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Scofield, Paul (1922-2008)


Main image of Scofield, Paul (1922-2008)

A celebrated stage star who looks and seems almost too remorselessly intelligent for conventional film stardom. On stage while still at school in Brighton, then professionally in London from 1940, he has played most of the great Shakespearean roles (including Hamlet, by invitation, in the USSR, 1955), with many Stratford seasons, and, in the '70s, at the National Theatre, starring in Volpone (1977-78) and Othello (1980), as well as many modern plays.

His preference for the stage has limited his film work, but even there he has been much honoured: he won an Oscar and BAFTA for Best Actor for repeating his London (1961) and Broadway (1962) stage role of Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons (d. Fred Zinnemann, 1966), capturing brilliantly the scholarliness, humanity and unassailable integrity of the man; nearly 30 years later he was Oscar and BAFTA-nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his role as the literary mandarin in Quiz Show (US, d. Robert Redford, 1994), and a BAFTA for ditto in The Crucible (US, d. Nicholas Hytner, 1997).

It is not the kind of film career to attract much multiplex attention, most often focusing on such literary enterprises as: Bartleby (d. Anthony Friedmann, 1970), from Herman Melville's novella; the bleakly magisterial King Lear (UK/Denmark, d. Peter Brook, 1970); A Delicate Balance (UK/Canada/US, d. Tony Richardson, 1973), a sort of 'concert' performance of Edward Albee's talkfest; Kenneth Branagh's Henry V (1989), as the careworn King of France; and Zeffirelli's Hamlet (UK/US, 1990), as the Ghost.

One can almost imagine filmmakers wondering if what they have to offer is worthy of his attention, though he is, by all accounts, a modest man who declined a knighthood, but was later distinguished by being appointed to the prestigious Order of the Companions of Honour in 2001. He married stage actress Joy Parker (b.London, 1924) in 1943.

Garry O'Connor, Paul Scofield: The Biography, 2002.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Carve Her Name With Pride (1958)Carve Her Name With Pride (1958)

Moving biopic of WWII resistance heroine Violette Szabo

Thumbnail image of London (1994)London (1994)

Patrick Keiller's first feature, an idiosyncratic look at the British capital

Thumbnail image of Man for All Seasons, A (1966)Man for All Seasons, A (1966)

Oscar-laden story of Sir Thomas More's defiance of Henry VIII

Thumbnail image of Robinson in Space (1997)Robinson in Space (1997)

Patrick Keiller's voyage round mid-1990s Britain

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Thumbnail image of Brook, Peter (1925-)Brook, Peter (1925-)

Director, Writer