Ridley Scott was born in South Shields on 30 November 1937. While studying at the Royal College of Art in London, he directed a short film, Boy and Bicycle (completed 1965), starring his brother Tony (later, also a director) and his parents. Later, he obtained funding from the BFI to complete post-production, including a snippet of score from John Barry, demonstrating his ambitions for technical perfection even at this early stage. While working as an art director at BBC-TV, he began freelancing as a director of commercials (a sideline he has always kept up).
He directed a half-hour version of Paths of Glory (US, d. Stanley Kubrick, 1957) in 1963 as classwork at a BBC directors' course and then handled episodes of drama series ranging from Softly, Softly (1966-69) to Adam Adamant Lives! (1966-67). However, he did not seriously pursue television directing, founding Ridley Scott Associates in 1965. He worked primarily in commercials for fifteen years, then made his feature debut with the Joseph Conrad adaptation The Duellists (1977).
From the first, Scott intended to be an international director, and The Duellists is as scrambled in national identity as Conrad himself: a British producer (David Puttnam), a Polish-English literary source, a French historical setting, American stars (Keith Carradine, Harvey Keitel) and a British supporting cast. The film attracted enough notice, especially for its visual qualities, to land Scott Alien (1979), an American science fiction horror film made in Britain, with an interesting clash of American and British character actors aboard a haunted ship in deep space.
Subsequently, Scott has been a classic outsider-in-America director, and drawn to stories of people voyaging in worlds not their own: a Replicant on Earth, an American cop in Japan, Christopher Columbus discovering the New World, women breaking free in the American West, a Spaniard in Ancient Rome, a woman coping with the macho ethos of the US Army, Hannibal Lecter in Florence, US Marines in Mogadishu. Scott has combined reputations as a visionary and a crowd-pleaser, surviving several major flops to re-establish his A-list status with the box-office and Academy Awards hit Gladiator (US, 2000). None of his films has a British setting, with the possible exception of the fairytale Legend (US, 1985), which imports Tom Cruise into a Tolkien-like imagined European world.
Nevertheless, Scott has contributed two key images of national self-image to the British consciousness: in his ads for Strongbow cider, a first experiment with the romantic mediaeval look of Legend, and for Hovis bread, with a gravely nostalgic Yorkshire voice-over and sweetly mournful Dvorák music as a child struggles up a cobbled hill in some pre-war Arcadia of long shorts and flat caps.
Kim Newman, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors