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Unsworth, Geoffrey (1914-1978)


Main image of Unsworth, Geoffrey (1914-1978)

Winner of two Oscars and five BAFTAs, including one for 2001: A Space Odyssey (d. Stanley Kubrick, 1968), Geoffrey Unsworth entered films in his teens, spending five years at Gaumont-British (1932-37). He then joined Technicolor where he worked as assistant or operator on a number of notable British colour films, including The Drum (d. Zoltan Korda, 1938), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (d. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1943), A Matter of Life and Death (d. Powell & Pressburger, 1946).

After his first feature as cinematographer, the dire musical, The Laughing Lady (d. Paul L.Stein, 1946), he worked on the Gainsborough melodramas, The Man Within and Jassy (both d. Bernard Knowles, 1947), his sombre use of colour oddly making these seem less 'colourful' than their black-and-white predecessors; and he had a similarly inclined collaborator in Guy Green on the handsomely subdued Blanche Fury (d. Marc All├ęgret, 1947).

Working with Rank at Pinewood in the '50s, he shot exotically set adventures, such as The Seekers (d. Ken Annakin, 1954), glossy comedies like Value for Money (d. Annakin, 1955), moody black-and-white thrillers like Tiger in the Smoke (d. Roy Ward Baker, 1956), in which he makes the first half-hour genuinely scary in its evocation of a foggy underworld, and Hell Drivers (d. Cy Endfield, 1957), toughly redolent of Midlands quarries and lorries, and contributed to the documentary-like observational plainness of A Night to Remember (d. Roy Ward Baker, 1958).

Subsequently, he was drawn to large-scale affairs like Becket (d. Peter Glenville, 1964), Cromwell (d. Ken Hughes, 1970), A Bridge Too Far (d. Richard Attenborough, 1977) and Superman (d. Richard Donner, 1978), on the one hand, and filmed theatre, such as Othello (d. Stuart Burge, 1965) and The Dance of Death (d. David Giles, 1968), on the other. He died in Brittany while filming Tess (d. Roman Polanski, 1979).

He was awarded the OBE in1976. His wife, Maggie Unsworth, collaborated on the screenplay of Half a Sixpence (UK/US, d. George Sidney, 1967), which he shot, and also worked as a continuity person.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Drum, The (1938)Drum, The (1938)

London Films' first Technicolor feature, a stirring Empire epic

Thumbnail image of Four Feathers, The (1939)Four Feathers, The (1939)

Lavish Technicolor costume epic about an alleged coward fighting in the Sudan

Thumbnail image of Hell Drivers (1957)Hell Drivers (1957)

Uncompromising B movie set in the macho world of ballast truck drivers

Thumbnail image of Jassy (1947)Jassy (1947)

Technicolor melodrama about a gypsy girl with second sight

Thumbnail image of Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The (1943)Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The (1943)

Ambitious wartime saga which infuriated Churchill

Thumbnail image of Matter of Life and Death, A (1946)Matter of Life and Death, A (1946)

Romance fantasy bridging the gap between two worlds

Thumbnail image of Murder on the Orient Express (1974)Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Star-studded adaptation of the Agatha Christie mystery

Thumbnail image of Scott of the Antarctic (1948)Scott of the Antarctic (1948)

Lavish recreation of Captain Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole

Thumbnail image of Simba (1955)Simba (1955)

Love story set amidst the Mau Mau's uprisings in Kenya

Thumbnail image of Spider and the Fly, The (1949)Spider and the Fly, The (1949)

A policeman and a crook discover they have more in common than not

Thumbnail image of Town Like Alice, A (1956)Town Like Alice, A (1956)

WWII drama about women and children forced to trek across Malaya

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