Dayton Daily News
From ‘Angry Young Man’ to a Hollywood star
Albert Finney, the LONDON — British stage and film actor who defined an era’s rage and frustration in dramas of blue-collar realism and social revolt and who went on to find stardom in Hollywood, died Thursday in London. He was 82.
His death, at the Royal Marsden Hospital, was confirmed by Jon Oakley, a partner at Simkins, a law firm that represents the Finney family. The cause was a chest infection, he said.
Finney became one of his generation’s finest and most honored actors over six decades, a frequent nominee for Oscars and Britain’s equivalent of one, the BAFTA; a star as comfortable in movies like “Tom Jones,” “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Under the Volcano” and “Erin Brockovich” as he was on the classical British stage.
He first came to wide attention alongside contemporaries like Alan Bates and Tom Courtenay, actors collectively known as “angry young men” — counterparts to the playwrights and novelists who shared that sobriquet. Together they helped turn Britain’s gaze inward, toward gritty industrial landscapes, where a generation of disaffected youth railed against the class system and the claustrophobic trap it laid for workers locked in deadend jobs.
Finney was propelled to early stardom by “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning,” a low-budget 1960 film steeped in smoggy vistas of smokestacks and deprivation and shot in stark black and white. Finney played Arthur Seaton, a restless young man caught in sexual adventures and bouts of beer-drinking that are supposed to distract him from his job at a cavernous bicycle factory.
His broad-voweled northern accent injected a powerful authenticity into the part, and his acting style drew favorable comparisons to such titans of the English stage as Laurence Olivier. Yet he preferred wealth to accolades, according to his biographer, Quentin Falk.
“At the turn of the Sixties, Finney was the screen’s incarnation of the new working-class hero,” Falk wrote in “Albert Finney in Character,” published in 1992 and republished in 2015. “In the theater, he was barely 20 when he was hailed as the ‘new Olivier.’ Yet instead of pursuing either mantle, he became a millionaire and dated beautiful women on several continents.”
Finney went on to play an eclectic array of movie roles, from the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in Sidney Lumet’s star-studded version of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” in 1975, to the pugnacious lawyer Edward L. Masry, who hires the crusading title character ( Julia Roberts) in “Erin Brockovich” (2000), Steven Soderbergh’s tale of a power company pollution scandal.
But in 2007, Finney dropped out of sight, disclosing only in 2011 that he had been struggling for four years with cancer. After his return to acting, he took small parts in the “The Bourne Legacy” and the James Bond movie “Skyfall,” both in 2012.
Finney was nominated five times for an Oscar, four for best actor: as the title character in “Tom Jones,” Tony Richardson’s 1963 adaptation of the Henry Fielding novel; as Poirot in “Murder on the Orient Express”; as an aging, embittered actor in Peter Yates’ 1983 version of “The Dresser”; and as an alcoholic British consul in a small town in Mexico in John Huston’s “Under the Volcano.” His role in “Erin Brockovich” earned him a best-supporting actor nod.
He was also nominated 13 times for a BAFTA and won twice — as “most promising newcomer” in 1960 and, in 2002, as Winston Churchill in “The Gathering Storm,” a BBC-HBO television movie that also brought him a best-actor Emmy.
He never won an Oscar, however, and made a point of not attending the glittering award ceremonies.
“It’s a very long evening and not exactly my idea of a good night out,” Falk quoted him as saying — “sat there for five fours in a nonsmoking, non-drinking environment.”
He is survived by his wife, his son and two grandchildren.