Dresser, The (1983): Peter Yates Oscar-Nominated Picture, Starring Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay

Columbia (Goldcrest, UK)

An intimate drama, “The Dresser” centers on the complex, troubled relationship of co-dependency between Sir (Albert Finney), the head of a theatrical troupe touring the U.K. during WWII, and his gay dresser Norman (Tom Courtenay), a loyal servant, whose devotion knows no limits, making sure that the senile, alcoholic, occasionally bitter and abusive Sir goes on stage night after night and remembers his lines (barely).

Marked by equal measures of pathos and humor, Peter Yates’ backstage melodrama bears symbolic meanings: Sir and Norman are meant to be the two faces of English spirit of grandiloquent indomitability. Indeed, as was pointed out by many critics, the movie, for all its decrepitude, is Churchillian in spirit, a rousing testament to an old England that may be shattered and tattering but is still kicking around.

Basically a two-handler, the film, a successful adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s stage play, is under-populated. Nonetheless, the secondary cast is illustrious, including turns or cameos by the like of Eileen Atkins, as a pathetic and desperate stage manager Edward Fox, Zena Walker, Michael Gough, Sheila Reid, and others.

Oscar nominations: 5

Picture, produced by Peter Yates
Director: Peter Yates
Screenplay (Adapted): Ronald Harwood
Actor: Albert Finney
Actor: Tom Courtenay

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

The most nominated film in 1983, “Terms of Endearment” received five Oscars out of its 11 nominations. It’s one of the few films in the Academy’s history, in which two actresses, MacLaine and Winger, were nominated in the lead category; other films include “All About Eve” and The Turning Point,” also with MacLaine (and Anne Bancroft).

At the Oscars, 1983 was the “year of the alcoholics,” as four of the Best Actor nominees were addicted to drink, or recovering alcoholics, such as the Best Actor winner, Robert Duvall’s country singer in “Tender Mercies.”

Its major competitor was Philip Kaufman’s action-adventure “The Right Stuff,” which won four technical wards out of 8 nominations. The other contenders were smaller, more intimate dramas, such as “The Big Chill” and “Tender Mercies.”