It was a great privilege some years ago to see Peter O’Toole in Keith Waterhouse’s stage play “Jeffrey Barnard is Unwell” especially as I had been in the Coach and Horses, the pub in Soho which provides the play’s setting, on occasion and seen Norman Balon in action. For me, Lawrence of Arabia remains THE MOVIE – if I had a desert island request I would just play it on a continuous loop. Amazing that this wonderful actor never received an Oscar despite eight nominations. Such is his stature it is the Oscars which are devalued.
He received an honorary Oscar in 2003, having initially turned it down. In a letter the actor asked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to delay it until he was 80, saying he was “still in the game and might win the bugger outright”. But when he finally clasped his statuette, he said: “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, my foot.”
|Peter O’Toole’s wonderful portrayal of an unwell Jeffrey Barnard|
Actor Peter O’Toole, who starred in Sir David Lean’s 1962 film classic Lawrence of Arabia, died on Saturday aged 81 at London’s Wellington Hospital having been ill for some years. His friend broadcaster Michael Parkinson told Sky News it was hard to be too sad about the news of his passing, and smiled as he said: “Peter didn’t leave much of life unlived, did he?”
He hit international stardom when Sir David cast him as British adventurer T E Lawrence, the World War I soldier and scholar who led an Arab rebellion against the Turks. Playwright Noel Coward once said that if O’Toole had been any prettier, they would have had to call the film “Florence of Arabia”. Lawrence of Arabia earned him the first of eight Oscar nominations, with his second coming for 1964’s Becket, in which he played King Henry II to Richard Burton’s Thomas Becket.
Burton and O’Toole’s shared love of drinking garnered many headlines along with their performances. O’Toole played Henry again in 1968 in The Lion in Winter, for which he received his third Oscar nod, opposite Katharine Hepburn. His five other nominations were for Goodbye, Mr Chips in 1968, The Ruling Class in 1971, 1980’s The Stunt Man, My Favorite Year  and finally for Venus in 2006.
Peter Seamus Lorcan O’Toole was born in Connemara, Ireland and grew up in Yorkshire. In later years he used to holiday in Connemara and was often seen at the famous horse fair. David Lean’s 1962 masterpiece “Lawrence of Arabia” is a wonderful panoramic cinematic retelling of the story of one of history’s most enigmatic figures Captain T.E. Lawrence and his part in the Arab Revolt and his relationship with Faisal bin Hussein, another undoubtedly heroic figure in the history of the 20th Century. With superb acting and characterisation from O’Toole, Sam Spiegel’s moneybags, a stellar cast of acting heavyweights, Lean’s sure direction, Maurice Jarre’s wonderful Oscar winning score and the expansive panorama’s of Wadi Rum in Jordan it is a wonderful cinematic experience. It begs to be seen on the Big Screen, especially the digitally restored and remastered version released this year. The scenes depicting Cairo and Jerusalem were actually shot in Seville in Spain. His portrayal of T.E. Lawrence as an egotistical attention seeker is not historically accurate, he was in fact a short man who went to great lengths to avoid attracting attention.
Based on Lawrence’s own account of the Arab Revolt “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” it depicts Lawrence’s experiences in Arabia during World War I, in particular his attacks on Aqaba and Damascus and his involvement in the Arab National Council. Its themes include Lawrence’s emotional struggles with the personal violence inherent in war, his own identity, and his divided allegiance between his native Britain and its army and his new found comrades within the Arabian desert tribes. Like most great war films it does not glorify war and leaves the viewer with unanswered questions. It is a great pity Tony Blair and George W. Bush did not try to answer some of these questions before blundering into Iraq.
It is also great pity that of the 8 Oscar nominations received by this wonderful movie the 5 it won did not include one for Peter O’Toole although great thespian that he was I’m sure he didn’t begrudge Burt Lancaster winning the honour that year for Birdman of Alcatraz.
Peter O’Toole, 1932-2013