It is common to consider Lawrence of Arabia as Peter O’Toole’s finest moment, as David Cameron did today, but that would be to belittle a body of work of outrageously talented schtick.
O’Toole’s striking good looks and charm sustained him through a stage and film career of more than 50 years that swung wildly between triumph and disaster, garnering him eight Oscar nominations but, to the disgust of his admirers, no win.
The most-nominated actor never to win the award, he eventually – and reluctantly – accepted an honorary Oscar in 2003.
His early turn as Hamlet brought him to many critic’s attention, just as a later one as Macbeth almost ended his career.
Some of his roles showcased a gentler side to O’Toole than the rabble-rousing drunk of legend or the half-mad T. E. Lawrence yelling “No prisoners!”: Goodbye Mr Chips was a charming diversion, as was his performance in The Last Emperor, curiously, in both he portrayed a teacher.
A year after his career re-defining role in The Last Emperor, at the age of 56, he won rave reviews for playing his old Soho drinking pal in the play “Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell” in a part that seemed to mirror his own alcoholic misfortunes. I reproduce it here, in full, for your enjoyment, in a BBC recording of the live show.
Genius is a much over-hyped word. In Peter O’Toole’s case, it is unquestionably justified.