Oliver Reed

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Oliver Reed played Lord Melton in Sword of Sherwood Forest (Fisher, 1960) it’s the first film that I remember seeing. It shot at Ardmore Studios, Bray, Ireland, the opening shot is of Powercourt waterfall, how appropriate for me an Irish lover of film. Aged only 21 at the time of the filming Reed’s stark presence and stern voice stood out by a mile. Despite is hard drinking lifestyle Reed managed to contribute 120 credits for film and television between 1955 and 2000. He died while on a break from filming Gladiator (Scott, 2000) in 1999 aged 61. He was buried in Churchtown, Co. Cork, Ireland; where he spent the last years of his life. Fittingly his grave is opposite his favourite pub O’Brien’s. His tombstone reads: Robert Oliver Reed 1938-1999. He made the air move.

Reed as Bill Sykes in Oliver! (Reed, 1968) directed by his uncle Carol Reed is best known role, for the younger generation it’s the role of Proximo in Gladiator. For me though Reed’s best work was with his friend director Ken Russell with whom he made eight films. Starting with The Debussy Film (Russell, 1965) and later Women in Love (Russell, 1969), a beautiful telling of D.H. Lawrence’s novel, filling with poetic interludes and brash intensity from Reed and Glenda Jackson. Reed’s role as Father Grandieur in The Devils (Russell, 1971) is easily in my view the greatest performance by an actor on film, such intensity even with Reed just standing in the shot.

The 60s were a great period for Reed starting with small roles in seven films listed from 1960. Reed worked with director Michael Winner six times. Their first collaboration The System (Winner, 1964) was a star maker for Reed. Just like The Damned (Losey, 1963) Reed was a hell of an entrance in the respective opening sequences. In The System he plays Stephen ‘Tinker’ Taylor a summer photographer at the beach resort of Brixham, Devon, England. The fascinating concept is of summer workers who work hard in the summer to survive the winter, as the title song by The Searchers, announces ‘you’re all alone’. Losey’s The Damned gives a similar feel to English life, set another seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset. But The System really gives an overall impression of life in a seaside town; the street corners, the people. Winner and Reed’s later collaboration I’ll Never Forget What’s‘isname (Winner, 1967) familiarises us with its London locations. Reed is given yet another stunning opening sequence; his character Andrew Quint is seen walking through central London carrying an axe once he reaches his corporate advertising office he destroys his desk! Reed went to make comedy/adventure films like The Jokers (Winner, 1967), Hannibal Brooks (Winner, 1969) The Assassination Bureau (Dearden, 1969) and The Three Musketeers films (Lester, 1973, 1974, 1989). He played romantic leads in Take a Girl Like You (Miller, 1969) and Castaway (Roeg, 1986).


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