The man who believed he was Alec Guinness' biological father, Andrew Geddes, paid for the actor's private school education, but the two never met and the identity of his father continues to be debated.
Guinness continued playing Shakespearean roles throughout his career. In 1937 he played the role of Aumerle in Richard II and Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice under the direction of John Gielgud. He starred in a 1938 production of Hamlet which won him acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. He also appeared as Romeo in a production of Romeo and Juliet (1939), Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night and as Exeter in Henry V in 1937, both opposite Laurence Olivier, and Ferdinand in The Tempest, opposite Gielgud as Prospero.
In 1939, he adapted Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations for the stage, playing the part of Herbert Pocket. The play was a success. One of its viewers was a young British film editor named David Lean, who had Guinness reprise his role in the former's 1946 film adaptation of the play.
Guinness served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in World War II, serving first as a seaman in 1941 and being commissioned the following year. He commanded a landing craft taking part in the invasion of Sicily and Elba and later ferried supplies to the Yugoslav partisans.
He was initially mainly associated with the Ealing comedies, and particularly for playing eight different characters in Kind Hearts and Coronets. Other films from this period included The Lavender Hill Mob, The Ladykillers, and The Man in the White Suit. In 1952, director Ronald Neame cast Guinness in his first romantic lead role, opposite Petula Clark in The Card.
Invited by his friend Tyrone Guthrie to join in the premier season of the Stratford Festival of Canada, Guinness lived for a brief time in Stratford, Ontario. On July 13, 1953, Guinness spoke the first lines of the first play produced by the festival (Shakespeare's Richard III): "Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this son of York."
Guinness won particular acclaim for his work with director David Lean. After appearing in Lean's Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, he was given a starring role opposite William Holden in Bridge on the River Kwai. For his performance as Colonel Nicholson, the unyielding British POW leader, Guinness won an Academy Award for Best Actor. Despite a difficult and often hostile relationship, Lean, referring to Guinness as "my good luck charm", continued to cast Guinness in character roles in his later films: Arab leader Prince Feisal in Lawrence of Arabia; the title character's half-brother, Bolshevik leader Yevgraf, in Doctor Zhivago; and Indian mystic Godbole in A Passage to India. He was also offered a role in Lean's adaptation of Ryan's Daughter (1970), but declined.
Other famous roles of this time period included The Swan (1956) with Grace Kelly in her last film role, The Horse's Mouth (1958) in which Guinness played the part of drunken painter Gulley Jimson as well as contributing the screenplay, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Tunes of Glory (1960), Damn the Defiant! (1962), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), The Quiller Memorandum (1966), Scrooge (1970), and the title role in Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973) (which he considered his best film performance).
Guinness turned down roles in many well-received films - most notably The Spy Who Came in From the Cold - for ones that paid him better, although he won a Tony Award for his Broadway triumph as poet Dylan Thomas in Dylan. He followed this success up by playing the title role in Macbeth opposite Simone Signoret at the Royal Court Theatre in 1966, one of the most conspicuous failures of his career.
From the 1970s, Guinness made regular television appearances, including the part of George Smiley in the serializations of two novels by John le Carré: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People. Le Carré was so impressed by Guinness's performance as Smiley that he based his characterization of Smiley in subsequent novels on Guinness. One of his last appearances was in the acclaimed BBC drama Eskimo Day.
Guinness received his fifth Oscar nomination for his performance in Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit in 1989. He received an honorary Oscar in 1980 "for advancing the art of screen acting through a host of memorable and distinguished performances."
Despite all this, Guinness was never happy with being identified with the part, and expressed great dismay at the fan following that the Star Wars trilogy attracted. In the DVD commentary of Star Wars: A New Hope, director George Lucas says that Guinness was not happy with the script re-write in which Obi-Wan is killed. However, Guinness stated in a 1999 interview that it was actually his idea to kill off Obi Wan, persuading Lucas that it would make him a stronger character. Lucas agreed to the idea, but Guinness confided in the interview, "what I didn't tell [Lucas] was that I just couldn't go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines. I'd had enough of the mumbo jumbo". He continued by saying that he "shrivelled up" every time Star Wars was mentioned to him. Despite his dislike of the films, fellow cast members Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, and Carrie Fisher (as well as Lucas) have always spoken highly of his courtesy and professionalism on and off the set, wherein he did not let his distaste for the material show to his co-stars. Lucas credited him with inspiring fellow cast and crew to work harder, saying he was instrumental in helping to complete filming of the movies.
