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Tymon Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Footnotes: Sir Alec Guinness

He was 86 when he died on 5 August in 2000, and in an acting career spanning three decades Sir Alec Guinness immortalised many classic literary roles on screen.

Born in London, Guinness began his acting career on stage at the age of 20. In 1939, he adapted Great Expectations for the stage and played the role of Herbert Pocket. Film director David Lean, who saw the production, would later have Guinness reprise the role for his 1946 screen adaptation and the two would collaborate on a series of films for which Guinness was most well known. With Lean, Guinness would appear in a number of films adapted from novels including his Oscar-winning performance as Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai, Fagin in Oliver Twist, Yevgraf Zhivago in Dr Zhivago from the novel by Boris Pasternak and Professor Godbole in A Passage to India.

Guinness also appeared in the role of James Wormold in Carol Reed’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana and as Major HO Jones in the Elizabeth Taylor/ Richard Burton film of Greene’s The Comedians. He was nominated for an Oscar for his adapted screenplay of Joyce Cary’s novel The Horse’s Mouth in 1958.

In the late ’70s and ’80s, Guinness again garnered acclaim for his portrayal of John Le Carre’s spook George Smiley in the BBC adaptations of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People. Of course, for a younger generation Guinness was immortalised for his role as Obi-Wan Kanobi in George Lucas’s Star Wars films, a role for which he received an Oscar nomination. He was knighted in 1959 and wrote three volumes of his bestselling autobiography from 1985 until his death in 2000.


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