Tall, hefty and in every possible way dominant actor of the late 20th century, equally distinguished on stage (his 1982 King Lear at Stratford was an unforgettable old lion at bay, and he won unending plaudits for playing Pinter's tramp in The Caretaker, 2000), TV (winning BAFTAs for The Singing Detective, 1986, and Wives and Daughters, 1999, both for the BBC), and film. He can fill a stage with the sheer size of his interpretation; unlike some great stage performers, though he knows exactly how to reduce the scale to the minute scrutiny of the camera.
He started on the National Theatre stage in its inaugural season of 1963 and entered films in 1965, in Othello (d. Stuart Burge), the screened record of Olivier's triumph. There were a few small film roles and a bigger one as the aquarium keeper in Turtle Diary (d. John Irvin, 1985), but he really came to filmgoers' attention as the vile thief, Albert Spica, in Peter Greenaway's extraordinary The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (UK/France, 1989). This finely honed study in disgusting cruelty offered remarkable contrasts with the unctuous headmaster in The Browning Version (d. Mike Figgis, 1994) or the seedy Lionel Croy in The Wings of the Dove (UK/US, d. Iain Softley, 1997).
International films have included Sleepy Hollow (UK/Germany, d. Tim Burton, 1999) and The Insider (US, d. Michael Mann, 1999). Made CBE in 1992, knighted in 1998, he is well on the way to national treasurehood, without succumbing to luvviedom.
Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film