The Dresser (1983)

PG  |   |  Drama  |  6 December 1983 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 3,520 users  
Reviews: 35 user | 19 critic

An effeminate personal assistant of a deteriorating veteran actor struggles to get him through a difficult performance of King Lear.



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Nominated for 5 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 12 nominations. See more awards »



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The Dresser (TV Movie 2015)
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A drama, based on a successful play, about an ageing actor and his personal assistant.

Director: Richard Eyre
Stars: Ian McKellen, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Watson


Cast overview, first billed only:
Zena Walker ...
Cathryn Harrison ...
Betty Marsden ...
Violet Manning
Sheila Reid ...
Lydia Gibson
Lockwood West ...
Donald Eccles ...
Mr. Godstone
Llewellyn Rees ...
Horace Brown
Guy Manning ...
Anne Blackman ...
Beryl (as Anne Mannion)
Kevin Stoney ...
C. Rivers Lane


In a touring Shakespearean theater group, a backstage hand - the dresser, is devoted to the brilliant but tyrannical head of the company. He struggles to support the deteriorating star as the company struggles to carry on during the London blitz. The pathos of his backstage efforts rival the pathos in the story of Lear and the Fool that is being presented on-stage, as the situation comes to a crisis. Written by xenophil

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


What happens backstage is always true drama. And often pure comedy.




PG | See all certifications »




Release Date:

6 December 1983 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El vestidor  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor for both Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, but failed to win any Oscars. See more »


After Sir and Norman leave the marketplace, they're passed by a Routemaster bus. These buses were first used in London in 1954, and weren't used outside London until the 1970's. See more »


Madge: No, I haven't been happy. Yes, it's been worth it.
See more »


Edited into The Clock (2010) See more »

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User Reviews

This is what acting is all about
13 August 2003 | by (North Carolina) – See all my reviews

I just watched The Dresser this evening, having only seen it once before, about a dozen years ago.

It's not a "big" movie, and doesn't try to make a big splash, but my God, the brilliance of the two leads leaves me just about speechless. Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay are nothing less than amazing in this movie.

The Dresser is the story of Sir, an aging Shakespearean actor (Finney), and his dresser Norman (Courtenay), sort of a valet, putting on a production of King Lear during the blitz of London in World War II. These are two men, each dependent upon the other: Sir is almost helpless without the aid of Norman to cajole, wheedle, and bully him into getting onstage for his 227th performance of Lear. And Norman lives his life vicariously through Sir; without Sir to need him, he is nothing, or thinks he is, anyway.

This is a character-driven film; the plot is secondary to the interaction of the characters, and as such, it requires actors of the highest caliber to bring it to life. Finney, only 47 years old, is completely believable as a very old, very sick, petulant, bullying, but brilliant stage actor. He hisses and fumes at his fellow actors even when they're taking their bows! And Courtenay is no less convincing as the mincing dresser, who must sometimes act more as a mother than as a valet to his elderly employer. Employer is really the wrong term to use, though. For although, technically their relationship is that of employer and employee, most of the time Sir and Norman act like nothing so much as an old married couple.

Yes, there are others in the cast of this movie, but there is no question that the true stars are Finney, Courtenay, and the marvelous script by Ronald Harwood. That is not to say that there aren't other fine performances, most notably Eileen Atkins as the long-suffering stage manager Madge. There is a wonderful scene where Sir and Madge talk about old desires, old regrets, and what might have been.

Although it doesn't get talked about these days, it is worth remembering that The Dresser was nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Actor nominations for both Finney and Courtenay, Best Picture, Best Director (Peter Yates), and Best Adapted Screenplay.

I had remembered this as being a good movie, but I wasn't prepared to be as completely mesmerized as I was from beginning to end. If you want to see an example of what great acting is all about, and be hugely entertained all the while, then I encourage you to see The Dresser.

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