This excerpt is taken from the excellent book, Peter Finch –A Biography by Trader Faulkner….
“As soon as Peter had finished his six week contract in Point of Departure he went straight on to the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men at Denham Studios. The Americans were very anxious to make an authentic, accurate film on the Robin Hood legend and Carmen Dillon, who had done memorable artistic work on Olivier’s film of Henry V and who subsequently designed Richard III, was sent to Nottingham to do detailed research. They were also very keen, says director Ken Annakin now, to get ‘what we’d now call National Theatre actors, which surprised everybody, because they never did manage to get any.’
Richard Todd, a contract artist, had already been cast as Robin Hood and Disney were determined to test everybody for the Sheriff of Nottingham. All the best available actors were tested. Peter had only done Train of Events, for Ealing and he didn’t regard himself as a costume actor. But ‘Peter’s test,’ says Annakin, ‘was simply great and everyone agreed he should play the Sheriff. He brought sincerity to the part with a lot of bite and I would say it was rather like the casting of Guinness in Star Wars. He gave the whole of Robin Hood a lift with consummate acting. He had some marvelous scenes with Hubert Gregg as Prince John, another very good English actor. Of course he had to do a lot of action stuff as well.
‘I remember one Saturday afternoon we had him on one of the typically untrained horses that England produced at the time. We had to do seventeen takes to get a close-up of him on the horse and it took us the whole afternoon. Every time we turned over, the horse seemed to understand at once and played up. Peter showed great patience. In fact, he was one of the most professional actors I’ve ever worked with. He was a sympathetic person and very responsive to direction. In his later life we all know he had a period when he started hitting the bottle. I never saw a sign of this when we were making Robin Hood, but clearly his life was not satisfying him entirely.
‘He was a marvelous actor, but if one has asked him in the old days whether being an actor was the sort of thing he really should be doing, I suspect his answer would have been that he needed more out of life than just that. I think he found himself forced into a shoe, a shape, which for a long time he didn’t accept.
‘He had the intelligence to be a director. I don’t know whether he had the patience to apply himself constantly. I always feel that direction is about forty per cent obstinacy and forty per cent patience.’
With the Sheriff of Nottingham, Peter began to be accepted in England as an important actor in terms of screen potential. Ken Annakin maintains that what Peter Finch did with his role was the best that an actor had done in that kind of film until that time and that people in the film industry began to take serious notice of him because of this. It gave a tremendous boost to his confidence and the possibility of a substantial film career really fired his enthusiasm.”
Peter Finch-A Biography by Trader Faulkner p.166-167
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