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Fiennes, Ralph (1962-)


Main image of Fiennes, Ralph (1962-)

Considering how utterly English Suffolk-born Ralph Fiennes seems in his gentlemanly, held-down sensuality, it is surprising to note that only four films of his prolific 1990s output are British.

The English Patient (d. Anthony Minghella, 1996), which established him as a thinking woman's heart-throb and won him both Oscar and BAFTA nominations, may seem creatively British in terms of chief personnel, but is US-financed; his next, Oscar and Lucinda (d. Gillian Armstrong, 1997), in which he undermined his romantic image by playing a gawky, ginger-haired eccentric, is a US-Australian production.

Arguably, though, his finest work to date has been in British films as two men tormented by unexpected love: the aristocratic dilettante in Onegin (UK/US, 1999), directed by sister Martha Fiennes; and Graham Greene's embittered author in The End of the Affair (d. Neil Jordan, 1999). His other US films include Schindler's List (d. Steven Spielberg, 1993) as the Nazi Commandant, a role for which he famously put on 30 pounds, and the cheating contestant in Quiz Show (d. Robert Redford, 1994). The record for versatility and serious application would be hard to match in the late 20th century cinema.

The eldest of a gifted family (Joseph Fiennes is his brother), he had art school training before RADA, and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1988. He has stacked up an awesome list of theatre performances, including a Tony-winning Hamlet on Broadway (1995), with Francesca Annis (for whom he left wife Alex Kingston) as Gertrude, and a double at the Almeida Theatre, London, with Richard II and Coriolanus (2000).

Biography: Ralph Fiennes: The Biography by York Membery (André Deutsch, 1997)

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Cinema

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