Denholm Elliott

Denholm Elliott


Birth Place
London, England, GB
May 31, 1922
October 06, 1992
Cause of Death
Complications Resulting From Aids


One of the most accomplished character actors of the 20th century, Denholm Elliott was an award-winning performer who embodied the extraordinary lives of ordinary men in films ranging from "Nothing But the Best" (1964) and "The Doll House" (1973) to "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), "Trading Places" (1983) and "Room with a View" (1985), which earned him an Oscar nomination. Elliott's sto...

Family & Companions

Virginia McKenna
Actor. Married on March 1, 1954, divorced.
Susan Robinson


Named Commander of the British Empire.


One of the most accomplished character actors of the 20th century, Denholm Elliott was an award-winning performer who embodied the extraordinary lives of ordinary men in films ranging from "Nothing But the Best" (1964) and "The Doll House" (1973) to "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), "Trading Places" (1983) and "Room with a View" (1985), which earned him an Oscar nomination. Elliott's stock in trade was his enormous capacity to strike an emotional chord within his characters, which tended towards officious professionals or outsiders contending with past regrets. He rose to fame in the early 1960s as a wayward aristocrat in "Nothing but the Best" and soon established himself as a versatile character actor on television and in numerous films. Elliott reached his apex in the early 1980s with a string of high-profile hits including "Raiders," "Trading Places" and "Room" before he was diagnosed with the HIV virus in 1987. He would spend the remaining years of his life active in features and TV before his death in 1992, which brought to a close a remarkable and well-respected career.

Denholm Mitchell Elliott was born May 31, 1922 in London, England, the son of Myles and Nina Elliott. Educated at Malvern College, he began training at the Royal Academy of Art but dropped out shortly before World War II. While serving as a radio operator and gunner with the Royal Air Force, his plane was downed near Sylt, Germany. He would spend the next three years in a prisoner of war camp, where he passed the time by organizing an amateur theater group called the No Name Players. Shortly after being freed by Allied forces, he was discharged and returned to London, where he joined a stock theater company. His feature film debut came in 1949 with a supporting role in the comedy "Dear Mr. Prohack."

In 1950, Laurence Olivier chose him to play his son in a production of Christopher Fry's comedy "Venus Observed," which put his stage career into high gear. He was soon treading the boards in New York in "Ring Round the Moon" while making the rounds of American live television anthologies. Elliott returned to British cinema in 1952 as Ralph Richardson's craven son in David Lean's "Breaking the Sound Barrier," and settled into a prolific career in features and television. He enjoyed a brief if unremarkable tenure in leading roles, most notably in "The Cruel Sea" (1953) and "Pacific Destiny" (1956), but fared better in character roles, where he displayed an uncanny knack for imbuing even the smallest parts with subtle grades of emotional depth.

Elliott's best roles often involved a sense of world-weariness; his characters bore their lots in life with varying degrees of cynicism, aloofness or sadness, which he depicted in small but telling expressions or gestures. He first captured the attention of critics as the forgotten black sheep of an aristocratic family who took Alan Bates' sociopathic social climber under his wing, with tragic results in Clive Donner's "Nothing But the Best" (1964). He made his American feature debut as an embittered British POW in Bryan Forbes' "King Rat" (1965), and then gave a shocking turn as a back-alley abortionist in "Alfie" (1966). From that point on, Elliott was in demand as a character actor in all manner of features, from highbrow productions like Sidney Lumet's adaptation of Chekov's "The Sea Gull" (1968) and "The Doll House" (1973) as the scheming bank official determined to unseat Anthony Hopkins, to nonsense like "Percy" (1971), a sex comedy about a penis transplant, and Hammer Films' appallingly tasteless "To The Devil, A Daughter" (1976), with Elliott as the father of a young nun (Nastassja Kinski) chosen by Satanists to carry a demonic fetus. However, he could be counted upon to deliver professional, polished turns that frequently rose above the material.

After spending much of the 1970s on British television and in undistinguished features like "The Boys from Brazil" (1978) and "Zulu Dawn" (1979), Elliott experienced a career flourish that led to an Oscar nomination and three consecutive BAFTA awards. After enjoying a brief but notable turn as Indiana Jones' friend Marcus Brody in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) - his first bona fide blockbuster film - he earned his first BAFTA as Dan Aykroyd's acerbic butler in John Landis' breezy comedy "Trading Places" (1983). A second came the following year with "A Private Function" (1984), the Alan Bennett-penned comedy about social niceties gone to seed during World War II food rationing, with Elliott as a prickly small town doctor who persecuted meek chiropractor Michael Palin. This extraordinary streak continued the following year with an Oscar nomination for his turn as the free-thinking Mr. Emerson in the Merchant-Ivory production "A Room with a View" (1985) and a third BAFTA for the political thriller "Defence of the Realm" (1985), where Elliott's turn as a dissolute journalist was informed in part by his own real-life struggles with alcoholism. The quartet of honors solidified Elliott's status as one of the film industry's most respected actors, as well as its most notorious scene stealers, a notion his "Realm" co-star Gabriel Byrne underscored by stating that the actor's cliché of never working with children or animals should be amended to include Elliott on that list of upstaging forces.

