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Armed with a keen visual awareness and compelling ability to tell a story, director Stephen Frears became established in British cinema and television during the 1970s and 1980s before receiving international acclaim for "My Beautiful Laundrette" (1986). From there, Frears balanced careers in both America and his native England, helming the critically acclaimed British biopic "Prick Up Your Ears" (1987), while pushing boundaries with the lavish "Dangerous Liaisons" (1988). He went on to helm one of the best neo-noirs of the postmodern age, "The Grifters" (1990), which earned some of the best praise of his career. Though he no doubt could have further developed his Hollywood credentials, Frears instead returned to England to direct smaller indies like "The Snapper" (1993) and "The Van" (1996). His return to the studio fold proved disastrous with "Mary Reilly" (1996), a commercial and critical flop that marked one of the few low points of his career. Frears soon bounced back with a sharp adaptation of countryman Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" (2000), before earning more critical acclaim for his smart thriller "Dirty Pretty Things" (2003). With "The Queen" (2006), arguably one of his finest...
Armed with a keen visual awareness and compelling ability to tell a story, director Stephen Frears became established in British cinema and television during the 1970s and 1980s before receiving international acclaim for "My Beautiful Laundrette" (1986). From there, Frears balanced careers in both America and his native England, helming the critically acclaimed British biopic "Prick Up Your Ears" (1987), while pushing boundaries with the lavish "Dangerous Liaisons" (1988). He went on to helm one of the best neo-noirs of the postmodern age, "The Grifters" (1990), which earned some of the best praise of his career. Though he no doubt could have further developed his Hollywood credentials, Frears instead returned to England to direct smaller indies like "The Snapper" (1993) and "The Van" (1996). His return to the studio fold proved disastrous with "Mary Reilly" (1996), a commercial and critical flop that marked one of the few low points of his career. Frears soon bounced back with a sharp adaptation of countryman Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" (2000), before earning more critical acclaim for his smart thriller "Dirty Pretty Things" (2003). With "The Queen" (2006), arguably one of his finest achievements, particularly in drawing an exemplary performance from star Helen Mirren, Frears cemented his place as one of England's most diverse and celebrated directors.
Born on June 20, 1941 in Leicester, England, Frears was raised by his father, Russell, a physician and accountant, and his mother, Ruth, a social worker. After receiving his primary education at Gresham's School in Norfolk, Frears studied law at Cambridge, where he became involved in student theatre before graduating from the university's Trinity College. His interest in the stage only increased following his Cambridge days, leading him to join London's Royal Court Theater, where he directed productions of "Inadmissible Evidence" (1964) and "Waiting for Godot" (1964). Frears segued into film two years later after British filmmaker Karel Reisz offered the unemployed director a job as an assistant director on the feature comedy "Morgan!" (1966). For the remainder of the decade, Frears worked mainly for the small screen at the BBC while helming the 30-minute short film "The Burning" (1967) for the British Film Institute's Production Board. Meanwhile, he served as an assistant director on actor Albert Finney's directorial debut "Charlie Bubbles" (1967) and on director Lindsay Anderson's public school satire "If " (1968). Frears finally had the opportunity to step into the director's chair for his own first feature, "Gumshoe" (1971), a satire on American detective films with Finney as a romantic dreamer who envisions himself a private eye.
Despite directing his first movie, Frears spent the ensuing decade behind the camera working almost exclusively for British television, though several small screen projects also received a theatrical release. After teaming with playwright Alan Bennett on a small screen adaptation of "A Day Out" (1971), the director collaborated with Neville Smith on "Match of Day" (1972) and Tom Stoppard on "Three Men in a Boat" (BBC, 1975). Following a rare onscreen appearance as the unnamed Biscuit Man in "The Long Shot" (1978), Frears' television movie "Saigon: Year of the Cat" (1983), scripted by David Hare, was also released in theatres. Frears began hitting his stride mid-decade in a strong return to feature filmmaking with "The Hit" (1984), a taut, well-executed crime thriller about a British mobster (Terence Stamp)-turned-police informant, who is kidnapped by the people he informed on and brought to Paris for his comeuppance. Though dark and rather downbeat, "The Hit" had a biting sense of humor beneath its hard-boiled façade - a quality that would mark many of the director's subsequent films.
