Star Archive

Sir Alec Guinness (1914 - 2000)

Alec Guinness was one of the great acting knights of the century. His reputation is sometimes overshadowed by that of the great triumvirate of Olivier, Gielgud and Richardson and it is true that his theatre work is slightly less distinguished than that of the big three, but when it comes to film acting, he far outstrips them.

He was born illegitimate but his mother managed to send him to boarding school. From there he got a job as a copywriter, but always wanted to act. He enrolled at Fay Compson's studio until his money ran out and then started the long slog up the bill. He can be seen as an extra in Evensong, but apart from that he ignored the cinema. By the time war broke out he was a respected classical actor and had played Hamlet at the Old Vic. 

He saw war service with the Royal Navy and entered films properly with the small but memorable role of Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations. For the next fifteen years or so he was Britain's premier film actor. Other actors may have been bigger stars but he had the range to tackle a huge variety of roles and styles. 

When his golden period ended, he went back to the theatre and took small but significant parts in a variety of films. The most important of these films was Star Wars. His tiny percentage of the gross made him very rich and meant he didn't have to take any work he didn't fancy. His role as Smiley in two television adaptations of John Le Carre novels was also very well regarded. 

The most important element in his characterisations was the humanity with which he imbued them. From the innocent scientist in The Man in the White Suit to the mad Colonel in The Bridge on the River Kwai, his characters were utterly believable. Even when he played all those D'Ascoynes in Kind Hearts and Coronets each one had a reality within the style of the film.  

Of course, with such a large range, there is the odd embarrassment. His Fagin was widely criticised for being a Jewish stereotype (though that is how he is in the novel) and he got a lot of stick for blacking up for A Passage to India. And he was never going to pull off playing Hitler. But these are minor quibbles compared to the embarrassments the Big Three put themselves through in the last part of their careers.

Ultimately, when the theatre performances of his contemporaries are no longer within living memory, Guinness's classic film performances will remain to entrance future generations.

Production still from Oliver TwistAlec Guinness on the set of The Lavender Hill MobPoster for The LadykillersStill from Malta StoryAlec Guinness in The Horse's Mouth


1934 Evensong
1946  Great Expectations
1948 Oliver Twist
1949 Kind Hearts and Coronets
1949 A Run for Your Money
1950 Last Holiday
1950 The Mudlark
1951 The Man in the White Suit
1951 The Lavender Hill Mob
1952 The Card
1953 The Captain's Paradise
1953 The Malta Story
1954 Father Brown
1955 To Paris With Love
1955 The Prisoner
1955 The Ladykillers
1956 The Swan
1957 Barnacle Bill
1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai
1958 The Scapegoat
1958 The Horse's Mouth
1959 Our Man in Havana
1960 Tunes of Glory
1961 A Majority of One
1962 HMS Defiant
1962 Lawrence of Arabia
1963 The Fall of the Roman Empire
1965 Situation Hopeless but not Serious
1965 Dr. Zhivago
1966 The Quiller Memorandum
1966 Hotel Paradiso
1967 The Comedians
1970 Scrooge
1970 Cromwell
1972 Brother Sun, Sister Moon
1973 Hitler, the Last Ten Days
1976 Murder by Death
1977 Star Wars
1977 To See Such Fun
1980 The Empire Strikes Back
1980 Raise the Titanic
1983 Return of the Jedi
1983 Lovesick
1984 A Passage to India
1988 Little Dorrit
1988 A Handful of Dust
1991 Kafka
1993 A Foreign Field

 Alec Guinness at Amazon UK

 Alec Guinness at Amazon US