The Angry Young Man Turned Statesman of Film, Theatre and Television, 1936-2019

There’s only one man who could play the keeper of the Bond estate in Skyfall, and that was Sean Connery.  But when Connery refused the part, there was only one option: Albert Finney.  Thankfully, he chose to accept that mission.  Finney, the adored British actor hailing from that nebulous time just preceding New Hollywood and after the Golden Age of Movies, has the reputation of an angry young man 

I’m by no means an Albert Finney completist, having not yet seen some of his most notable works.  Tom Jones, The Dresser, Murder on the Orient Express have eluded me this far- but not for lack of interest or ongoing cultural respect.  Even in our age of Oscar winners like Crash and Birdman, Tom Jones remains on of the most divisive Best Picture winners. Sidney Lumet’s 1974 Murder on the Orient Express is continually admired by fellow film critics, some of whom are a decade younger than I am.  (I’m 45 at the time of this writing).  

But for me and my own experience, the immediate connections are with  his role as the senior lawyer in Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich, and the dying father who tells tall tales in Tim Burton’s Big FishThen, though…!  I remember his one-two collaborations with director John Huston.  For someone my age, it’s understandable that his turn as the softened war profiteer “Daddy” Warbucks in 1982’s musical Annie would be a cemented thing.  His turn as the terminally drunken British consul in the Malcolm Lowry adaptation Under the Volcano is a true and rightful achievement.  Via Huston’s aged direction, Finney anchored an incredibly difficult character, and by extension a big-screen realization that many had deemed unfilmable.  Under the Volcano isn’t an easy watch, but it’s the kind of thing that’s utter catnip to serious actors.  This is Finney proving his stripes, which, of course, he’d done many times prior.   No less than filmmakers Tony Richardson, Stanley Donen, Joel and Ethan Coen, Alan J. Pakula, Peter Yates, Alan Parker, Ridley Scott can bear that out.

The name “Albert Finney” on a credits list is a mark of quality.  Finney didn’t take any schlocky roles nor “working actor” parts.  Whether on screen, stage or television (and he did all to maximum effect), Finney was tastefully selective to the end.  In that regard, to clarify something mentioned earlier, it’s to his credit that he wasn’t Sean Connery- at least as far as his filmography is concerned.  

And so, the sky has indeed fallen on the life and career of Albert Finney.  Which isn’t to say we can’t continue to enjoy and appreciate the body of work he leaves behind.  We can, and most certainly will.  As his “Daddy” Warbucks says, “Let’s all go to the movies!”

Jim Tudor

Albert Finney in John Huston’s “Under the Volcano” (1984).

My sister loved the movie Annie(1982) and it seemed to play continuously in our VCR.  While I remember her belting out the songs, I secretly loved the performances of both Carol Burnette, but also that of Albert Finney as “Daddy” Warbucks.  He was loud, pompous, direct, with a tough exterior, especially seen in his character’s interactions with FDR in the film.  He was also vulnerable, and charming as little orphan Annie grew on him, making it a jarring contrast of tough and tender, with the transition being most pronounced when he finally, and forcefully, uses Annie’s catchphrase, “leapin’ lizards!”.  This one performance was the foundational one by which I viewed him as subsequent characters all contained this same level of multilayered performances of tough and tender that enhanced any film he appeared in.  

Erin Brockovich earned him additional accolades, but the film I connected with the most was his role in Tim Burton’s Big Fish.  It was here, portraying a man whose experiences were truly larger than life, but over time simply dismissed by his son who had grown cynical about any of them even being true because of the grandiose way his father had spun them. Finney was able to dive headfirst into the role of a man prone to extreme exaggeration, but also create an extremely grounded human being facing his own mortality, who simultaneously still projects the confidence, charisma, and bravado of a man who truly did experience all he said he had, in one form or another.  The bottom line was that no matter the role, Albert Finney was simply likeable, relatable, and a force to be reckoned with on screen, even in the quietest moments of a story.  His death is a loss that will be felt beyond that of his friends and family, but by the cinema loving community as a whole.

Erik Yates

Finney with Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich” (2000).

“RIP Albert Finney. He is more known now for his late career comeback, especially with his knockout performance in Big Fish. But I loved his English working class performances from the 60s, notably Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which I used the title of as a model for [my own film] Tuesday Night and Wednesday Morning.

Paul Hibbard