Guinness has been quoted as saying that the royalties he obtained from working on the films gave him "no complaints; let me leave it by saying I can live for the rest of my life in the reasonably modest way I am now used to, that I have no debts and I can afford to refuse work that doesn't appeal to me". In his autobiography, Blessings In Disguise, Guinness tells an imaginary interviewer "Blessed be Star Wars!", while in the final volume of the book A Positively Final Appearance (1997), he recounts grudgingly giving an autograph to a young fan who claimed to have watched Star Wars over 100 times, on the condition that the fan promised to stop watching the film, because as Guinness put it "this is going to be an ill effect on your life". The fan was stunned at first, but later thanked him. Guinness grew so tired of modern audiences seeming to remember him only for his role of Obi-Wan Kenobi that he would throw away the fan mail he received from Star Wars fans without reading it .
Guinness consulted Tarot cards for a time, but came to the conclusion that the symbols of the cards mocked Christianity and Christ. He then burned his cards and shortly afterwards converted to Roman Catholicism.
In his biography Alec Guinness: The Unknown, Garry O'Connor reveals that Guinness was arrested and fined 10 guineas for a homosexual act in a public lavatory in Liverpool in 1946. Guinness avoided publicity by giving his name as "Herbert Pocket" to both police and court. The name "Herbert Pocket" was taken from the character in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations that Guinness had played on stage in 1939 and was also about to play in the film adaptation. The incident did not become public knowledge until April 2001, eight months after his death. The authenticity of this incident has been doubted, however, including by Piers Paul Read, Guinness's official biographer, who believes that Guinness was mixed up with John Gielgud, who was infamously arrested for such an act at the same period, though Read nonetheless acknowledges Guinness's bisexuality .
While serving in the Royal Navy, Guinness for a while planned on becoming an Anglican priest. In 1954, however, during the shooting of the film Father Brown, Alec and Merula Guinness were formally received into the Roman Catholic Church. They would remain devout and regular church-goers for the remainder of their lives. Their son Matthew had converted to Catholicism some time earlier. Every morning, Guinness recited a verse from Psalm 143, "Cause me to hear your loving kindness in the morning".
He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1559 Vine Street.
|1934||Evensong||Extra (WWI soldier in audience)||uncredited|
|1946||Great Expectations||Herbert Pocket|
|1949||Kind Hearts and Coronets||The Duke, The Banker, The Parson, The General, The Admiral, Young Ascoyne, Young Henry, Lady Agatha|
|A Run for Your Money||Whimple|
|1950||Last Holiday||George Bird|
|The Mudlark||Benjamin Disraeli|
|1951||The Lavender Hill Mob||Henry Holland|
|The Man in the White Suit||Sidney Stratton|
|1952||The Card||Edward Henry ‘Denry’ Machin|
|1953||The Square Mile||narrator||short subject|
|Malta Story||Flight Lt. Peter Ross|
|The Captain's Paradise||Capt. Henry St. James|
|1954||Father Brown||Father Brown|
|The Stratford Adventure||narrator||short subject|
|1955||Rowlandson's England||narrator||short subject|
|To Paris with Love||Col. Sir Edgar Fraser|
|The Prisoner||The Cardinal|
|The Ladykillers||Professor Marcus|
|1956||The Swan||Prince Albert|
|1957||The Bridge on the River Kwai||Col. Nicholson||Academy Award for Best Actor|
|Barnacle Bill||Captain William Horatio Ambrose||released in the US as All at Sea|
|1958||The Horse's Mouth||Gulley Jimson||also writer|
|1959||Our Man in Havana||Jim Wormold|
|The Scapegoat||John Barratt/Jacques De Gue|
|1960||Tunes of Glory||Maj. Jock Sinclair, D.S.O., M.M.|
|1962||A Majority of One||Koichi Asano|
|HMS Defiant||Captain Crawford|
|Lawrence of Arabia||Prince Feisal|
|1964||The Fall of the Roman Empire||Marcus Aurelius|
|Situation Hopeless ... But Not Serious||Wilhelm Frick|
|Doctor Zhivago||Gen. Yevgraf Zhivago|
|1966||Hotel Paradiso||Benedict Boniface|
|The Quiller Memorandum||Pol|
|1967||The Comedians in Africa||Himself||uncredited, short subject|
|The Comedians||Major H.O. Jones|
|1970||Cromwell||King Charles I|
|Scrooge||Jacob Marley’s ghost|
|1972||Brother Sun, Sister Moon||Pope Innocent III|
|1973||Hitler: The Last Ten Days||Adolf Hitler|
|Pope Innocent III||1976||Murder by Death||Jamesir Bensonmum|
|1977||Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope||Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi||Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor nomination|
|1980||Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back||Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi|
|Raise the Titanic||John Bigalow|
|Little Lord Fauntleroy||Earl of Dorincourt|
|Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi||Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi|
|1984||A Passage to India||Professor Godbole|
|1988||Little Dorrit||William Dorrit|
|A Handful of Dust||Mr. Todd|
|1991||Kafka||The Chief Clerk|
|1993||A Foreign Field||Amos|
|1994||Mute Witness||The Reaper|