With "My Beautiful Laundrette" (1986), shot in 16mm on a budget of only $900,000 for British television, Frears finally achieved his big breakthrough. Working with writer Hanif Kureishi, the director portrayed the effects of racism, homophobia and underemployment on working-class London through the eyes of a young Pakistani (Gordon Warnecke) attempting to carve his own place in the world, while struggling to hide his romantic relationship with an old friend (Daniel Day-Lewis). Despite the low budget and small screen aspirations, "My Beautiful Laundrette" was shown at various festivals around the world before becoming an international hit. Frears collaborated with Kureishi on his next film "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid" (1987), which also dealt with the same themes in a multi-layered look at the social relations revolving around a liberal, educated, mixed-race couple - Pakistani and upper-middle-class British - living in a poor section of London. Though the themes were not explored to their fullest, the rich visuals and good performances made for an entertaining film that exposed many of the inequities of British society.
For his next effort, Frears directed "Prick Up Your Ears" (1987), Alan Bennett's adaptation of John Lahr's biography of playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman), who was brutally murdered at the height of his fame by his longtime lover and roommate Ken Halliwell (Alfred Molina). Rather than a standard biography, the film concentrated mainly on the relationship between the two men as a study of marriage gone tragically sour. Meanwhile, Frears fulfilled his longtime wish to work in the Hollywood system with "Dangerous Liaisons" (1988), an adaptation of Christopher Hampton's play. Frears displayed his customary trademarks of good performances and witty dialogue in this lavish and often racy period drama about a misogynistic French nobleman (John Malkovich) challenged by his increasingly more vicious former lover (Glenn Close) to seduce a highly moral married woman (Michelle Pfeiffer). Though Frears was ultimately left out, "Dangerous Liaisons" received seven Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture. Frears' next Hollywood outing, "The Grifters" (1990), retained his trademark stylization - a timeless Southern California floating somewhere between the 1950s and 1980s - but added the grittiness that informed his British features. Adapted from the novel by Jim Thompson and starring John Cusack, Annette Bening and Anjelica Huston, the neo-noir about two-bit cons operating on the edges of society earned some of his greatest acclaim and confirmed Frears as a Hollywood director, which was capped by a Best Director nomination at the Academy Awards.
Frears followed up with "Hero" (1992), a lightweight Capraesque fable about the power of the media and the nature of heroism. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis and Andy Garcia, the film received some positive reviews, but ultimately fizzled at the box office. Moreover, the satirical drama broke little new ground for the director, who reportedly clashed on set with star Hoffman. Frears had better luck when he returned to England to direct "The Snapper" (1993). Based on a novel by Roddy Doyle and made for British television, this film was a sequel to Alan Parker's "The Commitments" (1991) and centered on an Irish working-class father (Colm Meaney) coping with the pregnancy of his teenager daughter (Tina Kellegher). As has been the case in the best of his films, "The Snapper" featured a literate script and strong performances, particularly from Golden Globe-nominated Meaney. Frears directed the third installment to the so-called Barrytown Trilogy, "The Van" (1996), which screened at the Cannes Film Festival. The quirky seriocomedy focused on an unemployed slacker (Colm Meaney) who goes into business with his more industrious, but ultimately bossy best friend (Donal O'Kelly) selling fish and chips out of a van.
Prior to "The Van" releasing to theatres, Frears spent almost two years trying to make "Mary Reilly" (1996), a rather misguided adaptation of Valerie Martin's parallel novel that told Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde tale told from the point of view of a parlor maid (Julia Roberts). The somber gothic horror opened to lackluster box office and harsh reviews, with critics carping over the miscast Roberts as Mary and John Malkovich as Jekyll/Hyde. With "The Hi-Lo Country" (1998), Frears reunited with producers Barbara De Fina and Martin Scorsese from "The Grifters" and revealed the director completely at home with the Western genre. Overwhelmed by the weight of responsibility that studio money entailed, he insisted the movie be made as an independent and successfully grafted film noir onto the Western, benefiting from a superb, charismatic turn by Woody Harrelson as a World War II vet trying to live in New Mexico as the "last real cowboy." Keeping to his penchant for variety, Frears next helmed "High Fidelity" (2000), a quirky comedy exploring the romantic misfortunes of the owner of semi-failing record store (John Cusack). With a ferociously funny performance from Cusack and a star-making turn from newcomer Jack Black, as well as strong source material in author Nick Hornby's comic novel, "High Fidelity" earned high praise from critics and a devoted Gen-X following.
