While he has not proven to be a prolific filmmaker, Hugh Hudson has directed a handful of fascinating and well-crafted movies, nearly all of which center on the theme of search for identity. On various levels, his early films play out as veiled autobiography--the events and characters may not line up exactly, but the overarching arc of the story reflects his concerns and mirrors his life.
The defining moments in the life of this oldest son of a wealthy landowner may be traced to two events: his being sent to boarding school at age seven and his parents' divorce about a year later. Rebelling against the effort to mold him into "a perfect model of a ruling-class Englishman," Hudson confounded his family by showing an early interest in film. His first amateur home movie was an ambitious effort set during the reign of Oliver Cromwell. By the time he had graduated from Eton and performed the requisite military service, he was ready to rebel further. Refusing to join his father's business, he opted instead for a position as head of a casting department at a London advertising agency. Still determined to pursue a career in film, he quit after six months and headed to Paris for a stint as a film editor.
Two years later, Hudson returned to London and eventually became one of the founders of Cammell-Hudson-Brownjohn Company, which became an important production house in 1960s London. Under its auspices, Hudson made his debut as co-director of the award-winning documentary "A... Is for Apple" (1963). Two years later, he was the solo helmer of "Birth of a Twin." Following nearly a decade of documentary work, Hudson joined forces with Ridley Scott in 1970 and spent a five-year period overseeing numerous TV commercials, many of which won prizes at film festivals. Going solo in 1975, he formed Hudson Film and began to look for a project that would serve as his feature directorial debut. By coincidence, he was sharing office space with Alan Parker and when Parker needed a second unit director on "Midnight Express" (1978), Hudson was hired. Able to subvert the Turkish government who believed him to be making a documentary, he was able to shoot background footage for the film.
While he had been fielding offers for features for more than 15 years, Hudson found most of the material unexciting. Finally, he came upon a script by Colin Welland about the British runners who competed in the 1924 Olympics. The director responded to "Chariots of Fire" as it combined "a strong religious backbone" with "a classic English education" and thematically raised issues of self-sacrifice, conformity versus individuality and a sense of loyalty. "Chariots of Fire" (1981) earned strong notices for its emotionally effective script, superb production values and fine performances (particularly leads Ben Cross and Ian Charleson and supporting play Ian Holm). It received seven Academy Award nominations, including one for Hudson's superb direction, and emerged as the surprise winner for Best Picture. While some claim that Vangelis' memorably uplifting score was partly responsible for its netting the top statue, the film delivered on its premise and offered a close-up look into the psyche of athletes in conflict (one is a Jew, the other a devout Christian who won't compete on the Sabbath).
Hudson next turned to a dream project, "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" (1984), which purported to be the most faithful rendering of Edgar Rice Burroughs' creation. Still, the project was beset by problems; screenwriter Robert Towne was unhappy with the finished film petitioned to have his credit under the name of his dog P.H. Vazak, and actress Andie MacDowell's thick Southern accent had to be dubbed by Glenn Close. Reaction to the finished motion picture was divided, but most praised Ralph Richardson's portrayal of Tarzan's father (it proved to be his final screen role). The film, however, introduced another dominant motif of the director's work: a son's search for his father and vice versa. Drawing from his parents' divorce and his estrangement from his parents, Hudson explored this theme, however obliquely. It was also prominent in his follow-up, the muddled "Revolution" (1985) which featured a miscast Al Pacino as a trapper whose son is conscripted into the colonial army. As with all of Hudson's work, the production values were superb, but the script and the miscasting destroyed what might have been a promising scenario.
"Lost Angels" (1989) further explored the dominant motifs of the director's oeuvre. A troubled teenager--the rebel--is institutionalized and must endeavor to find the means to survive. Hudson stated that he wanted to send warning signals about what he perceived as the tendency to make children comply with the norm (or conversely turn them into someone else's problem if they fail to conform). But where the material cried out for anger, Hudson cushioned it in sympathy. The result was uneven and ultimately unsatisfying. It also signaled a temporary lull in the director's career.
In 1997, Hudson reteamed with David Puttnam to direct "My Life So Far/World of Moss," a coming-of-age tale set in the Scotland of the late 20s and early 30s and based on Sir Dennis Forman's memoir "Son of Adam." With a strong cast headed by Colin Firth and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and above average production values, the film was released in summer 1999 and proved a welcome antidote to the more high profile big-budget releases. Perhaps ironically, though, there was little fanfare trumpeting Hudson's return to directing, although it was welcomed by many a cineaste. Fortunately, the director chose not to take more time off; he also directed the biopic "I Dreamed of Africa" (2000), with Kim Basinger essaying real-life African wildlife expert Kuki Gellmann.
Director (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Returned to London and formed the production company, Cammell-Hudson-Brownjohn (date approximate)
Company produced first documentary, "A... Is For Apple"; co-directed with John Burrows
Solo directorial debut with the documentary, "Birth of a Twin"
First screenplay credit, the award-winning short documentary, "The Tortise and the Hare"; also produced and directed
Teamed with Ridley Scott to make TV commercials
Formed Hudson Film; shared offices with Alan Parker
Wrote and directed "Fangio", a biographical documentary of the world champion race car driver
Feature debut, served as 2nd unit director on Parker's "Midnight Express"
Feature directorial debut, "Chariots of Fire"; film earned seven Oscar nominations including one for Best Director; won four including Best Picture; also initial screen collaboration with David Puttnam
Debut as feature producer with "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes"; also directed
Experienced boxoffice failure with "Revolution", a father-son drama set against the background of the colonial rebellion in America
Last film for nearly a decade, "Lost Angels"
Reteamed with David Puttnam for "My Life So Far/World of Moss", a coming-of-age drama set in Scotland in the 1920s and 1930s; based on the memoir by Sir Denis Forman; released in the USA in 1999
Directed the biopic "I Dreamed of Africa", which starred Kim Basinger as African wildlife expert Kuki Gallmann