Paul Scofield, English actor, Died at 86

Dead, David Paul Scofield on the 19th of March 2008 at the age of 86, better known as Paul Scofield, he was an English actor of stage and screen who was known for his striking presence, distinctive voice, and for the clarity and effortless intensity of his delivery.

Born in Birmingham England, the son of Mary and Edward Harry Scofield, when Scofield was a few weeks old, his family moved to Hurstpierpoint, Sussex, where his father served as the headmaster at the Hurstpierpoint Church of England School.

Scofield told his biographer, Garry O’Connor, that his upbringing was divided. His father was an Anglican and his mother a Roman Catholic.

Baptized into his mother’s faith, Scofield said, “Some days we were little Protestants and, on others, we were all devout little Catholics.”

In 1947, Scofield appeared as Hamlet at the Royal National Theatre alongside a then unknown Claire Bloom as Ophelia.

In her later book, Leaving a Doll’s House: A Memoir, Bloom recalls that during the production she had a serious crush on Scofield.

As Scofield was happily married and the father of a son, Bloom hoped only “to be flirted with and taken some notice of.” She later recalled, “I could never make up my mind which of my two Hamlets I found the more devastating: the openly homosexual, charismatic Helpmann, or the charming, shy young man from Sussex.”

Rupert Frazer admitted that he was the first to jump off, landing safely, but bruised. Out of control, the horses turned to the right when confronted by a stone wall, causing the shooting brake to roll completely, catapulting the actors into a pile of scaffolding that had been stacked next to the wall.

Robert Hardy stood up and realised to his amazement that he was unhurt.

He looked across to see Edward Fox stand up, “turn completely green and collapse in a heap”.

He had broken five ribs and his shoulder-blade.

He noticed that Paul Scofield was lying very still on the ground “and I saw that his shin-bone was sticking out through his trousers”.

As the film takes place in October during the partridge-shooting season, the filmmakers had to make a choice whether to delay filming for a year or re-cast.

James Mason had just finished filming Doctor Fischer of Geneva for the BBC.

He returned to Shakespeare in 1962 with Peter Brook, the noted British director and producer, directing him as “Lear” at the newly formed Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) at Stratford.

This was a pioneering minimalist production, one of the first “bare stage” efforts – though things were pretty bare stage in Shakespeare’s day.

Scofield then did “Coriolanus” and “Love’s Labour’s Lost” for the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario in 1963. His third film came six years after his second screen appearance (1958).

This was his standout performance in The Train (1964), a production of his co-star, Burt Lancaster, that grew in size and budget with the entrance of Lancaster’s second choice for director, John Frankenheimer.

Some of the difficulties involved might have turned someone of Scofield’s discipline back to the stage thereafter, but the filming of “Seasons” arrived, and he would hardly refuse.

With Robert Bolt handling the screenplay and a superlative supporting cast, the film version of A Man for All Seasons (1966) collected some thirty-three international awards, including a three-statue sweep of prime-Oscar categories plus another three for good measure.

Through the 1980s, Scofield did a mix of TV and film on both sides of the Atlantic.

But he was drawn back to Shakespeare and filming efforts, though in humbler parts, first in the Henry V (1989) of ambitious Kenneth Branagh, as the French king, and, the next year, in the Franco Zeffirelli, Hamlet (1990), as “The Ghost” – with the real buzz being for Mel Gibson as the dour “Prince of Denmark”.

Both films were well-crafted with impressive supporting casts.

And Scofield could be content that as with all his roles, he was remaining consistent with himself as his own best judge of how to challenge his acting gifts.