

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