“The director, actor and writer Bryan Forbes, who has died aged 86, was one of the most creative forces in the British film industry of the 1960s, and the Hollywood films he directed included the original version of The Stepford Wives (1974),” writes Dennis Barker in the Guardian. “In later life he turned to the writing of books, both fiction and memoirs.”
“Bryan Forbes was one of the most charming people I have ever interviewed, and our meeting remains one of my most cherished,” recalls Mark Monahan in the Telegraph. “In terms of his manner, Forbes might all too easily have been grand. He was, after all, the Rada-trained actor who, in his second and more prominent career as a director, had made such fondly remembered British classics as 1961’s Whistle Down the Wind (in which three children come to believe that the escaped convict hiding in their barn is Jesus) and 1974’s pivotal feminist horror-story Stepford Wives (which starred his wife, Nanette Newman—how to forget her immortal, stuck-record line, ‘I’ll just die if I don’t get that recipe!’). He was also largely responsible for 1970’s bittersweet and ever-enchanting The Railway Children, as well as having directed the John Barry-scored double of 1964’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon and 1965’s King Rat and some 15 other pictures.”
Via Catherine Grant, a 1971 interview
At the Alt Film Guide, Andre Soares notes that “Forbes directed only eight movies in the ’60s, three of which earned their leading ladies Best Actress Academy Award nominations: Leslie Caron, as a single-mother-to-be who befriends a black man and an old lesbian (beautifully played by veteran Cicely Courtneidge) in The L-Shaped Room (1963), Kim Stanley in a tour de force as a mentally disturbed medium in Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), and New York Film Critics Circle winner Dame Edith Evans as an elderly woman left to fend off for herself in The Whisperers (1967).” Forbes also replaced John Huston on The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969), “starring Katharine Hepburn and featuring cameos by a whole array of stellar supporting players (Giulietta Masina, Richard Chamberlain, Paul Henreid, Margaret Leighton, Yul Brynner, Charles Boyer, Danny Kaye, etc.).”
“There was a time when I could repeat verbatim dozens of lines from The Wrong Box, Bryan Forbes’s delightfully daft dark comedy about the madcap scramble for an immense inheritance by Victorians both proper and otherwise,” writes Joe Leydon. “It helped, of course, that the movie—filled with such deft farceurs as Michael Caine, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Ralph Richardson, John Mills and Peter Sellers—also was an all-time favorite of my mentor, the late Ralph Thomas Bell, former chairman of the journalism department at Loyola University in New Orleans. During my college years, and for several years afterwards, we often would greet each other with snippets of the 1966 comedy’s droll dialogue, more or less in the fashion of latter-day Monty Python fanatics exchanging quips about dead parrots and killer rabbits.” Joe also notes that Forbes shot the photos for two Elton John album covers, Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
Back to Dennis Barker: “The turning point for him in cinema was the formation of the independent company Beaver Films with his friend Richard Attenborough in 1958. For the screenplay of their first production, The Angry Silence (1960), Forbes received an Oscar nomination and a Bafta award. Attenborough played a factory worker shunned and persecuted for not joining a strike. His colleagues are shown as being manipulated by skulking professional agitators, and to some it seemed more like a political statement than a human story about mankind in the mass crushing the individual.”
Margalit Fox in the New York Times: “His books include the novels The Rewrite Man and A Spy at Twilight; a memoir, Notes for a Life; and That Despicable Race: A History of the British Acting Tradition. He was named a Commander of the British Empire in 2004. For all his accomplishments, Mr. Forbes remained remembered almost exclusively for The Stepford Wives, and sometimes found himself having to defend the film against misinterpretation. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph of London in 2004 he recounted having been accosted by an umbrella-wielding woman at a press screening. ‘I remember saying to this particular savagely disturbed woman, “You’ve missed the whole point,”‘ Mr. Forbes recalled. ‘A, it’s fantasy; B, if anybody looks stupid, it’s the men. It’s not an attack on women, it’s an attack on women being exploited by men.'”
The Guardian‘s posted a photo gallery that really is worth taking a few minutes for.
Update, 5/10: Andrew Roberts for Sight & Sound: “Whistle Down the Wind (1961) is not only one of the most noted directorial debuts in British cinema but one of the most honest and moving depictions of childhood on film, one to be mentioned in the same breath as Spirit of the Beehive. Bryan Forbes, then better known as an actor-writer, used the storyline of how three children believe an escaped suspect to be Christ to depict a very real Lancashire where the everyday existence of children is already tainted but not entirely corroded by bullying, cynicism, death and adult indifference.”
Update, 5/11: Sarah Standing, daughter of Forbes and Newman, in the Telegraph: “Our parents were like swans; they mated for life. They adored one another, even after nearly six decades together. They cherished their good fortune, and subliminally laid down a blueprint that both Emma and I have somehow managed to replicate.”