Sunday, January 31, 2016

R.I.P. Frank Finlay (1928-2016)

Frank Finlay in Othello
On January 30, 2016 at the age of 89, actor Frank Finlay died in Weybridge, England from heart failure. Having worked in stage, movie, and TV, he remained a frequent actor until 2009 when he retired. He is likely best known for starring opposite Laurence Olivier in the screen adaptation of Othello. His other credits include appearances in The Longest Day, Bouquet of Barbed Wire, and Roman Polanski's The Pianist. What he leaves behind is an impressive career spanning over 50 years as a character actor who complimented his supporting cast very well. 

Finlay was born on August 6, 1926 in Farnworth, England. He attended St. Gregory the Great School for most of his childhood before leaving to focus on a career similar to that of his father's: a butcher. He received a City and Guilds permit after starting at age 14. He transitioned into theater around 1951 and starred in productions such as Miranda, of which he was constantly accused of being a perfectionist. He would later go on to star in productions for Royal Court Theater and Chichester Festival Theater. 

During his time at National Theater, he starred opposite Olivier in a production of Othello as Iago. By some coincidence, the critics were unmoved by his stage performance. However, when Olivier did a filmed adaptation, the opinions changed drastically. This may have been benefited by the use of close-ups, which were said to allow his character to have more of a tenderness when he emoted. The resulting performance earned him a Best Supporting Oscar nomination. He would lose to Martin Balsam's performance in A Thousand Clowns

While this was his first major break, Finlay had actually starred in a variety of roles as early as 1962, including a small role in the Normandy Beach epic The Longest Day as Private Coke. Over his career, he would take a variety of intriguing roles, including a portrayal of Adolf Hitler in The Death of Adolf Hitler. He also appeared as the villain in Shaft in Africa. He was also in several films in The Three Musketeers series, including the first directed by Richard Lester. One of his most recent memorable roles came when he starred in The Pianist as Adrien Brody's father. He would retire from film in 2009 after a long and storied career.

Finlay was a devout Roman Catholic and was part of the British Catholic Stage Guild. He lived with his wife Doreen Shepherd until her death in 2005. He also had three children. He also was made a member of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1984, as well as received an Honorary Doctorate from University of Bolton in 2004. He would also appear in random productions until his retirement, including a noteworthy appearance on Merlin as Anhora, Keeper of the Unicorns. While not that well known, he leaves behind an impressive career and one that will delight theater enthusiasts who have claimed him as the best cinematic version of Othello's Iago. Beyond that, he was an actor who stayed busy and did everything he could to make his characters great. For that and many other reasons, he will be greatly missed. 

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