Frears continued to push the envelope by making his American television debut at the helm of a live small screen remake of "Fail Safe" (CBS, 2000). The two-hour, black-and-white remake of Sidney Lumet's 1964 feature was a passion project for producer-star George Clooney. Though Frears did yeoman's work capturing the inherent suspense of an impending nuclear attack, the drama proved too old-fashioned for contemporary audiences. Frears surprised Hollywood with his next career move, heading back to Europe to direct the French drama, "Liam" (2000), which chronicled the effects of Liverpool's Depression on the family of a sprightly, but stuttering, eight-year-old boy (Anthony Borrows). He stayed in Europe to helm the dark morality meditation "Dirty Pretty Things" (2003), which featured Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tatou as immigrants caught up in the shadowy secrets of an upscale hotel's black market underbelly. Frears returned to television for the small-screen political drama "The Deal" (Channel Four, 2003), which focused on the relationship between England's Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown (David Morrissey. Frears won a BAFTA Award for Best Single Drama in 2003, an honor shared with producers Christine Langan and Peter Morgan.
Frears next directed Dame Judi Dench in "Mrs. Henderson Presents" (2005), a moving and often amusing story about a wealthy widow (Dench) whose dissatisfaction with the quiet life prompts her to buy a theatre, where she delights audiences and upsets authorities by putting on nude reviews. Though known for its typically strong performance from Dench, the film earned Frears a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture. Frears again received critical praise for his next film, "The Queen" (2006), a richly textured look at Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) during her struggle to publicly mourn the death of Princess Diana in 1997, leading to a private and public battle with Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). Mirren was hailed by critics and bestowed various awards for her strong, nuanced performance, while Frears quietly earned nominations for Best Director at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. He moved on to explore power struggles over money, sex, age and society with "Chéri" (2009), which starred Michelle Pfeiffer as a retired courtesan whose romance with a young playboy (Rupert Friend) is interrupted by a jealous friend (Kathy Bates). Frears next directed "Tamara Drewe" (2010), a seriocomic tale about a former ugly duckling-turned-raving beauty (Gemma Arterton), who suddenly finds herself dealing with one potential suitor after another.
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CAST: (feature film)
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Created an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 1998
About winning the race to be the first director to release a film based on Choderlos de Laclos' 1782 novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses": "It's amazing what you can do when you've got an Oscar-winning director staring over your shoulder.
"I knew that Milos [Forman, who was simultaneously helming "Valmont"] takes a long time to make his movies. But it does work wonders--I mean, it's a very good thing to have somebody else making the same film a few days later after you. I would thoroughly recommend it as a way of geting things done." --Stephen Frears quoted in The New York Times Magazine, December 18, 1988.
"This black hole that people talk about in my career in the 70s, when I didn't make any films--in retrospect what I was doing was learning my job. But I was learning it on very, very good material. We were, as they say, grinding it out, but we were doing it with the very best writers and the very best actors.
"In the BBC, we were trained that it was the writer's voice we were filming; I know that's clearly not the case in America, but it's not my job to alter a writer's story.
"I wouldn't cross the road if a script isn't good." --Frears in The New York Times Magazine, December 18, 1988.
"I didn't want to go into filmmaking. I went into theater because a couple of actors came into town, and I just wanted to run away and join them. Then I met a film director and he said come and work on my film. I went and worked on his film. That was the first time I was ever on a film set. It wasn't at all a plan. It wasn't like it is now. There weren't people called film directors in those days. Film directors weren't part of normal life. That is all quite new. Films were things you saw in the cinema. They weren't made by people I knew. They came by magic." --Frears to Michelle Bryant in FP West Calendar, December 1998.
Why he does not go back and look at his previous work: "All you ever do is wonder if someday you'll lose your talent. That's what I lie in bed and worry about. I might look at something and say, 'God, I can't do that anymore.'" --Frears to The Washington Post, January 10, 1999.
On his entry to the Western genre, "The Hi-Lo Country", adapted by Walon Green from Max Evans' 1961 novel celebrating both the end of the true cowboy era and the author's friendship with fellow cowboy Big Boy Matson: "It's really about the mythology and the reality. This is not a kid's cowboy movie, it's a grown-up film ...
"My head was full of all those stories about [Howard] Hawks bringing Montgomery Clift out to act opposite John Wayne in 'Red River' and the contrast between them. That was what I was looking for. Woody [Harrelson] was a country boy, an outsider in the right way and charismatic. Billy [Crudup]'s a New York actor, he's pretty young but he looks as though he's experienced something of life. What you realise is that these people are strong and silent; they don't sit around and discuss their feeling or emotions as we do today, and the landscape becomes the way you tell the emotional story of the character." --quoted in the London Times of London, July 21, 1999.
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