Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton

When compiling my list of best film re-issues of 2018, there could only be one winner. A nine disc collection released to mark the sixtieth anniversary of one of Britain’s most influential ever independent production companies, Woodfall: A Revolution in British Cinema contained three films that featured Albert Finney, who died on Thursday: The Entertainer (Tony Richardson, 1960); Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Karel Reisz, 1960); and Tom Jones (Tony Richardson, 1963).

Finney admitted later that could have went on playing Arthur Seatons for years, but he was keen never to be typecast. Instead, he went on to play an amazingly wide range of characters from Scrooge through to Luther in film and theatre. He was nominated for five Oscars and declined a CBE and a knighthood.

The following ten films should, hopefully, give some indication of the scope of this work.

Thanks for the memories, Albert.


10. Gumshoe (1971)

The directorial debut of Stephen Frears, this is a noirish spoof that features Finney in the role of Eddie Ginley, a bingo caller with aspirations to establish himself as a club comedian and Humphrey Bogart style private eye. Finney is perfect for the part and Billie Whitelaw, Frank Finlay and Fulton Mackay offer top-flight support.

9. The Duellists (1977)

Often forgotten, this Barry Lyndon-esque historical drama is worth seeking out, even though Finney isn’t in a starring role. According to director Ridley Scott, Finney agreed to film a day’s cameo with his payment being a framed cheque for twenty five pounds. It was inscribed: ‘Break glass in case of dire need.’ I’m guessing he never had to.

8. Big Fish (2003)

Over the years, Finney collaborated with many fine directors like Stanley Donen, Steven Soderbergh and Sidney Lumet. Here he is cast by Tim Burton as Edward, a man of many tall tales, including once having caught a massive catfish by using his wedding ring as bait.

7. Erin Brockovich (2000)

Julia Roberts and her plunging necklines might have won the bulk of the plaudits in this absolute smash biographical hit but Finney was a joy to watch as small-town lawyer Ed Masry, the long-suffering boss of the titular character.

Albert Finney - Miller's Crossing

6. Miller’s Crossing (1990)

A noirish gangster movie that is densely textured and audaciously plotted – you better pay close attention. Finney here is Leo O’Bannon, the corrupt Irish kingpin of an unnamed American city during the Prohibition era. In one of the most remarkable scenes in the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre, Leo’s mansion is attacked in a hail of bullets as he listens to the sound of Danny Boy.

5. The Dresser (1983)

A film that brought together two massive stars of 1960s British New Wave Cinema, Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay. The casting proved inspired and both performances earned nominations for Academy Awards, BAFTAs, and Golden Globes.

4. Tom Jones (1963)

An adaptation of Henry Fielding’s novel, this ended up winning four Academy Awards including Best Picture. The success of this historical romp helped propel Finney towards Hollywood stardom and also, along with the success of James Bond, persuaded American production companies to start pumping cash into the British film industry.

Albert Finney - Charlie Bubbles

3. Charlie Bubbles (1968)

I did flick through a number of ‘Albert Finney’s Best Films’ lists in the wake of his death and this failed to appear in any of them. Here Finney plays a writer cut off from his working-class roots, who doesn’t fit into the swanky London life he has carved out for himself either.

Set in Salford and Manchester, this is a surrealist kitchen sink drama with a screenplay by Finney’s fellow Salfordian Shelagh Delaney (take a bow). This was Finney’s directorial debut and was made by his own production company Memorial Enterprises on a budget of £450,000. He never directed another feature film again.

2. Under the Volcano (1984)

Based on Malcolm Lowry’s semi-autobiographical 1947 novel that was judged by many to be unfilmable, this late period John Huston movie told the story of Geoffrey Firmin (Finney), an alcoholic British former consul in the Mexican town of Quauhnahuac on the Day of the Dead in 1938. Finney is immense and if you ever see an actor better portraying being drunk onscreen, please let me know.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960).jpg

1. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

Finney wasn’t author Alan Sillitoe’s idea of Arthur Seaton. The Nottingham born writer, whose novel the film was adapted from, reckoned: ‘My Arthur was taller and thinner in the face.’ Finney himself could see the author’s point and didn’t think he resembled Seaton either. ‘But I did know a few Arthurs in my boyhood in Salford: I’d also worked ten weeks in a factory to fill in the time before drama school.’

Almost sixty years since its release, it’s hard to imagine how controversial the film was – Warwickshire County Council even as far as to ban the already X-rated film – but it remains a landmark British kitchen sink classic, largely due to Finney’s astonishing powerhouse performance.

In 1999, the British Film Institute named the 14th greatest British film of all time. It should have been much higher.

Albert Finney. Born 9 May 1936. Died 7 February 2019.