But as Elliott's screen career enjoyed its finest hours, his personal life had descended into tragedy. Privately bisexual, his second marriage, to actress Susan Robinson, was an open one, and he indulged in numerous affairs with both men and women during the course of their 20-year marriage. But in 1987, he was diagnosed with the HIV virus. He would spend much of the next half-decade working at a frenetic pace on projects like "Maurice" (1987), his second collaboration with the Merchant-Ivory team, and "September" (1987), a rare non-comedic feature by Woody Allen, who cast Elliott as a lovelorn French teacher pining for Mia Farrow's troubled heroine. There was also a reprise of his "Raiders" character, though with a stronger comic streak, in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989), and scores of quality television appearances, including a 1987 adaptation of Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales" (HTV), the Australian prison drama "Bangkok Hilton" (10 TV, 1989) with Nicole Kidman, and "A Murder of Quality" (Thames Television, 1991) as John Le Carre's master spy, George Smiley.

Elliott's final film appearance was largely unseen by audiences. Cast as a doddering, alcoholic stage veteran in Peter Bodgdanovich's adaptation of Michael Frayn's hit play "Noises Off" (1992), he was joined by an all-star cast, including Michael Caine, Carol Burnett and John Ritter, but the film failed to find viewership during its brief theatrical release in March of that year. By the fall of 1992, Elliott's health had deteriorated dramatically, and he was flown to Ibiza, where he had owned a bar in the late 1980s. On Oct. 6, 1992, he died of AIDS-related tuberculosis. Soon thereafter, Susan Robinson memorialized her husband by establishing Can Bufi, a hotel complex on the island where HIV-positive visitors could enjoy a free holiday.

By Paul Gaita



Cast (Feature Film)

Noises Off (1992)
Scorchers (1991)
Toy Soldiers (1991)
One Against the Wind (1991)
Father Leblanc
The Love She Sought (1990)
Blade on the Feather (1989)
Over Indulgence (1989)
Return to the River Kwai (1989)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Killing Dad (1989)
Stealing Heaven (1988)
Maurice (1987)
September (1987)
Defence of the Realm (1986)
Vernon Bayliss
The Whoopee Boys (1986)
The Happy Valley (1986)
Sir Henry Broughton
Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry (1986)
A Room With a View (1986)
Mr. Emerson
Transmutations (1986)
Dr Savary
Past Caring (1985)
The Razor's Edge (1984)
Camille (1984)
A Private Function (1984)
Doctor Swaby
The Wicked Lady (1983)
Trading Places (1983)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1983)
Dr Mortimer
Brimstone And Treacle (1982)
Tom Bates
Sunday Lovers (1981)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Marcus Brody
The Missionary (1981)
Bishop Of London
Rising Damp (1980)
Bad Timing (1980)
Stefan Vognic
Saint Jack (1979)
Zulu Dawn (1979)
It's Not the Size That Counts (1979)
Game For Vultures (1979)
Raglan Thistle
Cuba (1979)
La Petite fille en velours bleu (1978)
Watership Down (1978)
The Boys From Brazil (1978)
Sidney Beynon
Sweeney 2 (1978)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1978)
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Partners (1976)
John Grey
Voyage Of The Damned (1976)
Robin And Marian (1976)
To the Devil, a Daughter (1976)
Russian Roulette (1975)
Commander Petapiece
The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz (1974)
A Doll's House (1973)
The Vault of Horror (1973)
Madame Sin (1972)
Quest For Love (1971)
Too Late the Hero (1970)
Captain Hornsby
Percy (1970)
Emmanuel Whitbread
The House That Dripped Blood (1970)
Charles ("Method For Murder")
Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush (1968)
Mr. Beauchamp
The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968)
Vance Fowler
The Sea Gull (1968)
Maroc 7 (1968)
Inspector Barrada
Alfie (1966)
Mr. Smith
The Spy With a Cold Nose (1966)
McGuire, Go Home! (1966)
King Rat (1965)
Lieut. Col. Denholm Larkin
You Must Be Joking! (1965)
Captain Tabasco
Nothing But the Best (1964)
Charlie Prince
Station Six--Sahara (1964)
Scent of Mystery (1960)
Oliver Larker
A Tale of Two Cities (1958)
The Night My Number Came Up (1955)
Flight Lieutenant Mckenzie
Lease of Life (1954)
The Heart of the Matter (1954)
The Man Who Loved Redheads (1954)
They Who Dare (1954)
Sergeant Corcoran
The Cruel Sea (1953)
The Holly and the Ivy (1952)
Mick Gregory
The Ringer (1952)
John Lenley
The Sound Barrier (1952)
Dear Mr. Prohack (1949)

Cast (Special)

A Murder of Quality (1991)
Scoop (1990)
A Child's Christmas in Wales (1987)
Shooting the Chandelier (1978)
The Fear Is Spreading (1975)
The Holy Terror (1965)
Sidney Herbert
The Moon and Sixpence (1959)
The Lark (1957)

