Anthony Quayle, the supporting actor who led from the front

Anthony Quayle 04When I think back and try to work out a personal short list of the greatest British films of the twentieth century and the directors and performers that made them special there’s quite a few names that keep cropping up.

Lewis Gilbert, David Lean, Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton, the list is almost endless. But if I had to pick one, someone who was an all-rounder, someone who has written, directed and performed on stage, on both the big and small screens, someone who became the backbone of British film and theatre, then there would be few who could claim to have the same résumé as the late Sir Anthony Quayle.

Anthony first trod the boards proper when he joined The Old Vic in 1932. From there he launched a career that saw him appear on stage next to John Gielgud in the highly acclaimed 1937 production of Richard II and his direction of play, Crime and Punishment at the Globe Theatre in 1959 drew a great deal of praise.

The Guns of Navarone Cast

However, for many he will be most fondly remembered for his feature films. Anthony was seldom the leading man in conventional terms, often cast as a supporting actor. But his performances became central to most productions, a vital contribution that often elevated productions to even greater heights. Of his cinema appearances, the films that have caught my imagination the most have been Ice Cold in Alex, The Guns of Navarone, Lawrence of Arabia and The Battle of the River Plate.

One of my biggest thrills was to meet Sir Anthony in 1984 and record an interview with him for the radio. One of my biggest regrets was not getting to see him on stage, because, as is sometimes the way, we remember great performers because of their popular film or TV outings, but some of their finest work is often on the live stage, which by its very nature means that only a fraction of a film of TV show’s audience will ever get to see it.

For me, Anthony Quayle was one of those highly reliable supporting performers, who generally ended up supporting from the front.

STAGE DIRECTION is a new documentary produced by RABBIT & SNAIL FILMS based around two radio interviews recorded with Anthony Quayle and Roy Kinnear in 1984.

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