Stephen Frears (1941-) b. Leicester, England.
British director who, after being near the forefront of several ‘new waves’ in British cinema, has unexpectedly carved himself an international career in the past ten years. Although his output has been uneven, it has also proved extraordinarily wide-ranging while rarely failing to highlight his ability to obtain crowd-pleasing performances from his principal players. He had begun as an assistant to such seminal figures of Britain’s neo-realist movement of the 1960s as Karel Reisz and Lindsay Anderson but, after extensive experience directing popular regional TV series, had an immediate cinema hit of his own with Gumshoe (1971), featuring Albert Finney, whose assistant director he had been on Charlie Bubbles (1967). A spoof of forties’ detective thrillers, it catches a winning mood and holds it. The film seemed to herald the arrival of a major new director on the British scene, but in practice Frears returned to television for more than a decade. Projects for Channel 4 and the BBC that were shown in cinemas outside Britain edged him back towards the movie scene. But his first film specifically for the cinema in 13 years, The Hit (1984), belied its title and it took Channel 4 to come to the rescue with My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), which combined Frears’ traits of grittiness and scabrous humour in its treatment of a script that is funny, sexy, violent and perceptive by turns with in its observation of the central gay love story. Intended for TV, this instead proved a big success in cinemas, encouraging Frears to try his hand at bigger screen stuff, notably Prick Up Your Ears (1987), a biopic of the gay and self-destructive playwright Joe Orton. The award winning Dangerous Liaisons (1988) set Frears up for the international career that had long interested him, although his work within that framework has been rather more variable, from the underrated The Grifters (1990) and one of Frears’ best mainstream films, Accidental Hero (1992). He took a couple of years to recover from the disappointing Mary Reilly (1996). There were two Irish black comedy-dramas, the excellent The Snapper (1993) and the rather less successful The Van (1996). A worthy career, if not quite yet an auteur’s one. After a Hollywood hit with High Fidelity (2000), Frears returned to the gritty realism of his indie past with the urban thriller Dirty Pretty Things (2002).