Francis “Frank” Finlay, CBE (6 August 1926 – 30 January 2016) was an English stage, film and television actor. He was Oscar-nominated for his supporting role in Olivier’s 1965 film of Othello and got his first leading role on television in 1971 as Casanova, which led to an appearance on The Morecambe and Wise Show.
Finlay was born in Farnworth, Lancashire, the son of Margaret and Josiah Finlay, a butcher. He was educated at St. Gregory the Great School but left at the age of fourteen and then trained as a butcher himself, gaining a City and Guilds Diploma in the trade.
Finlay began his stage career in rep before graduating from RADA. There followed several roles in productions at the Royal Court Theatre, such as in the Arnold Wesker trilogy. He was particularly associated with the National Theatre, especially during the years when Laurence Olivier was director. Playing Iago opposite Olivier’s title character in John Dexter‘s 1965 production of Othello and the film adaptation of that production (also 1965), Finlay’s performance as the NCO left theatre critics unmoved, but later received high praise for the film version and he received an Academy Award nomination. Critic John Simon wrote that the closeups in the film afforded Finlay the chance to give a more subtle and effective performance than he had onstage.
At the Chichester Festival Theatre, he played roles ranging from the First Gravedigger in Hamlet to Josef Frank in Weapons of Happiness. He also had parts in The Party, Plunder, Saint Joan, Hobson’s Choice,Amadeus (as Salieri), Much Ado About Nothing (as Dogberry), The Dutch Courtesan, The Crucible, Mother Courage, and Juno and the Paycock.
Television and film
|This section relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (January 2016)|
One of his earliest television roles was in the family space adventure serial Target Luna (1960), as journalist Conway Henderson. Finlay’s first major success on television was in the title role of Dennis Potter‘s BBC 2 series Casanova (1971). Following this, he portrayed Adolf Hitler in The Death of Adolf Hitler (1972) for London Weekend Television.
He portrayed Richard Roundtree‘s nemesis, Amafi, in Shaft in Africa (1973) before playing Porthos for director Richard Lester in The Three Musketeers (also 1973), The Four Musketeers (1975) and The Return of the Musketeers (1989). He has also appeared in several other films, including The Wild Geese (1978).
He went on to star as the father in the once controversial Bouquet of Barbed Wire (1976), and its sequel Another Bouquet (1977), and he was reunited with his Bouquet of Barbed Wire co-star, Susan Penhaligon, when he played Van Helsing in the BBC Count Dracula (also 1977), with Louis Jourdan. He appeared in two Sherlock Holmes films asInspector Lestrade, solving the Jack the Ripper murders (A Study in Terror, 1965, and Murder by Decree, 1979). He also played a role in an episode of the Granada Televisionadaptation of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett, in which his son Daniel also played a minor role. Finlay appeared on American television in A Christmas Carol (1984) playing Marley’s Ghost opposite George C. Scott‘s Ebenezer Scrooge. He also guest-starred as the title character in an episode of The Black Adder (“The Witchsmeller Pursuivant“, 1983).
Finlay played Sancho Panza opposite Rex Harrison‘s Don Quixote in the 1973 British made-for-television film The Adventures of Don Quixote, for which he won a BAFTA award. He won another BAFTA award that year for his performance as Voltaire in the BBC TV production of Candide.
Finlay played the role of Justice Peter Mahon in the award-winning New Zealand television serial Erebus: The Aftermath (1988). In the Roman Polanski film The Pianist (2002), he portrayed Adrien Brody‘s character’s father.
He appeared in the TV series Life Begins (2004–06) and as Jane Tennison‘s father in the last two stories of Prime Suspect (2006 and 2007). In 2007, he guest-starred in the Doctor Who audio adventure 100. In November 2008, Finlay appeared in the eleventh episode of the BBC drama series Merlin, as “Anhora, Keeper of the Unicorns”.
Private life and honours
Finlay met his future wife, Doreen Shepherd, when they were both members of the Farnworth Little Theatre. They had three children, Stephen, Cathy and Daniel, and they lived in Shepperton, Middlesex. They were married until she died in 2005. A devout Roman Catholic, he was a member of the British Catholic Stage Guild (now known as the Catholic Association of Performing Arts).
- BBC News, “Actor Frank Finlay dies aged 89”, 31 January 2016. Accessed 1 February 2016
- Gary Morecambe, Eric Morecambe: Life’s Not Hollywood It’s Cricklewood. BBC Books, 2004. p 210.
- “Frank Finlay profile”. Filmreference.com. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
- “Session Timeout – Academy Awards® Database – AMPAS”. Awardsdatabase.oscars.org. Retrieved 2016-01-31.
- The Broadway League. “Frank Finlay profile”. IBDB.com. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
- Josephdreams. “Frank Finlay website”. Frank Finlay. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
- “BAFTA Television Awards”. Bafta.org. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
- Deborah Ross (24 February 1998). “Interview: Frank Finlay: Getting over the barbed wire”. The Independent. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
- The London Gazette: . 30 December 1983.
- “Frank Finlay dead: British Oscar-nominated actor who played opposite Olivier dies aged 89”. Independent.co.uk. 30 January 2016. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
- “Actor Frank Finlay dies aged 89”. BBC News.com. 30 January 2016. Retrieved 31 January 2016.