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Stephens, Robert (1931-1995)


Main image of Stephens, Robert (1931-1995)

Films never quite corralled the wayward, lankily raffish persona of Robert Stephens, though there are several remarkable performances that leave one wishing there were more. Trained at the Northern Theatre School, Bradford, he was on the London stage from 1956, as a member of the Royal Court's English Stage Company. He had immense success with the National Theatre in the '60s, notably as Benedick to then-wife Maggie Smith's Beatrice (1965), becoming an associate director of the National in 1969.

The wonder is that he fitted in as many films as he did. His caddish fancy man in A Taste of Honey (d. Tony Richardson, 1961) resonates with some infinitesimally minor public school and a lifetime of conning impressionable women; caddish again, he is one of Smith's swains in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (d. Ronald Neame, 1968); he is a finely flamboyant Pistol in Kenneth Branagh's Henry V (1989); and he gives his one sublime screen performance in the title role in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (US/UK, 1970). Here, all his physical attributes and the other sorts of baggage (battered, romantic) he carries with him, never quite right for conventional film leading man roles, are pressed into service by a great director, Billy Wilder, working from a screenplay which meshes comedy, pathos, romance and mystery to perfection. Actors Toby Stephens and Chris Larkins are his sons.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Selected credits

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1900-set drama about a young medic's disturbing discovery

Thumbnail image of Comrades (1986)Comrades (1986)

Bill Douglas' epic portrayal of the lives of the Tolpuddle Martyrs

Thumbnail image of Morgan - A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)Morgan - A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)

Seminal Swinging Sixties comedy about an artist and his problems

Thumbnail image of Taste of Honey, A (1961)Taste of Honey, A (1961)

New Wave classic about a pregnant teenager facing an uncertain future

Thumbnail image of Gangsters (1976-78)Gangsters (1976-78)

Tough crime series set in the Birmingham underworld

Thumbnail image of Julius Caesar (1969)Julius Caesar (1969)

Impressive Play of the Month adaptation with a starry cast

Thumbnail image of Much Ado About Nothing (1967)Much Ado About Nothing (1967)

Studio adaptation of a lively National Theatre production with Derek Jacobi

Thumbnail image of One Fine Day (1979)One Fine Day (1979)

Comedian Dave Allen plays a troubled estate agent in this Alan Bennett play

Thumbnail image of Winter's Tale, The (1981)Winter's Tale, The (1981)

Daringly stylised, critically acclaimed BBC Shakespeare adaptation

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