Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Brook, Peter (1925-)

Director, Writer

Main image of Brook, Peter (1925-)

Peter Stephen Paul Brook was born in London on 21 March 1925 and was educated at Oxford. World famous for his pioneering work in the theatre, in a spectacular career that encompassed more than half of the 20th century, Brook has also directed some significant films in Britain and France.

He made his debut in the British cinema with an adaptation of John Gay's satirical The Beggars Opera (1953), with Laurence Olivier as the highwayman MacHeath. Brook's next British film, Lord of the Flies (1963), was an adaptation of William Golding's classic literary parable on the descent of society. The film, done very much au naturelle, with not only amateur actors but also amateur cinematographers, deals with a group of public school children stranded on a deserted tropical island. Their initial struggle for survival soon turns into a desperate and deadly power struggle between two groups, one humanist and civilised, the other savage and militarist. Although the film had a limited impact when first released, it has gradually achieved some cult status for its striking naturalism, its skilful editing, and its sensitive cinematic interpretation of Golding's novel.

Two of Brook's most famous theatrical productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company in the '60s, The Marat-Sade by German modernist Peter Weiss and Shakespeare's King Lear, eventually made it into films with very much the same casts as on stage. Of these, King Lear (1970) is arguably Brook's finest accomplishment within the British cinema. His theatre production had been influenced by the epic theatre of Bertolt Brecht and the dark political vision of Polish Shakespeare scholar Jan Kott. These were now complemented with the art-cinema techniques of the French nouvelle vague, hence the discontinuities of editing, the unconventional camera angles, the grainy black-and-white cinematography and the barren landscape of North Jutland in Denmark where the film was shot. Many critics at the time found the film bleak, but it can now be seen as a major cinematic achievement: a brilliant investigation into the meta-cinematic, which tests the limits between the theatrical and the cinematic, most famously when Paul Scofield, as the dying Lear, literally falls out of the frame.

Brook also directed two drama documentaries in Britain: Tell me Lies (1968), about British anti-Vietnam War sentiment in the late '60s, and Meetings with Remarkable Men (1979), the story of Gurdjieff, an Asian mystic. Since the completion of the latter film in 1979, Brook has continued his filmmaking career in France.

Davies, Anthony, Filming Shakespeare's Plays: The Adaptations of Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Peter Brook and Akira Kurosawa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988)
Helfer, Richard and Glenn Loney (eds.), Peter Brook: Oxford to Orghast (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1998)

Erik Hedling, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Benefit of the Doubt (1967)Benefit of the Doubt (1967)

Peter Whitehead's film of Peter Brook's anti-Vietnam stage production 'US'

Thumbnail image of Lord of the Flies (1963)Lord of the Flies (1963)

Peter Brook's adaptation of William Golding's classic novel

Related collections

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Olivier, Laurence (1907-1989)Olivier, Laurence (1907-1989)

Actor, Producer, Director

Thumbnail image of Scofield, Paul (1922-2008)Scofield, Paul (1922-2008)