Oscar Directors: Richardson, Tony–Background, Career, Awards

Updated June 10, 2020

Tony Richardson Career Summary:

Occup. Inheritance: No

Social Class: upper-middle; father, chemist

Nationality: UK

Orientation: Bi-sexual (never came out)

Education: Oxford

Training: Theater Director

TV Debut: 1954; age 26

Film Debut (solo): Look Back in Anger, 1959, age 32

Oscar Award: Tom Jones, 1963; age 35

Other Awards: NYFCC

Last Film:

Career Output


Career Span: 1955-1991 (36 years)

Marriage: Vanessa Redgrave, actress; 2 daughters, actresses


Death: 1991; age 63 (AIDS)

The first British film to win the Best Picture Oscar after Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet,” in 1948, was Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones, which made its star, Albert Finney, a household name in America.

Tony Richardson was born in Shipley, West Riding of Yorkshire June 5, 1928, the son of Elsie Evans (Campion) and Clarence Albert Richardson, a chemist.

He was Head Boy at Ashville College, Harrogate and attended Wadham College, Oxford. His Oxford contemporaries included Rupert Murdoch, Margaret Thatcher, Kenneth Tynan, Lindsay Anderson and Gavin Lambert.

He was the President of both the Oxford University Dramatic Society and the Experimental Theatre Club (the ETC), in addition to being the theatre critic for the university magazine Isis.

Film Debut:

In 1955, in his directing debut, Richardson produced Jean Giraudoux’s The Apollo of Bellac for television with Denholm Elliott and Natasha Parry in the main roles. Around the same time he began to be active in Britain’s Free Cinema movement, co-directing the non-fiction short Momma Don’t Allow (also 1955) with Karel Reisz.

Part of the British “New Wave” of directors, he was involved in the formation of the English Stage Company, along with his close friend George Goetschius and George Devine. He directed John Osborne’s play “Look Back in Anger” at the Royal Court Theatre, and also Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon.

In 1957 he directed Laurence Olivier as Archie Rice in Osborne’s play, “The Entertainer,” for the Royal Court.

First Feature:

In 1959, Richardson co-founded Woodfall Film Productions with John Osborne and producer Harry Saltzman, and, as Woodfall’s debut, directed the film version of Look Back in Anger (1959), his first feature film.

In 1963, Richardson received two Academy Awards (Best Director and Best Picture) for Tom Jones (1963) based on the novel by Henry Fielding.

His next film was The Loved One (1965), during which he worked with established stars including John Gielgud, Rod Steiger and Robert Morse working in Hollywood both on location and the sound stage.  He did not share the general admiration of Haskell Wexler, who worked on The Loved One as both director of photography and a producer.

Among stars that Richardson directed were: Jeanne Moreau, Orson Welles, Rob Lowe, Milton Berle, Trevor Howard, David Hemmings, Nicol Williamson, Lynn Redgrave, Marianne Faithfull, Richard Burton, Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Mick Jagger, Katharine Hepburn, Seth Green, Tommy Lee Jones, Paul Scofield and Judi Dench.

His musical composers included Antoine Duhamel, John Addison and Shel Silverstein. His screenwriters were Jean Genet, Christopher Isherwood, Terry Southern, Marguerite Duras, Edward Bond (adapting Vladimir Nabokov) and Edward Albee.

Richardson and Osborne eventually fell out during production of “Charge of the Light Brigade” (1968).  Osborne was unwilling to rewrite, but Richardson claims that Osborne was angry at being replaced in a small rôle by Laurence Harvey. Osborne took literary revenge by creating a fictionalized Richardson, a domineering and arrogant character whom everyone hated in his play “The Hotel in Amsterdam.”

Richardson’s work was stylistically varied. Mademoiselle (1966) was shot noir-style on location in rural France with a static camera, monochrome film stock and no music. The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) was part epic and part animated. Ned Kelly (1970) was Aussie-western. Laughter in the Dark (1969) and A Delicate Balance (1973) were psycho-dramas. Joseph Andrews (1977), based on Henry Fielding, recalled Tom Jones.

In 1970, Richardson was set to direct a film about Vaslav Nijinsky with a script by Edward Albee, starring Nureyev as Nijinsky, Claude Jade as Romola and Paul Scofield as Diaghilev, but producer Harry Saltzman cancelled the project.

In 1974, he travelled to Los Angeles to work on a script (never produced) with Sam Shepard, and took up residence there. Later that year he began work on Mahogany (1975), starring Diana Ross, but was fired by Motown head Berry Gordy due to creative differences.

He wrote and directed the comedy-drama The Hotel New Hampshire (1984) based on John Irving’s novel, starring Jodie Foster, Beau Bridges and Rob Lowe. It was a box-office failure, but the film received positive critical reception.

Richardson made four more films before his death. His last, Blue Sky (1994), was not released for 3 years after he died, but it earned Jessica Lange the Best Actress Oscar.

In 1966, Richardson financed the escape from Wormwood Scrubs prison of the spy and double agent George Blake.

Richardson was married to English actress Vanessa Redgrave from 1962 to 1967. The couple had two daughters, Natasha (1963–2009) and Joely Richardson (born 1965), before he left Redgrave for French actress Jeanne Moreau. In 1972, he also had a relationship with Grizelda Grimond, who was a secretary for Richardson’s former business partner Oscar Lewenstein, and daughter of British politician Jo Grimond. Grizelda gave birth to his daughter, Katharine Grimond, on January 8, 1973.

Richardson was bisexual, but never acknowledged it publicly until after he contracted HIV. He died of complications from AIDS in 1991.


The Apollo of Bellac (TV) (1954)
The Actor’s End (TV) (1955)
Momma Don’t Allow (with Karel Reisz; 1955)
Look Back in Anger (1959)
The Entertainer (1960)
A Subject of Scandal and Concern (1960)
Sanctuary (1961)
A Taste of Honey (1961)
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)
Tom Jones (1963)
The Loved One (1965)
Mademoiselle (1966)
Red and Blue (1967)
The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967)
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968)
Laughter in the Dark (1969)
Hamlet (1969)
Ned Kelly (1970)
A Delicate Balance (1973)
Dead Cert (1974)
Mahogany (uncredited; replaced by Berry Gordy, 1975)
Joseph Andrews (1977)
A Death in Canaan (1978)
The Border (1982)
The Hotel New Hampshire (1984)
Penalty Phase (TV) (1986)
Beryl Markham: A Shadow on the Sun (1988)
Women & Men: Stories of Seduction (with Frederic Raphael and Ken Russell; 1990)
The Phantom of the Opera (TV) (1990)
Blue Sky (1994)