British legend of film and stage Albert Finney passed away on Friday at 82 after a brief illness. Finney was a talented and entertaining actor who loved champagne, cigars, and great food, as observed in this 1982 feature in Rolling Stone. He was known for living away from the press and avoiding high accolades, famously refusing the commander of the British empire title in 1980 then knighthood in 2000, saying they perpetuate snobbery.
His substantial talent as a performer was complimented with a large physical frame and brooding features. This combination made his characters all the more memorable on stage and screen. In his seven decades as a film actor, he was nominated for five Academy Awards, won many others, and was beloved by many of his colleagues.
When movie icons like Finney die, the only true way for fans to honor them is to revisit their body of work with softer, more appreciative eyes. In this particular loss, we are left with a truly brilliant resume of films to explore. In memory of Finney, a truly great actor, here are six of his best films.
1. ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ (1960)
This was the breakout role for Finney, who stars as Arthur, a ruggedly handsome, angry factory worker with a cast-iron exterior. In Arthur, a 24-year-old Finney shines in his ability to be a relatable character in a role that set him apart. Arthur basically had his pick of ladies. It was easy to see why.
2. ‘Tom Jones’ (1963)
Following his success in “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning,” Finney played this 18th-century playboy with far more levity than he had the rugged Arthur. However, the story of Tom Jones that began as fun and free becomes increasingly more layered and conflicted as his world begins to fall down around him. “Tom Jones” is a love story, yes, but it is also a story about bitter rivalry and man’s true nature, and a showcase for Finney’s ability to evolve with his character.
3. ‘Scrooge’ (1970)
Finney transformed from the hunky Tom Jones into literature’s most notorious curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge for this widely acclaimed film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Although he was only 33 years old at the time of production, Finney made the journey from misery to joy as convincing and gratifying as any of the great actors who have inhabited this classic role.
4. ‘The Dresser’ (1983)
Set during the onset of World War II in London, Finney plays “Sir,” an eccentric theater head looking at the downward slope of his acting career. His performance tells the tale of destructive narcissism, profound loss, and great friendship. The movie is fun, ridiculous, and poignant. It remains the best example of Finney’s ability to stay in high gear for an entire film.
5. ‘Miller’s Crossing’ (1990)
At this point in his 50s, Finney had morphed from angsty youth to lovelorn playboy to crazed middle-aged actor, and many places in between. However, the Coen Brothers’ “Miller’s Crossing” made Finney internationally recognized as the talent he had always been. Finney plays Leo, a fearsome gangster with trust issues and deep insecurity. Finney was almost tailor-made for the Coens’ classic, conflicted bad guy arcs.
6. ‘Erin Brockovich’ (2000)
As Ed Masry, Finney found a way to be charming even as an old, cantankerous lawyer. His gruff old man character is balanced perfectly by occasional splashes of heart and humor. By the end of the film, you are moved by the story and Julia Robert’s effort, but it would be impossible not to want to walk through the screen and give Finney’s Ed Masry a big hug—and an Oscar.