The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique

There’s nothing like a bit of vintage Peter O’Toole.

“That kraut, what a clown he was... When it was all over, I watched 15 minutes of the finished film and then walked out.” The late hell-raiser was memorably referring to Troy director Wolfgang Petersen. This surely must have left first-time feature director Michael Redwood, who cast O’Toole in his new film, Katherine of Alexandria, quaking in his Liverpudlian boots?

“He was actually the first one to call and say, “If anyone alters this screenplay other than to add a full stop, shoot the bastards with my permission,” chuckles Redwood. “It was such a compliment for me as a first-time screenplay writer.”

Released later this year in the UK, the film was written and directed by Redwood and charts the clash between Katherine and the emperor Constantine the Great. A host of Brit veterans, including Joss Ackland, Steven Berkoff and Edward Fox star alongside O’Toole, who plays the Roman Cornelius Gallus, the palace orator.

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique; he died late last year at the age of 81 following a long period of illness.

“It’s sod’s law... Peter wanted to see the movie and I had arranged for a copy for him to watch in the hospital, but it wasn’t done in time,” says Redwood. “We missed him by 48 hours.”

Along with his old friend Richard Burton, O’Toole holds the record for the most Oscar nominations without a win, perhaps something he can now achieve posthumously? There is no doubt he wanted one: when the Academy offered him a Lifetime Achievement Award 11 years ago, he unforgettably joked  that he ought to turn it down because he “was still in the game and might win the lovely  bugger outright”.

Video: Film critic Jason Solomons pays tribute to Peter O'Toole

Although Katherine of Alexandria was the third from last film location he set foot on, one of these, For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada, has already been released. It is unknown, however, whether the other feature, the independent thriller The Whole World at Our Feet, in which O’Toole apparently has a very small cameo role, will also come out. According to close friends, O’Toole became “sick as a dog” on the set in Kazakhstan – but, says his old agent Steve Kenis, he managed to bounce back before falling ill once again.

So what can we ascertain about the rebel, famous for his withering one-liners and wild lifestyle (“I loved drinking, and waking up in the morning to find I was in Mexico”) in what will be his last substantial performance on screen? O’Toole is said to feature in a hefty 29 minutes of the overall 106-minute running time – about nine or 10 scenes.

Just deserts: O’Toole with Omar Sharif in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (Rex) Just deserts: O’Toole with Omar Sharif in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (Rex)
By all accounts, it appears that the cast and crew were largely unaware of O’Toole’s ill health – despite the fact that he’d narrowly escaped death so many times, one writer quipped that he’d had “more comebacks than a phoenix with repetitive strain injury”. If he was unwell, he never showed it. “He brought a crackling energy on set with him,” says Redwood.

One characteristic which appears to have stood out on set was his irresistibly naughty sense of humour. “He would make the whole crew laugh,” smiles Redwood. “If he was filming a scene, he would say things afterwards like: ‘You’ve fucked that up and I’m going to tell everybody.’ One day I told him to make Nicole [Keniheart, who plays Katherine] smile and he did it effortlessly.” What did he say? Redwood collapses into laughter. “You can’t print it!” Romanian newcomer Keniheart confirms this later on with a blush. “Yes, he did make me smile in one scene... he broke the ice; he was charming, no two ways about it.”

Greater than his ability to delight with a single utterance was his gift for connecting with people he genuinely respected. “He asked me a lot of questions when we met,” says Keniheart. “We realised that at the age of six he had an illness, I don’t know what it was, and that I also had an illness at the age of six – and both of us were kept away from our families for a month. We laughed because we finally had something in common. He said: ‘I can see we will get on very well together’.

“I was terrified when we first met, but he made everything so easy,” she adds. “I felt like I had known him a really long time. He taught me not to panic and just to be myself. I feel very privileged to be quite honest;  millions of actors would die to have been in my position.”

Clips from the film show O’Toole with his trademark purr performing lines with an intensity which does not suggest poor health or fragility. “He was a firecracker,” says fellow actor and chum Edward Fox, who plays the role of Emperor Constantius. “Really, Peter is wonderful [in the film]; he had a long speech to do and it was frightfully good, but then one never knew he was going to die then.  I think by the time the film was completed, Peter was becoming very unwell and he  rather locked himself up and kept himself away from things.”

While the other actors travelled to and from Pinewood Studios, where part of the film was shot, O’Toole set up camp in a big tent on set, where his personal assistant, Lucy, looked after his every whim. He took breakfast early each day before the rest of the cast, and insisted on having his own input on camera angles and shooting. “After every take he would ask, ‘Can we see a replay?’ It slowed us down, but it was a pleasure really,” says Redwood. “He was a true professional.

“He does a death scene which we had to cut in the end. You can literally see the life drain out of one eye and then the other, which is a long one-and-a-half minute shot of him lying on the ground. It’s a great shot because he is smiling just as he dies. I don’t think I’ve seen him do a better performance than he has in this film, but it’s down to the public to decide at the end of the day.”

Whether or not it is O’Toole’s performance of a lifetime remains to be seen, but to his friends at least, the veteran will forever be remembered  as a plummy, mischievous gent who danced to his own tune. Sir John Standing, one of O’Toole’s closest friends, perhaps puts it best when he describes his funeral: “It was a proper old Irish wake with people playing the fiddle and having a few jars and sandwiches and stumbling around an open coffin.

“He was a very private man, there were no film stars or anything ridiculous there at all; just ordinary people, his mates. But there it is... darling old Pedro.”

'Katherine of Alexandria’ is released in  the UK in November (www.katherineof



Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss