History Repeating? Comparing British, Irish & Australian Actors of Yesterday and Today

I was watching The Avengers, and I was struck by something. When watching Prometheus I felt the same thing, and when I finally sat down and watched Beginners it hit me: Déjà vu. I was watching contemporary British, Australian, and Irish actors but I felt like I had been transported back to the 1960s, a time when the actors of British New Wave cinema came to prominence at home and abroad. There are a lot of actors of today who would fit right in to that 1960s landscape and vice versa. Today, I’m starting a multi-part series comparing a British, Irish, or Australian actor of the 1960s to a contemporary counterpart.

Albert FinneyBest known for: Tom Jones, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Two for the Road. A seminal actor of the British New Wave, Albert Finney took on an eclectic mix of challenging and groundbreaking roles. He moved effortlessly from vicious louts to loveable charmers, and he continues to be one of my favorites today. Ewan McGregorBest known for: Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge!, the Star Wars prequels. McGregor is known for his fun and diverse roles. Always charming and clever, he has developed a solid résumé over the last 15 years.
Full Circle Moment: McGregor played the young version of Finney’s character in 2003’s Big Fish.
Laurence Harvey  Best known for: The Manchurian Candidate, Darling, Expresso Bongo. Harvey was known for his cutting wit and biting elocution. He came to stardom in the UK and Hollywood with roles in major films like BUtterfield 8 and The Manchurian Candidate. Born in Lithuania and raised in South Africa, Harvey became the symbol of English working class ambition in Room at the Top (1959). Benedict CumberbatchBest known for: Sherlock, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse. Cumberbatch plays a modern version of the classic sleuth on Sherlock, and has been impressive playing haughty snobs in Atonement and Starter for 10.
Full Circle Moment: Harvey played a British Cold War era spy in one of his final films 1968’s A Dandy in Aspic while Cumberbatch recently took on the role of a British Cold War era spy in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Terence StampBest known for: The Collector, Far from the Madding Crowd. Stamp burst on the scene in the 1960s by playing charming psychos and dangerous cads. He was and is one of the few actors who seems equally comfortable in modern sci-fi and period dramas. Tom HiddlestonBest known for: War Horse, Thor, The Avengers, Midnight in Paris. Hiddleston burst on the scene in 2011 with scene stealing roles in the superhero adventure Thor and the (sometimes) period comedy Midnight in Paris. Full Circle Moment: Hiddleston’s sinister Loki borrows heavily from Stamp’s delicious turn as General Zod in Superman. See an in depth comparison.
Peter O’Toole Best known for: Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, The Lion in Winter. My friends know that O’Toole is my favorite actor. He breathes life into characters in a unique way that defies description. Though most of his work in the 1960s didn’t really fall into the New Wave category, he emerged during that decade as the go-to actor for realistic and fully developed portrayals of characters from history and literature. His retirement announcement earlier this year seems a sad but fitting end to his glorious career.

O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia


Michael FassbenderBest Known for: X-Men: First Class, Shame, A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre. I first took serious notice of Fassbender during his short but fabulous appearance in the historical fantasy Inglorious Basterds. In Jane Eyre and A Dangerous Method Fassbender has shown a real facility for period detail and authentic portrayals of literary and historic figures. Full Circle Moment: In Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, Fassbender’s cyborg character David refines his mannerisms and speech patterns by watching O’Toole’s performance in Lawrence of Arabia.

Fassbender in Prometheus


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