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Lewis Gilbert, the Oscar-nominated British film director behind more than 40 films, including Alfie and three James Bond titles, has died. He was 97.
Born in London, Gilbert started out as a child actor in the 1920s and 1930s and had an uncredited role alongside Laurence Olivier in 1938’s The Divorce of Lady X. But in his late teens he decided to move toward directing, assisting on Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn.
After WWII — during which he worked for the Royal Air Force’s film unit on documentaries — he made a name for himself as a director on a number of successful war films, including Reach for the Sky, Carve Her Name With Pride and Sink the Bismark.
Arguably Gilbert’s most famous film came in 1966 with Alfie, starring a rising Michael Caine. The low-budget film about a young womanizer would go on to win the Jury Special Prize in Cannes, and receive five Academy Award nominations, including one for best picture.
Shortly after Alfie, Gilbert was persuaded by Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli to direct the fifth Bond film, 1967’s You Only Live Twice starring Sean Connery. It would be the first of three 007 titles he would helm, returning later for The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.
The 1980s saw him return to smaller British drama, with 1983’s BAFTA-winning Educating Rita — reuniting him with Michael Caine and serving as a breakout film for Julie Walters — and 1989’s Shirley Valentine, both based on Willy Russell plays.
He was awarded the CBE in 1997 and in 2001 was made a fellow of the British Film Institute.
“The BFI salutes the most prolific of British filmmakers, awarded our highest accolade, a BFI Fellowship for his outstanding contribution to British film, everything from three Bond films — including the best, You Only Live Twice — and definitive stories of British bravery in WWII with Carve Her Name With Pride and Reach for the Sky, to three films that will forever be remembered for their working class heroes: Alfie, Rita and Shirley,” said BFI creative director Heather Stewart.
“In Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine he gave us funny and real character studies of women we normally never get a chance to see on the big screen.”
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