Sir Alec Guinness, CH, CBE (born Alec Guinness de Cuffe; April 2, 1914 – August 5, 2000) was an English actor. He began his stage career in 1934. Two years later, at the age of 22, he played the role of Osric in Hamlet in the West End and joined the Old Vic. He continued to play Shakespearean roles throughout his career. He was one of three British actors, along with Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, who made the transition from theatre to films after the Second World War. Guinness served in the Royal Naval Reserve during the war and commanded a landing craft during the invasion of Sicily and Elba. During the war he was granted leave to appear in the stage play Flare Path about RAF Bomber Command.
Guinness was featured in several of the Ealing Comedies, including Robert Hamer’s Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), with Dennis Price, Joan Greenwood, and Valerie Hobson – in which he played nine different characters; Charles Crichton’s The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), with Stanley Holloway, Sid James, Alfie Bass, and an early film appearance from Audrey Hepburn – for which he received his first Academy Award nomination; and Alexander Mackendrick’s The Ladykillers (1955), with Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, Jack Warner, and Katie Johnson.
He collaborated six times with director David Lean: Great Expectations (1946), with John Mills, Valerie Hobson, Bernard Miles, Francis L. Sullivan, Anthony Wager, Jean Simmons, Finlay Currie, and Martita Hunt; Oliver Twist (1948), ￼with Robert Newton, Kay Walsh, John Howard Davies, Anthony Newley, and Diana Dors; The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), with William Holden, Jack Hawkins, and Sessue Hayakawa – for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor; Lawrence of Arabia (1962), with Peter O’Toole, Hawkins, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, and Arthur Kennedy; Doctor Zhivago (1965), with Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Tom Courtenay, Ralph Richardson, Siobhán McKenna, and Rita Tushingham; and A Passage to India (1984), with Peggy Ashcroft, Judy Davis, James Fox, Nigel Havers, Victor Banerjee, and Roshan Seth.
He collaborated four times with director Ronald Neame: The Card (1952), with Glynis Johns, Valerie Hobson, and Petula Clark; The Horse’s Mouth (1958), with Kay Walsh, Renée Houston, Mike Morgan, and Robert Coote; Tunes of Glory (1960), with Mills, Dennis Price, Kay Walsh, John Fraser, Susannah York, Duncan MacRae, and Gordon Jackson; and Scrooge (1970), with Albert Finney, Edith Evans, Kenneth More, Michael Medwin, and Laurence Naismith.
Other notable films include Charles Vidor‘s The Swan (1956), with Grace Kelly, Louis Jourdan, Jessie Royce Landis, Estelle Winwood, Brian Aherne, and Agnes Moorehead; The Scapegoat (1959), with Nicole Maurey and Bette Davis; Carol Reed’s Our Man in Havana (1959), with Burl Ives, Ralph Richardson, Noël Coward, Maureen O’Hara, Ernie Kovacs; Mervyn LeRoy’s A Majority of One (1961), with Rosalind Russell; Anthony Mann‘s The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), with Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, James Mason, Christopher Plummer, Mel Ferrer, and Sharif; Situation Hopeless – But Not Serious (1965), with Mike Connors and Robert Redford; Michael Anderson’s The Quiller Memorandum (1966), with George Segal, Max von Sydow, and Senta Berger; and Peter Glenville’s The Comedians (1967), with Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Ustinov, Paul Ford, Lillian Gish, and James Earl Jones.
Guinness had a resurgence in popularity with his portrayal as Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas‘s original Star Wars trilogy; the original 1977 film, he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 50th Academy Awards. The trilogy collectively featured Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, and Ian McDiarmid.
Other roles in the 1970s include Ken Hughes’s Cromwell (1970), with Richard Harris, Robert Morley, Nigel Stock, Geoffrey Keen, and Michael Jayston; Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972), with Graham Faulkner and Judi Bowker; Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973), with Simon Ward, Adolfo Celi, Diane Cilento, and Gabriele Ferzetti; and Murder by Death (1976), with Eileen Brennan, Truman Capote, James Coco, Peter Falk, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Sellers, Maggie Smith, Nancy Walker, and Estelle Winwood.
Later films included Raise the Titanic (1980), with Jason Robards, Richard Jordan, David Selby, and Anne Archer; Marshall Brickman’s Lovesick (1983), with Dudley Moore, Elizabeth McGovern, Wallace Shawn, Ron Silver, John Huston, Alan King, David Strathairn, Christine Baranski, and Fred Melamed; Little Dorrit (1987), with Derek Jacobi, Sarah Pickering, Joan Greenwood, Max Wall, Patricia Hayes, Miriam Margolyes, and Simon Dormandy; A Handful of Dust (1988), with James Wilby, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rupert Graves, Anjelica Huston, and Judi Dench; and Steven Soderbergh‘s Kafka (1991), with Jeremy Irons, Theresa Russell, Ian Holm, Jeroen Krabbé, Joel Grey, and Armin Mueller-Stahl.
