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f i l m

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It could, perhaps, be called "Bates for Dummies"
after the instructional book series with the bizarrely insulting name.

However, since an interest in the films of Alan Bates
is a definite sign of intelligence and taste,
let's consider this page, which was suggested by
someone who has just recently discovered him,
a primer for the newly-arrived. Lucky you!

Please note:
Within categories, the films are chronological.
* = On the NY Times "1000 Best Movies" list


These are the films Alan Bates himself
cited as his best, or favourite, work.

* Women in Love (1970) "It meant a lot to me; I've always loved Lawrence, and I couldn't believe we'd pulled that off, really. It's an incredibly difficult book, and somehow we just got the spirit of it."

Butley (1974) "That was a great thing for me, Butley, in the theatre particularly."

In Celebration (1974) "It's a marvelous piece of writing of tension and conflict, and I am as happy with that as with anything I have been in."

The Mayor of Casterbridge (1978 - TV, 7-part mini series) "He had a tremendous vision of life, attempted huge things, failed dreadfully, was anihilated at the end. There's something that can take you over, with a part like that."

Nijinsky (1980) "This is a part I cared a great deal about; I sort of had a love for him [Diaghilev]."

* The Cherry Orchard (1999) "Cacoyannis - who had dreamt of doing 'The Cherry Orchard' for years, raised the money for it himself, and expended on the film 'so much passion and love - allowed the individual characters to blossom and let the play speak for itself."



The quality of these films from the 60s is remarkable.
All of them are, after 30+ years, readily rentable from video stores.

* The Entertainer (1960) The film belongs to Laurence Olivier, but it's an auspicious debut for both Bates and Albert Finney. Olivier himself has said, "I'm Archie Rice, not Hamlet."

Whistle Down the Wind (1961) It's hard to believe that the film avoids all the saccharin possibilities the plot suggests (a group of children mistake a fugitive for Jesus Christ); but it does. Superb performances all around, with Bates as the fugitive.

Zorba the Greek (1964) Bates's first film for an American studio. When asked what he remembers best about the filming, Bates cites the two wonderful women, Irene Papas and Lila Kedrova.

King of Hearts (1966) A cult favourite for over three decades; Bates, as a Scottish soldier in France, airs his serviceable French for most of the film.

* Georgy Girl (1966) Bates said that he chose the madcap character of Jos as a deliberate change of pace after the shy or mild-mannered roles he had been playing. His first entrance, when Lynn Redgrave opens the door to him, announces that clearly.

Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) It's common knowledge that Bates wanted to play Sergeant Troy rather than the solid, dependable Gabriel Oak, which was not new territory for him. But aren't we glad he didn't! A lovely, neglected film with spectacular location photography. Try to find the wide-screen version.


The Fixer (1968) From the Bernard Malamud novel. Bates won his only Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of a Jewish victim of Russian brutality.

The Go-Between (1971) The film won the Palm d'Or at Cannes the year it was released. Bates and Julie Christie are fated lovers from separate social classes.

Voyage Round My Father (1982-TV) From the autobiographical play by John Mortimer: Laurence Olivier is a blind barrister; Bates is his son, Jane Asher is Bates's wife. Filmed at Mortimer's home in Oxfordshire.

An Englishman Abroad (1983-TV) A true story masterfully told by Alan Bennett, it has been called the best single hour of television ever put on film. Bates is traitor Guy Burgess, exiled in Moscow but missing the London amenities; Coral Browne, radiant in one of her last roles, plays herself. Done on a shoestring on location in Dundee (standing in for Moscow), each scene, each bit of dialog, is deliciously perfect.

* Gosford Park (2001) Upstairs Downstairs-style social satire directed by Robert Altman with an all-star ensemble cast. Bates gleams as the stalwart butler Jennings.


An Unmarried Woman (1978) Bates as the perfect man: secure, creative, sensitive, passionate; and Jill Clayburgh as the woman who rejects him. To quote Goldie Hawn as Pvt. Benjamin: "Did you see 'An Unmarried Woman?' Well, I didn't get it -- I would have been Mrs Alan Bates so fast he wouldn't know what hit him!"

The Rose (1979) Bette Middler is the Joplinesque rock queen on a path of destruction; Alan Bates is her heartless manager.

We Think the World of You (1988) Bates as a closeted middle-aged bureaucrat, Gary Oldman stunning as his tough young lover, Frances Barber as Oldman's slutty wife, Liz Smith superb as Oldman's mother (Bates's ex-charwoman) all upstaged by a lovely Alsatian bitch called Evie.

* Hamlet (1990) Bates as Claudius and Glenn Close as Gertrude ignite sparks, but a first-rate Hamlet by Mel Gibson is the centrepiece of this pared-down, elegant "Hamlet" directed by Franco Zeffirelli. It's beautiful, fast-paced, eloquent, but you can't enjoy it fully if you're fretting about the liberties Zeffirelli took with the play.

Oliver's Travels (1994-TV) Make a vat of popcorn and curl up for four hours of pure pleasure and amusement. It's a delightful, light mystery/romance, with a cast that includes Sinead Cusack, Miles Anderson and Bill Paterson. (The European version is the full five episodes; the American version edits situations and characters out of parts 1 and 2, and rolls them into one of four episodes.)


These films, for various reasons, didn't attract
the audience they deserve:

A Kind of Loving (1962) A late "kitchen sink" drama directed by John Schlesinger, it features Bates and June Ritchie as naive young working class lovers who are brought up short by the reality of her pregnancy.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1972) The film version of Peter Nichol's play, Bates and Janet Suzman play the parents of a profoundly retarded 10-year-old daughter. It's painful but wonderful. (The photo above is a still from "Joe Egg.")

Story of a Love Story (1973) A brilliant film by John Frankenheimer from the Nicholas Mosley novel "Impossible Object." Bates is Harry, a writer in midlife crisis; Frankenheimer's wife Evans Evans plays Harry's wife, and the beautiful Dominique Sanda his lover... is she real or an inhabitant of his imagination?

The Trespasser (1981-TV) From D.H. Lawrence's second novel, it's the story of a doomed romance between a violinist and his pupil, in the course of a stolen week on the Isle of Wight. Talky, passionate, compelling.