Albert Finney 1936–2019
The working-class actor who shunned Hollywood accolades
After Albert Finney burst into international fame with the hit 1963 film Tom Jones, playing the titular roustabout who romps his way across 18th-century England, the British actor had his pick of Hollywood parts. Instead, the 27-year-old chose to spend the next 10 months traveling the world. His career followed a similar pattern over the next five decades, alternating between memorable movie roles—including Hercule Poirot in 1975’s Murder on the Orient Express and the pugnacious lawyer Ed Masry in 2000’s Erin Brockovich—stage work, and lengthy sabbaticals in which he indulged his love of travel, the racetrack, and fine wine. Some critics accused him of dilettantism and of wasting his talents. “Life,” Finney countered, “is more important than art.”
Born in the northern English city of Salford to a bookie father “known locally as Honest Albert,” said The Times (U.K.), young Albert did poorly in school but showed a talent for acting. He won a scholarship to London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where his working-class manners and accent marked him as an outsider. Those qualities would help make him a star. The strikingly handsome actor made his big-screen breakthrough in 1960’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, playing a brooding factory worker who distracts himself from his dead-end existence with drink and sex.
Finney was nominated for an Oscar five times, said The New York Times, including for his portrayal of an alcoholic British diplomat in 1984’s Under the Volcano. But he never took home a statue and “made a point of not attending the glittering award ceremonies.” It’s “not exactly my idea of a good night out,” he explained, sitting there “for five hours in a nonsmoking, nondrinking environment.”