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Hudson, Hugh (1936-)

Director, Producer, Writer

Main image of Hudson, Hugh (1936-)

Without pressing the comparison too far, one might describe Hugh Hudson as the Orson Welles of British cinema. His directing debut could hardly have been more auspicious: a critically acclaimed work that was not only a huge international hit but won the Oscar as the year's best film. Yet within five years, Hudson's film career was floundering, amid accusations of him being a profligate perfectionist who had squandered his opportunities.

Born in London on 25 August 1936, Hudson was educated at Eton, an association he has since, like one of his literary heroes, George Orwell, strenuously attempted to live down. He worked at a London advertising agency, before making documentaries and award winning television commercials that brought him to the attention of producer David Puttnam, who was ever eager to give new young directors a chance. The result in Hudson's case was Chariots of Fire (1981), the true story of two British athletes (played by Ben Cross and Ian Charleson) from widely different backgrounds who overcome various forms of social and religious prejudice to triumph at the 1924 Olympics. Undeniably impressive in its emotional sweep, the film became one of the decade's most controversial British films, regarded by its left-leaning makers (Puttnam, Hudson and the writer Colin Welland) as a radical indictment of Establishment snobbery and privilege, but appropriated by others as a conservative paean to Thatcherite values of individualism and enterprise.

He followed it with Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (UK/US, 1984), an ambitious but not wholly successful attempt to use the familiar tale as a springboard for an exploration of the outsider's view of the English class system and for a contrast between Victorian and Darwinian man. Nemesis came with Revolution (UK/Norway, 1985), an epic about the American War of Independence that was controversially cast, went hugely over budget, and was torn to shreds by the critics. However, a loyal few saw in it a visually stirring film that courageously attempted an ambivalent, even nightmarish evocation of America's historical struggle for identity at a time when the national mood of patriotic fervour was embodied by Reagan, Rocky and Rambo. Despite the presence of Al Pacino, Donald Sutherland and Nastassia Kinski, the film was a commercial disaster. His following film, Lost Angels (1989), made in America and starring Donald Sutherland, also failed.

Since then, Hudson's biggest film success has been a much-imitated party political broadcast on behalf of Neil Kinnock's Labour Party. A later work, My Life So Far, based on the memoir of Sir Denis Forman, attracted only modest attention, despite a strong cast (Colin Firth, Rosemary Harris, Irène Jacob, among others) and an intense father/son theme that obsessively underpins much of his work. With this slim, intriguing body of films, Hudson could be seen as one of British cinema's most talented, tantalising underachievers.

Eberts, Jake and Ilott, Terry, My Indecision is Final: The Rise and Fall of Goldcrest Films, London: Faber and Faber, 1990.
Friedman, Lester (ed.), British Cinema and Thatcherism, London: UCL, 1993
National Film Theatre audiotape interview, 1985, held at BFI

Neil Sinyard, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Chariots of Fire (1981)Chariots of Fire (1981)

Oscar-winning story of two British Olympic athletes

Thumbnail image of Labour Party Election Broadcast (21 May 1987)Labour Party Election Broadcast (21 May 1987)

Personal portrait of Neil Kinnock dubbed 'Kinnock The Movie'

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Thumbnail image of Puttnam, Lord David (1941-)Puttnam, Lord David (1941-)


Thumbnail image of GoldcrestGoldcrest

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