Top Five: Remembering Peter O’Toole

Amanda Kirkham

On Sunday we lost a film legend. Peter O’Toole passed away on December 15th at the age of 81, after a long illness. This news was especially saddening to me as he is one of my favorite actors. I grew up watching his films and he was a household name. It seemed only natural that my topic this week should be him. This is my list of the Top Five Peter O’Toole Films.

5. Stardust (2007)

A fantasy story based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, this film is an adventure that follows a young man (Charlie Cox) on a rite of passage journey where he tries to win the heart of his beloved. Along the way he meets a fallen star (played by Claire Danes) and several murderous princes, vying for the crown. In a role that is too short for my tastes, Peter O’Toole plays the malicious king who pits one son against another for his own disturbing amusement. He is only in this one scene but of course, he steals it in brilliant fashion by letting loose and having fun with the role. The film is actually quite surprising and entertaining. Any Princess Bride fans should appreciate the light-hearted and humorous nature of the film, which shares a similar tone.

4. Ratatouille (2007)

Pixar at the height of its success created a film about a rat who wanted to be a chef. In true Pixar form they created a wonderful, heart-warming family film about life’s expectations versus the ones we make for ourselves. Peter O’Toole provides the voice of the nefarious food critic, Anton Ego. I’ve always thought O’Toole had an interesting and emotive voice (my dream casting for Smaug from The Hobbit was him but, c’est la vie). He proves how good he is in this film by demonstrating arrogance, surprise, and revelation, all with simply his voice. Obviously the animation helps get the point across to the audience but his ability to show such emotions with just his voice is impressive, as is his delivery of the wonderfully written monologue/review Anton relays after his ratatouille experience.

3. My Favorite Year (1982)

Peter O’Toole tries his hand at comedy with this film, and is a huge success! He plays Allan Swann (a character loosely based on Errol Flynn), who is a washed up actor largely known for his roles in swashbuckling films. Set in 1954, Swann is recruited to make an appearance on a Saturday night comedy sketch show by Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker), a junior copywriter for the show. Swann, it turns out, is a blaring drunk who likes to live large and pays little attention to his commitments. The film follows Stone as he tries to keep Swann in check for the short period of time he is under his watch. Peter O’Toole is charming as always and hilariously funny, with just a touch of sadness, as the older movie star, learning to age with a little more dignity, and take responsibility for his actions.

2. Becket (1964)

In this biopic based on the life of Thomas Becket (played by Richard Burton), Peter O’Toole plays King Henry II with incredible intensity. Becket was a confidant of King Henry, and a Saxon, who eventually reformed his sinner ways and became Archbishop of Canterbury, putting himself at odds with the King’s politics. The king’s envy of Becket’s holiness, and his anger with him for choosing to love God above his king drives Henry to anger and madness. O’Toole plays Henry flawlessly, knowing when to raise his voice, and when to draw back the dramatics for a subtle effect. I first saw this film in college and I remember being absolutely blown away by his performance. His willingness to immerse himself in the role completely left me speechless.


1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

David Lean’s epic about the life of T. E. Lawrence will be the film Peter O’Toole is most remembered for, and with good reason. The impressive cinematography and directing, both noteworthy, are almost overshadowed by O’Toole’s striking depiction of the title character. Though he has moments where flare is used to profound effect, it is his generally understated performance that is most remarkable. His oft soft-spoken lines delivered shyly and unsure barely conceal the confidence he has in his abilities and belief in his own self-importance. Later, he changes his delivery to wild and loud antics, demonstrating Lawrence’s descent into madness with awe inspiring results. This is a masterpiece in filmmaking, with relation to the directing, cinematography, music and storytelling, and O’Toole’s performance is absolutely breathtaking. He was an amazing performer and the film world has sadly lost a true luminary.


2 responses to “Top Five: Remembering Peter O’Toole

  1. Wonderful list of performances by the legend that was Peter O’Toole. In addition to those you have, I have a soft spot for his Priam role in Troy (2004).

  2. Pingback: Top Five: Pixar Films |·

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