Peter O’Toole: much more than ‘Lawrence Of Arabia’

 

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Peter O’Toole was far from the first choice to play T.E. Lawrence, but gave a searing and utterly startling performance in David Lean’s 1962 epic.

He was equally effective in portraying Lawrence as a golden-haired warrior king and in showing him as an eccentric intellectual who chafed against military discipline and had a strange, masochistic quality about him.

More than 50 years on, Lawrence Of Arabia still defines O’Toole’s movie career. Nothing he did subsequently matched the raw voltage of that performance. That’s not to say the rest of his career was insignificant. There were many Oscar nominations and many scene-stealing turns.

O’Toole was never dull in front of the camera. He rarely played minor characters or self-effacing types but was far more likely to be the roaring drunk (My Favorite Year) or the mercurial king (Becket, A Lion In Winter).

What distinguished him from his contemporaries was the ease with which he straddled two very different traditions. He possessed the authority of the Donald Wolfit actor-manager type, and the aggressive and subversive qualities of a new generation of “angry” actors like Albert Finney and Richard Harris.

 

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