John Hurt (1940-) b. Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England.
Hurt’s career as leading victim of the British cinema was established with a brilliant characterisation of Timothy Evans, hanged in 1944 for crimes he did not commit, in Richard Fleischer’s 10 Rillington’ Place (1970). Hurt’s image projects pain and vulnerability, and his distinctive voice quavers with sensitivity. Regularly cast for type, his performances have a strength which his characters may lack. He won a British Academy Best Supporting Actor award for his role in Alan Parker‘s Midnight Express (1978) and a Best Actor award for his unsentimental performance in the title role of David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (1980).
One of his most distinctive achievements was on television in The Naked Civil Servant (1975), where his Quentin Crisp responds to his victimisation with flamboyant eccentricity. His appearance in Alien (1979) is brief, but to the point; he gives a near definitive performance as Winston Smith in Mike Radford’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984); and his performance in The Field (1990) is as grotesque and excessive as the character demands. More recently he has had supporting roles in Chris Menges‘ Second Best (1993), Gus Van Saut’s Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993), and as the very wicked Tim Roth‘s moderately wicked patron in Rob Roy (1995).
In the voodoo thriller The Skeleton Key (2005), Hurt’s was effective but ultimately wasted as a speechless invalid in a haunted Louisiana plantation home. But Hurt shone considerably stronger for director Michael Caton-Jones in the Rwanda-set story of a BBC journalist, Shooting Dogs (2005). He starred in the visually striking political thriller adapted from Alan Moore’s graphic novel, V for Vendetta (2006), as the totalitarian regime Chancellor Adam Sutler, but the author disassociated himself from this production and critical reception was lukewarm. Another flawed film was The Oxford Murders (2008), in which Hurt portrayed a professor trying to unravel a series of murders.