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Anthony Asquith Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (3) | Mini Bio (1) | Trivia (7) | Personal Quotes (4)

Overview (3)

Date of Birth 9 November 1902London, England, UK
Date of Death 20 February 1968Marylebone, London, England, UK  (cancer)
Nickname Puffin

Mini Bio (1)

British film director Anthony Asquith was born on November 9, 1902, to H.H. Asquith, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his second wife. A former home secretary and the future leader of the Liberal Party, H.H. Asquith served as prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1908-1916 and was subsequently elevated to the hereditary peerage. His youngest child, Anthony, was called Puffin by his family, a nickname given him by his mother, who thought he resembled one. Puffin was also the name his friends called him throughout his life.

Asquith was active in the British film industry from the late silent period until the mid-1960s. As a director he was highly respected by his contemporaries and had a long and successful career; by the 1960s he was one of only three British directors (the others being David Lean and Carol Reed) who were directing major international motion picture productions. However, Asquith's proclivity for adapting plays for the screen caused an erosion in his critical reputation as a filmmaker after his death. He was faulted for what was perceived as his failure to focus, like his contemporary Alfred Hitchcock, on the cinematic. Asquith was known as an actor's director, and solicited some of the finest film performances from Britain's greatest actors, including Edith Evans and Michael Redgrave.

Although Asquith's first love was music, he lacked musical talent. He channeled his artistic ambitions toward the nascent motion picture, and was instrumental in the formation of the London Film Society to promote artistic appreciation of film. Asquith traveled to Hollywood in the 1920s to observe American film production techniques, and after returning to England, he became a director.

Among his best-known films is Pygmalion (1938), an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's stage play, which he co-directed with its star, Leslie Howard. The film was a major critical success, even in the United States, winning multiple Academy Award nominations. Nobel Prize-winner Shaw, who had been a co-founder of the London Film Society along with Asquith, won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for the film. Asquith had a long professional association with playwright Terence Rattigan, and two of Asquith's most famous and successful pictures were based on Rattigan plays, The Winslow Boy (1948) and The Browning Version (1951). Asquith directed the screen version of Rattigan's first successful play, French Without Tears (1940), in 1940.

Asquith's most successful postwar film was, arguably, his adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest (1952). More than a half-century after it was made, Asquith's film remains the best adaptation of Wilde's work. Ironically, Asquith's father H.H., while serving as Home Secretary, ordered Wilde's arrest for his homosexual behavior. Wilde's arrest, for "indecent behavior", led to his incarceration in the Reading jail and destroyed the great playwright, personally. The Wilde incident stifled gay culture in Britain for the first two-thirds of the 20th century. Another irony of the situation is that H.H.'s youngest son, Anthony, himself was gay.

By the 1960s Asquith was directing Hollywood-style all-star productions, including the episodic The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), once again from a screenplay by Rattigan, and the Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor potboiler The V.I.P.s (1963), also with a screenplay by Rattigan. It is based in an incident in the life of Laurence Olivier, a frequent Asquith collaborator. In 1967 Asquith was tipped to direct the big-screen adaptation of the best-selling novel The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968) set to co-star Olivier and Anthony Quinn, but he had to drop out of the production due to ill heath. He died on February 20, 1968, at the age of 65.

The British Academy Award for best music is named the Anthony Asquith Award in his honor.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Trivia (7)

Son of H.H. Asquith, the first Earl of Oxford and Asquith, British WWI Prime Minister.
Doubled in blonde wig for Phyllis Neilson-Terry in Boadicea (1927).
His half-sister, Lady Violet Bonham Carter, was the grandmother of Helena Bonham Carter.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 8-12. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
Buried in family plot in the church yard of Sutton Coutenay, near Abingdon, Oxfordshire.
Directed 3 actors to Oscar nominations: Leslie Howard (Best Actor, Pygmalion (1938)), Wendy Hiller (Best Actress, Pygmalion (1938)), and Margaret Rutherford (Best Supporting Actress, The V.I.P.s (1963)). Rutherford won an Oscar for her performance.
Mother was a leading society figure, Margot Tennant.

Personal Quotes (4)

I will only say that every work of art, even where more than one mind had gone into its shaping, ultimately bears the imprint of a single personality.
[on directing The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)] Although I was sparing with the big individual close-ups, I was tempted in the scene where Edith Evans' voice goes up three octaves on a single syllable when she says the word "hanndb-a-g". On films, as you know, voices haven't need to be raised to reach the back of the gallery. We take care of that, and actors and actresses keep their voices right down. In the case of Lady Bracknell, however, it was different: she is a monster anyway and she is more than life-size, and certainly Edith Evans IS life-size. I didn't try to modify her performance in any way, because it seemed to me to be splendid.
[on Leslie Howard] Leslie Howard was wonderful. He'd come on the set, have a quiet walk-through in rehearsal and then he would repeat a shot again and again -- even his eyelashes would be in the same place at any given moment, yet his performance was never mechanical. He had the most wonderfully controlled technique I have ever seen.
In England when you make a movie, even the weather is against you. In Hollywood the weatherman gets a shooting schedule from all the major studios and then figures out where he can fit in a little rain without upsetting Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer too much.

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