Strolling Player: The Life and Career of Albert Finney by Gabriel Hershman – Review
By Roger Crow
During a spot of tidying up I find a microcassette of my interview with Albert Finney. It takes me back to London, 1996, where one of the most revered, charismatic actors of his generation is entertaining gathered journalists at the Press launch of Karaoke and Cold Lazarus. It’s the final interconnected TV works of Dennis Potter, and Finney has a twinkle in his eye like he’s discovered the key to life, the universe and everything.
I’m transfixed by his socks. Here’s a showbiz legend sat a few feet from me, journalists eating from the palm of his hand and his snazzy socks have sidetracked me. What’s that about? Maybe I’m wondering if his feet actually are on the ground or whether he’s levitating.
An hour after finding that old tape, in a strange act of synchronicity, Strolling Player – The Life and Career of Albert Finney by Gabriel Hershman arrives in the post and I settle into it like a comfy pair of slippers.
It boasts a smartly designed cover. As a font snob, I’m drawn back repeatedly to the beautifully designed black and white dust jacket and crisp lettering. It’s not just a book but a literary slab of style you’d find on the expensive coffee table of moneyed film and theatre critics.
It’s also bursting with great bits of trivia, from Finney’s desire to have unwashed hair as a youth, to his dalliance with Blue Peter star Valerie Singleton; the chemistry he shared with Audrey Hepburn; friendships with William B Davis (The X Files), Peter Bowles and the wealth of acting talent he honed his craft with.
Some would ask how he’d play a scene, hoping for some sage-like secret into the art of acting. “I’d learn the f****** lines and go on”, he’d say matter of factly.
Finney may have been an academic failure, but that self belief helped him on the road to stardom at an early age. Like Richard Burton, Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy, he has that ’man on fire’ quality that fuels all great actors.
Obviously there’s been ups and downs. The highs of breakout movie Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which ushered in a new wave of gritty, British domestic dramas in the 1960s, and Orphans, the movie of the hit stage play which became one of the biggest flops of the 1980s are the nature of the beast for any actor. He adds weight to the flimsiest of projects, such as Ridley Scott’s A Good Year. And when it came time for the Home Alone-style finale of Skyfall, who better to be James Bond’s surrogate dad/groundskeeper than Finney?
I’ve no doubt he was probably offered key roles in big franchises, but he’s always been one of those blokes to avoid the obvious. This was the man that turned down Lawrence of Arabia for fear of being tied to a studio contract, and other lucrative roles for the same reason.
Back in 2000 he reminded the world why he was such a potent force in Steven Soderbergh’s Oscar winner Erin Brockovich, a left field hit which made a new generation of film fans sit up and take notice. He should have landed an Oscar but didn’t.
Finney, like Ian McShane, has that Mancunian grit and acting skills that have proved irresistible for decades. After more than 60 years on screen, he’s the last of a generation of mesmerising British thespians who add quality to any production just by turning up on set.
Hershman does a fine job of sustaining the interest throughout, peppering his book with star anecdotes about ’Albie’. There’s a handful of okay black and white stills which offer a little insight into the man himself, though nothing revelatory.
In short, it’s a great read with a wealth of well researched material that keeps a film and theatre geek like me entertained for a good few hours. Recommended.
‘Strolling Player – The Life and Career of Albert Finney’ by Gabriel Hershman is published by The History Press