The Dresser (1983)

PG  |   |  Drama  |  6 December 1983 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 3,523 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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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 selected to be the 38th Royal Film Performance and screening at London's Odeon Theatre on 19th March 1984. 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 »


Frank Carrington: Now where was I? Oh yes. So Davenport-Scott said to me...
Oxenby: Do you mind SHUTTING UP?
Frank Carrington: Well! Really!
See more »


Referenced in A Rather English Marriage (1998) See more »

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User Reviews

tour de force theatre film
19 March 2005 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

'The Dresser' is one of those films which are so perfect you really struggle to find something not to like about them. Written by Ronald Harwood (himself a former dresser to the legendary Donald Wolfit), it sparkles with energy and true love of life behind the footlights.

As 'Sir', the overbearing actor and main focus of the play, Albert Finney is a joy to watch - whether complaining about the lack of a storm during the 'blow, winds ...' bit of 'King Lear' or chatting to his faithful stage manager, Madge (Eileen Atkins, good as ever) about the old times. As Norman, his camp dresser, Tom Courtenay gives a fabulous performance, wiggling around at the beck and call of 'Lear', collecting a bottle to go at the pub, or bitchily disparaging the former Fool, Mr Davenport-Scott (often mentioned, but never seen!).

In an engaging support cast, there's Edward Fox as Oxenby (a typical arrogant second lead), Zena Walker as her Ladyship, Lockwood West as the replacement Fool, and many others.

This film has great energy, bringing with it some of the greasepaint of its stage origins, it is true, but being so well-acted you don't notice. Very well done indeed.

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