Oscar Profile #443: Christopher Hampton

Born January 26, 1946 in Faial, Azores, Portugal to British parents, Christopher Hampton’s father was a marine telecommunications engineer. He spent his early childhood in Egypt, Hong Kong and Zanzibar among other places. He was educated at a prep school in Surrey, Lancing College in West Sussex and at Oxford University where he read German and French.

Hampton’s play When Did You Last See My Mother, written at Oxford, was first performed in London in 1966, making him the youngest playwright to have a play performed in the West End in the modern era. Other early plays included Total Eclipse and The Philanthropist. In 1971 his adaptations of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler, as well as The Philanthropist, all reached Broadway. He was nominated for a Tony for the latter along with actors Alec McCowen and Ed Zimmermann. Claire Bloom was nominated and won for her performances in A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler. She then starred in the 1973 film version. A Doll’s House returned to Broadway in 1975 with Liv Ullmann who was also nominated for a Tony but did not win.

Hampton’s works from 1975-1982 were performed on the British stage and for British TV. He reemerged as a name in film as a writer on the British films, Honorary Counsel with Michael Caine in 1983, The Good Father with Anthony Hopkins in 1985 and Ovri with Donald Sutherland and Max von Sydow in 1986. He returned to Broadway in 1987 with the play, Les Liaisons Dangereuses from the 1872 novel of the same name by Pierre Chodolos de Laclos which was nominated for eight Tonys including one for Hampton as well as stars Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan. The 1988 film version, renamed Dangerous Liaisons, was nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture, Actress (Glenn Close) and Supporting Actress (Michelle Pfeiffer) and won three including one for Hampton for his screenplay.

Once again Hampton retreated from view to American audiences, reemerging in 1994 with Broadway’s Sunset Boulevard for which he won Tonys for Best Book of a Musical and Best Score (for which he was credited with some of the lyrics). Nominated for eleven Tonys, it won a total of seven awards including Best Actress (Glenn Close) and Featured Actor (George Hearn). He then directed his first film, 1995’s Carrington starring Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce. In 1996, he was credited as a writer on three films, Total Eclipse with Leonardo DiCaprio and David Thewlis, Mary Reilly with Julia Roberts and John Malkovich and The Secret Agent with Bob Hoskins and Patricia Arquette. Although he was credited with the translation of the 1998 Tony winner, Art, he did share in the play’s win.

Hampton’s next period of notable activity occurred in the first years of the new century with his screenplay for the 2002 film, The Quiet American and the 2004 Broadway musical, Dracula. He had another spurt of activity in the latter part of the decade with his screenplay for the 2007 film, Atonement for which he received one of the film’s seven Oscar nominations for his screenplay. That was followed by successful Broadway revivals of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Seagull and The Philanthropist as well as the 2008 Tony winner for Best Play, God of Carnage, for which he was again credited with the play’s translation but did not share in its win.

Up next for 73-year-old writer Christopher Hampton is the long-anticipated film version of Sunset Boulevard starring Glenn Close.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

A DOLL’S HOUSE (1973), directed by Patrick Garland

Claire Bloom reprised her Tony award-winning portrayal of Nora in Hampton’s translation of the Ibsen play about a woman in a fairy-tale marriage who grows up fast when her past actions threaten her current situation. Anthony Hopkins as her husband, Ralph Richardson as her dying doctor friend, Denholm Elliott as a man from her past and Anna Massey as a long-ago friend are the other principal players. They’re all fine with Elliott the standout in a BAFTA nominated performance. A competing version with Jane Fonda, Edward Fox, Trevor Howard, David Warner and Delphine Seyrig was released the same year in England to devastating reviews.

DANGEROUS LIAISONS (1987), directed by Stephen Frears

Hampton won his first and only Oscar to date for his screenplay based on his play Les Liaisons Dangereuses from the 1872 novel of that name. Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Swoozie Kurtz, Keanu Reeves, Uma Thurman and Mildred Natwick starred in the film of French sexual intrigue in which a scheming widow and her ex-lover make a bet regarding the corruptioin of a recently married woman. Milos Forman’s competing version called Valmont starring Annette Bening, Colin Firth, Meg Tilly Sian Phillips, Henry Thomas, Fairuza Balk and Fabia Drake in those roles was held back a year.

CARRINGTON (1995), directed by Christopher Hampton

Hampton wrote the screenplay, which he also directed, from Michael Holroyd’s book about the life-long platonic relationship of painter Dora Carrington (Emma Thompson) and gay writer Lytton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce). The film earned a BAFTA nomination for Best British Film as well as one for Pryce’s performance. Thompson won her numerous awards in conjunction with her other acclaimed 1995 performance in Sense and Sensibility for which the actress won an Oscar for her screenplay. Steven Waddington, Samuel West, Rufus Sewell, Penelope Wilton, Janet McTeeer and Jeremy Northam co-star.

THE QUIET AMERICAN (2002), directed by Phillip Noyce

Hampton’s screenplay is truer to Graham Green’s 1955 novel than Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s watered down 1958 version starring Michael Redgrave as the British diplomat and Audie Murphy as the American, roles played by Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser in Noyce’s version. Originally planned for release in 2001, the film was held back due to the 9/11 attacks on the theory that it may seem too un-American. Caine’s performance received strong awards recognitions including Golden Globe, Oscar and BAFTA nominations as well as wins from several other awards groups.

ATONEMENT (2007), directed by Joe Wright

Hampton’s screenplay for Wright’s film of Ian McEwan’s novel earned him his second and so far, last Oscar nomination to date. Nominated for seven Oscars, its only win was for Dario Marianelli’s score. Saoirse Ronan received her first nomination for her portrayal of the 13-year-old child who causes turmoil when she accuses her sister’s boyfriend of a crime he didn’t commit. Keira Knightley and James McAvoy are the star-crossed lovers. Ronan’s character as a young woman is played by Romola Garai with Vanessa Redgrave playing her in old age. Harriet Walter and Brenda Blethyn co-star.

CHRISTOPHER HAMTON AND OSCAR

  • Dangerous Liaisons (1987) – Oscar – Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Atonement (2007) – nominated – Best Adapted Screenplay

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