Albert Finney was marked as being a natural successor to Laurence Olivier but perhaps his penchant for macho working class roles rather than classical ones meant he would never truly inherit the crown.
Born 9th May 1936, the same as Glenda Jackson, in Salford he was one of three children born to his father a bookmaker who also had the same name. Attending school in the city he would fail his exams but was a leading light in his school plays and it propelled him to London where he was accepted at RADA and would train with a remarkable bunch of other actors that would include Tom Courtenay and Peter O Toole before leaving in 1955 and touring with a Birmingham repertory company. It was here that he was spotted in a play by leading critic Kenneth Tynan who waxed lyrical about his performance. It led to a swift rise in his stardom in a wave of classical plays mostly Shakespearean and playing opposite Charles Laughton in 1958 who he followed to Straford’s RSC and by 1957 he married fellow actress Jane Wenham but divorced in 1961 having had a son.
As good as he was in theatre his star would really rise in modern plays when he returned to London’s West End and the National Theatre where he would begin to alternate with film which started with a small role in The Entertainer as Olivier’s son. The film’s director Tony Richardson encouraged him to audition for Karel Reisz. He won the lead role in a film that would truly launch him. The film was ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’. The films working class realism as an angry young man was a revelation to audiences and would make Albert Finney a star which was cemented when he starred in the lead role of the bawdy ‘Tom Jones’ in 1963.
Albert Finney directed only one film, 1967’s ‘Charlie Bubbles’ which starred a largely unknown Liza Minelli but his acclaim as an actor also pushed him into producing where he co-produced Lindsay Anderson’s vicious satire ‘If…’ in 1968 as well as Mike Leigh’s first film ‘Bleak Moments’ in 1971 and gave Stephen Frears his first film directing job with ‘Gumshoe’ in which he also starred. By then he had married French actress Anouk Aimee in 1970 which lasted until 1978 after which he had a long term relationship with Diana Quick and at one time the pair were feared to have disappeared in the Amazon.
After this he returned to theatre as an associate director at the Royal Court during which time in appeared in the lead role as Hercule Poirot in the all star, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ in 1974. By now he was a well established actor but without quite the kudos with which Olivier and Gielgud had and his turn as Daddy Warbucks in 1982’s ‘Annie’ was an unexpected one though as an uproarious drunk in John Huston’s ‘Under the Volcano’ was superb and should have won him an Oscar. It was yet another performance for which Albert Finney would never win an Oscar as had happened with ‘The Dresser’ the previous year.
Again his career had alternated with the stage where he made his last appearance in 1996. But his films roles became ever more eclectic. As a dodgy politician he was enjoyable in the Coen brothers excellent ‘Miller’s Crossing’ and was endearing in ‘Erin Brokovich’ for which he would earn his fifth and last of five Oscar nominations which again he would not win. He began appearing in big budget films that included ‘Oceans Twelve’, ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ & ‘The Bourne Legacy’ and notably the Bond film Skyfall which would be his last film.
Albert Finney remained stubbornly unrewarded as having refused both a CBE in 1980 and a knighthood in 2000 staying true to his working class roots believing that the gong perpetuated snobbery.
He was a lifelong Manchester United fan and in 2006 he married his third wife Dene Delmage which lasted until his death from a brief illness on 7th February 2019 aged 82 years old.