On February 23, 2018, director Lewis Gilbert died at the age of 97 in Monaco. Over a career spanning 60 years, he has continued to reinvent himself and work on exciting projects ranging from the film Alfie to three of the James Bond franchise's most successful and iconic films. He leaves behind a filmography that is unmatched in its diversity, capturing an excitement for what the medium can bring to entertainment. Even in his later years, he would produce memorable films like Educating Rita. Still, no matter what he would become known for, he brought a personality to his work that made him one of the most celebrated British directors of his generation.
Gilbert was born on March 6, 1920 in Hackney, England to a pair of performing artist parents. He would quickly become associated with their traveling act, even being hidden in suitcases to avoid paying fees for his travel. By the age of five, he was performing his own act that would eventually lead to him being the breadwinner. When his father died of tuberculosis when Gilbert was seven, he took on acting more immediately as a job. He became a film extra and appeared in a variety of small uncredited parts, including one at the age of 17 in The Divorce of Lady X opposite Laurence Olivier. By 1939 however, he was convinced that he wanted to be a director and worked on Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn. When World War II started, he joined the Royal Air Force's film unit to create films for the military.
As his career went on, he eventually made dramas. This included Alfie in 1966, which was a big hit and starred Michael Caine. The film went on to receive a Best Picture nomination. It was a film that also featured such cinematic techniques as having the characters talk to the camera. The film also won a Jury Special Prize at Cannes Film Festival. This lead him to various opportunities that unfortunately didn't come to pass. Gilbert claims that among his biggest regrets is not directing the musical version of Oliver!, which he helped create (though he recommended Carol Reed to take over). This was over disputes with the studio, who had him direct The Adventurers instead (of which he disliked). The film went on to win Best Picture. In another moment of tragic irony, Gilbert was offered to film The Godfather, but passed when the budget was $2 million and he wanted $7 million. That film also went on to win Best Picture.
Following Alfie, he was also offered to direct the James Bond film You Only Live Twice in 1967. He enjoyed the series enough to do two more films, including The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Despite his dive into big budgeted spectacle, he would return to smaller films with films like Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine. In his later years, he became a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.). He also received British Film Industry's highest honor as a FEllow of the British Film Institute. He has since gone public with the regrets from his earlier career, admitting that he disliked working with Orson Welles on Ferry to Hong Kong and wished that he had made Oliver.
Gilbert was a filmmaker with vast talents, of which he brought to every project. While it's likely that he will be remembered for his indelible contributions to the James Bond franchise, he definitely left behind plenty of work in dramas and comedy as well that are worthy of study. His work on Alfie set the bar high for what he could achieve as a director, and he only improved in the years since. He will be missed, though his influence lives on and the impact that he's made on cinema continues to show in those that have come after. He was a one of a kind director, and one whose work is hard to forget.