Mike Newell (1942-) b. St. Albans, England.
British director whose wide-ranging output often centres on enclosed worlds and cold-hearted protagonists – although few of his films contain characters that are without a charm, and he has coaxed some remarkably charismatic performances from leading actors in his time. From parents whose enthusiasm for amateur theatricals fired his own enthusiasm to direct, Newell began his career as a TV news reporter, but had begun to direct at 23, initially on such popular soap series as Coronation Street, but soon on more prestigious ‘Playhouse’ type productions, of which he had made more than 20 at the time of his film debut in 1976. Newell’s The Man in the Iron Mask, made for American TV but shown in cinemas elsewhere in the world, was a much more stylish and fluent version of the old Dumas chestnut than either of the two more recent films. And it’s with intimate dramas and comedies that might just as beneficially have been shown on TV that he has had his greatest successes in the ensuing years. The first such hit was with Dance with a Stranger (1984), a stylish, claustrophobic account of the last days of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged for murder in Britain. The biting drama made a star of Miranda Richardson, who would later feature to good effect for Newell in another low-key hit, Enchanted April (1992). Soursweet (1988), a saga of an oriental couple struggling to make a go of life in England, and Into the West (1992), an Irish boy-and-horse-tale of much incidental charm, were highpoints in the years that followed, if no great shakes at the box-office. If what Newell’s career needed at this stage was a high-profile hit, it certainly received one with Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), a record-breaking comedy with some richly funny lines. With some concessions to the 1990s, this was somewhat in the traditions of such films established by the Boulting Brothers several decades earlier, but with a string of eye-catching performances from an enthusiastic cast headed by Hugh Grant, whose own career received an inestimable boost from its success. Grant also starred for Newell in An Awfully Big Adventure (1995), a rather gloomy theatrical piece, before the director went to America to make the thriller Donnie Brasco (1997), in which Newell coaxed Al Pacino’s best performance in years as the veteran gangster wearing out his welcome with the Mob. Pushing Tin (1999), the tale of two air traffic controllers was enjoyable but failed to convince as neither a comedy or drama.