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Bangkok Hilton (1990)
James Clavell's Noble House (1988)
Codename: Kyril (1988)
Colonel-General Stepen Povin
The Bourne Identity (1988)
Doctor Washburn
Hotel du Lac (1986)
Marco Polo (1982)

Life Events


Stage acting debut in "The Drunkard" in Amersham, Bucks., England


London debut, "The Guinea Pig"


Film debut, "Dear Mr. Prohack"


Broadway debut, "The Green Bay Tree"


Received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for "A Room With a View"


Final feature film, "Noises Off"


Movie Clip

Saint Jack (1979) -- (Movie Clip) No No, Kong Hong! Ben Gazzara (title character who, we’re learning, is an honest pimp with a cleaner legit job) entertains Hong Kong businessman Leigh (Denholm Elliott) with a visit to his Singapore Brit barfly friends, Joss Ackland, James Villiers (as voluble Froggett), Rodney Bewes and Mark Kingston, in Peter Bogdanovich’s Saint Jack, 1979.
Saint Jack (1979) -- (Movie Clip) Nothing To Do With The Animal At the Singapore airport Ben Gazzara (title character), executing an errand for his Chinese businessman boss, works his contacts and picks up English Leigh (Denholm Elliott), Andrew Chua driving the cab, Peter Bogdanovich directing from the script he co-wrote with novelist Paul Theroux and Howard Sackler, in Saint Jack, 1979.
Holly And The Ivy, The (1952) -- (Movie Clip) You've Always Got A Headache Relations arriving for Christmas at the Norfolk vicarage where Jenny (Celia Johnson) keeps house for her widow father Rev. Gregory (Ralph Richardson), greeting brother in law Richard (Hugh Williams), seeing off her semi-secret beau David (John Gregson), managing aunts (Maureen Delany, Margaret Halstan) and soldier brother (Denholm Elliott), Margaret Leighton traveling alone, in The Holly And The Ivy, 1952.
Room With A View, A (1986) -- (Movie Clip) I Promessi Sposi Following her eventful trip to Florence, we meet the brother and mother (Rupert Graves, Rosemary Leach) of Lucy (Helena Bonham-Carter) and Daniel Day-Lewis, who’s become her fiancè, which doesn’t please the vicar Beebe (Simon Callow), in the Merchant-Ivory breakthrough feature A Room With A View 1986.
Room With A View, A (1986) -- (Movie Clip) We Have No View Straight to the topic, we meet Lucy (Helena Bonham Carter), her chaperone (Maggie Smith) and their less polite but equally English fellows (Denholm Elliott, Julian Sands as the Emersons), ca. 1908, at a Florentine pensione, Judi Dench also dining, opening the Merchant-Ivory hit from the E.M. Forster novel, A Room With A View 1986.
House That Dripped Blood, The (1970) -- (Movie Clip) He Specializes In Murder The Scotland Yard man (John Bennett) and the local sergeant (John Malcolm) introduce the first story, John Bryans the estate agent Denholm Elliott and Joanna Dunham the visiting Londoners, in the four-part horror anthology from Shepperton Studios, The House That Dripped Blood, 1970.
Sea Gull, The (1968) -- (Movie Clip) Must Be A Lot Of Fish Director Sidney Lumet on location in Sweden, Nina (Vanessa Redgrave) after her performance in an amateur play is cut off, with hostess Arkadina (Simone Signoret), introduced to her writer lover Trigorin (James Mason), in the 1968 British-American-Greek production of Chekov's The Sea Gull.
Sound Barrier, The -- (Movie Clip) Jet Propulsion Aviation big-shot Ridgefield (Ralph Richardson) shows his new son-in-law, flier Tony (Nigel Patrick) a new thing called a jet engine, Ann Todd and Denholm Elliott standing by, in David Lean's The Sound Barrier 1952.
Sound Barrier, The -- (Movie Clip) Our Little Secret tbdFlier Tony (Nigel Patrick), with wife Susan (Ann Todd), meets his aviation-magnate father-in-law Ridgefield (Ralph Richardson), his own son Chris (Denholm Elliott), attending, in David Lean's The Sound Barrier, 1952.
Sound Barrier, The -- (Movie Clip) Opening, Dover The famous white cliffs are seen and the flier is John Justin (as "Philip Peel") in the knockout opening from The Sound Barrier, 1952, David Lean's fictionalized tale of aviation history.
Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush -- (Movie Clip) A Bit About Wine... Maurice (Denholm Elliott) treats his guest Jamie, (Barry Evans) his daughter Caroline, (Angela Scoular) his wife (Maxine Audley) and housekeeper (Erika Raffael) to some insights about wine in Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush, 1968.



Myles Layman Elliott
Nina Elliott
Jennifer Elliott
Mother, Virginia McKenna.
Mark Elliott
Mother, Virginia McKenna.


Virginia McKenna
Actor. Married on March 1, 1954, divorced.
Susan Robinson



Named Commander of the British Empire.