Arena documentary chronicles the life and work of one of Britain's greatest actors.

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Herself (as Dame Eileen Atkins)
Frith Banbury ...
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Sam Beazley ...
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John Howard Davies ...
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Simon Gray ...
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Himself / Various Roles (archive footage)
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Gary Kurtz ...
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Anthony Lee ...
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Arena documentary chronicles the life and work of one of Britain's greatest actors.

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29 December 2003 (UK)  »

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A fascinating account and insight into one of acting greats.

I'm not sure what the previous reviewer was talking about, clearly thinking about a different documentary. "Alec Guinness: The Secret Man," lays to rest some of the rumours and contradictions about the versatile actor. I had always fathomed that Alec Guinness was a particularly private man who disliked giving interviews. The few interviews he gave, were carefully constructed and rehearsed stories which revealed little of the man. The kind of aura with which he displayed, prompted many people to wonder who Alec Guinness the man really was. About the time this documentary was shown, a close friend had been given a lot of manuscripts regarding Alec's life. Coupled with the actor's numerous diaries, the fully authorised biography was published but only after Alec Guinness had passed away. The book makes for insightful reading and is the only biography on the actor you need. The actor comes across as being a person of different facets: capable of being cold and even cruel, very generous to his friends, avoiding any kind of fan fare but ultimately, masking his deep rooted sadness and insecurity behind a "blank wall" visage. He was the kind of actor who relied heavily upon all the various characters he played throughout his distinguished career, especially those who were from the so-called upper class or well read people. The reason for all this according to the documentary, was for Alec to avoid being associated in any way with anything resembling his real upbringing. Born into a rather modest environment, not knowing who his father was and being an only child, Alec grew to hate his mother for her not revealing who his real father might have been. His stepfathers weren't in the actor's life very often and one of his stepfathers used to install sheer fright into Alec, courtesy of a violent temper and due to suffering from battle fatigue and shell shock due to The First World War. Alec was constantly on the move as a boy and experienced little stability. The people who were interviewed all offer a rather frank and not always very positive view on Alec Guinness. One account I found particularly interesting, came from Corin Redgrave. He emphasised how Alec was "the perfect host" to quote Mr. Redgrave precisely. He witnessed how Alec was toward his own son, Matthew. He treated Matthew with sheer rigidity and was exceptionally strict. He didn't display much in the way of fatherly affection or moral support, according to what Corin Redgrave witnessed. However, with the young Corin, Alec was the complete opposite in every respect. He was very friendly and generous, offering Corin a glass of squash and asking him if he would like to play with any of Matthew's toys etc. Alec Guinness was very good friends with Michael Redgrave - another exceptional talent. Corin was of the opinion that the two men shared their darker secrets with each other and discussing what ailed them. This always took place behind closed doors. Michael Redgrave was a rather troubled soul who although was married and helped raise two children, was bisexual. This caused the actor to experience a clash of affections and conflicting loyalities and this left him with a complex. The documentary makes no secret of Alec Guinness's dislike for the success of "Star Wars." He was known to place all fan mail about "Star Wars" in the bin. The closest Alec comes to revealing anything about his real self, is as the spy George Smiley. I can certainly see the resemblance. A fantastic documentary about a troubled but talented man.


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