TV movie and miniseries roles include Twelfth Night (1970), with Ralph Richardson and Joan Plowright; The Gift of Friendship (1974), with Michael Gough; Caesar and Cleopatra (1976), with Geneviève Bujold; Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy (1979), with Alexander Knox, Ian Richardson, Michael Jayston, Bernard Hepton, Anthony Bate, Ian Bannen, George Sewell and Michael Aldridge; Little Lord Fauntleroy (1980), with Ricky Schroder, Eric Porter, Connie Booth, and Colin Blakely; Smiley’s People (1982), with Michael Byrne, Bate, Hepton; Edwin (1984), with Renée Asherson and Paul Rogers; Monsignor Quixote (1987), with Leo McKern; Tales from Hollywood (1992), with Irons and Charles Durning; A Foreign Field (1993), with McKern, Edward Herrmann, John Randolph, Geraldine Chaplin, Lauren Bacall, and Jeanne Moreau; and Eskimo Day (1996), with Maureen Lipman, David Ross, Benedict Sandiford, Tom Wilkinson, Laura Howard, Anna Carteret, James Fleet, Pippa Hinchley, and Lila Kaye.
In addition to an Academy Award, he won a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and a Tony Award. In 1959 he was knighted by Elizabeth II for services to the arts. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, the Academy Honorary Award for lifetime achievement in 1980 and the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award in 1989. Guinness appeared in nine films that featured in the BFI’s 100 greatest British films of the 20th century, which included five of Lean’s films.
Each review will be linked to the title below.
- Evansong (1934) – directed by Victor Saville – uncredited extra
- Great Expectations (1946) – directed by David Lean
- Oliver Twist (1948) – directed by David Lean
- Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) – directed by Robert Hamer
- A Run for Your Money (1949) – directed by Charles Frend
- Last Holiday (1950) – directed by Henry Cass
- The Mudlark (1950) – directed by Jean Negulesco
- The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) – directed by Charles Crichton
- The Man in the White Suit (1951) – directed by Alexander Mackendrick
- The Card (1952) – directed by Ronald Neame
- The Captain’s Paradise (1953) – directed by Anthony Kimmins
- Malta Story (1953) – directed by Brian Desmond Hurst
- Father Brown (1954) – directed by Robert Hamer
- To Paris with Love (1955) – directed by Robert Hamer
- The Prisoner (1955) – directed by Peter Glenville
- Baker’s Dozen (1955) – directed by Desmond Davis – TV movie
- The Ladykillers (1955) – directed by Alexander Mackendrick
- The Swan (1956) – directed by Charles Vidor
- The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) – directed by David Lean
- Barnacle Bill (1957) – directed by Charles Frend
- The Horse’s Mouth (1958) – directed by Ronald Neame – also writer
- The Scapegoat (1959) – directed by Robert Hamer
- The Wicked Scheme of Jebal Deeks (1959) – directed by Franklin J. Schaffner – TV movie – episode of anthology series Startime (1959-1961)
- Our Man in Havana (1959) – directed by Carol Reed
- Tunes of Glory (1960) – directed by Ronald Neame
- A Majority of One (1961) – directed by Mervyn LeRoy
- H.M.S. Defiant (1962) – directed by Lewis Gilbert
- Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – directed by David Lean
- The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) – directed by Anthony Mann
- Situation Hopeless – But Not Serious (1965) – directed by Gottfried Reinhardt
- Doctor Zhivago (1965) – directed by David Lean
- Hotel Paradiso (1966) – directed by Peter Glenville
- The Quiller Memorandum (1966) – directed by Michael Anderson
- The Comedians (1967) – directed by Peter Glenville
- Conversation at Night (1969) – directed by Rudolph Cartier – TV short – episode of anthology series Thirty-Minute Theatre (1965-1973)
- Twelfth Night (1970) – directed by John Sichel – TV movie – episode of anthology series ITV Sunday Night Theatre (1969-1974)
- Cromwell (1970) – directed by Ken Hughes
- Scrooge (1970) – directed by Ronald Neame
- Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972) – directed by Franco Zeffirelli
- Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973) – directed by Ennio De Concini
- The Gift of Friendship (1974) – directed by Mike Newell – TV movie – episode of anthology series ITV Playhouse (1967-1982)
- Caesar and Cleopatra (1976) – directed by James Cellan Jones – TV movie
- Murder By Death (1976) – directed by Robert Moore
- Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)** – directed by George Lucas
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) – directed by John Irvin – miniseries
- Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)** – directed by Irvin Kershner
- Raise the Titanic (1980) – directed by Jerry Jameson
- Little Lord Fauntleroy (1980) – directed by Jack Gold
- Smiley’s People (1982) – directed by Simon Langton – miniseries
- Lovesick (1983) – directed by Marshall Brickman
- Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) – directed by Richard Marquand
- A Passage to India (1984) – directed by David Lean
- Edwin (1984) – directed by Rodney Bennett – TV movie
- Monsignor Quixote (1987) – directed by Rodney Bennett – TV movie
- Little Dorrit (1987) – directed by Christine Edzard
- A Handful of Dust (1988) – directed by Charles Sturridge
- Kafka (1991) – directed by Steven Soderbergh
- Tales from Hollywood (1992) – directed by Howard Davies – TV movie
- A Foreign Field (1993) – directed by Charles Sturridge – TV movie
- Mute Witness (1994) – directed by Anthony Waller
- Eskimo Day (1996) – directed by Piers Haggard
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)* – directed by J.J. Abrams – archival audio
- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)* – directed by J.J. Abrams – archival audio