Distinguished star of stage and screen Christopher Plummer recreates his Tony Award-winning role playing the legendary actor John Barrymore in the film adaptation of William Luce’s Broadway play. Barrymore airs on Great Performances, Friday, January 31 at 9 pm, ET on PBS (check local listings).
Set in 1942, Barrymore shines a dramatic spotlight on the acclaimed—and notorious— John Barrymore, capturing the famously combative star in the final months of his life as he struggles to prepare for a backer’s audition to stage a revival of his 1920 Broadway triumph in Richard III. Once among the most acclaimed stage actors of his generation, as well as a central member of Broadway and Hollywood’s most famous acting dynasty, Barrymore is now in the twilight of his career, no longer a leading box office draw and wrestling with the ravages of his life of excess. In equal parts lacerating wit and piercing despair, the faded icon revisits the highs and lows of his theatrical triumphs and remarkable life.
The film starring Christopher Plummer had its world premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. It was directed and adapted by writer-director Érik Canuel from the production for which Plummer won both a Tony™ Award and Drama Desk Award. John Plumpis, who toured with Plummer in the play after its Broadway run, recreates his role of Frank, the prompter. The film came shortly after Plummer received his multiple awards for Beginners in 2010 (Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and more).
Playwright William Luce previously wrote the Broadway and London hit, The Belle of Amherst, starring Julie Harris as the poet Emily Dickinson, for which Ms. Harris won her fifth Tony Award for Best Actress. Luce has twice been nominated for Writers Guild Awards for the CBS-TV movies, “The Last Days of Patton,” starring George C. Scott, and “The Woman He Loved,” starring Jane Seymour, Olivia de Havilland and Julie Harris. He has also written autobiographical plays based on the lives of Lillian Hellman, Charlotte Bronte and Isak Dinesen.
Barrymore is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Image Entertainment, Inc.
About Christopher Plummer
Christopher Plummer has enjoyed almost 60 years as one of the worlds most revered and beloved actors on screen and on stage. Since Sidney Lumet introduced him to the screen in Stage Struck (1958), his range of notable films include The Man Who Would Be King, Battle of Britain, Waterloo, Fall of The Roman Empire, Star Trek VI, Twelve Monkeys, and the 1965 Oscar-winning The Sound of Music; more recently, Oscar-nominated The Insider (as Mike Wallace, he won the National Film Critics Award), the Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind, National Treasure, Syriana, Inside Man and Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. His upcoming films include Imagined (opposite Al Pacino) and Elsa and Fred (opposite Shirley MacLaine). Plummer is also in Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, which is currently airing on HBO. His TV appearances, which number close to 100, have earned him two Emmys and seven Emmy nominations.
Raised in Montreal, Plummer began his professional career on stage and radio in both French and English and played Cymbeline under the great Russian director, Theodore Komisarjevsky. After Eva Le Galliene gave him his New York debut (1954) he went on to star in many celebrated productions on Broadway and London’s West End, winning accolades on both sides of the Atlantic. He has won two Tony Awards plus seven Tony nominations.
A former leading member of the Royal National Theatre under Sir Laurence Olivier and the Royal Shakespeare Company under Sir Peter Hall, where he won London’s Evening Standard Award for Best Actor in Becket, Mr. Plummer also led Canada’s Stratford Festival in its formative years under Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Michael Langham.
Plummer’s life is recounted in his autobiographical memoir, In Spite of Myself (Random House). Christopher Plummer’s one-man show A Word or Two will play the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles from Jan. 19 to Feb. 9.
Of Plummer’s performance, critic Rex Reed proclaimed, “It’s the role — and the performance — of a lifetime, and he plays every color, nuance, mood shift and variety of vocal power and body language in his enormous range. The artistry leaves you with your mouth wide open.”
About John Barrymore
John Barrymore, the American stage and screen actor whose rise to super-stardom and subsequent decline is one of the legendary tragedies of Hollywood, was a member of the most famous generation of the most famous theatrical family in America, and he was also its most acclaimed star.
The youngest and most gifted son of performers Maurice and Georgina Drew Barrymore, and brother of Ethel and Lionel, John Sidney Barrymore was born in Philadelphia in 1882.
By 1909 he had achieved the status of matinee idol owing to his good looks, distinguished profile, quick wit and personal charisma.
Throughout the 1920’s, he played two roles which were widely acknowledged as the pinnacles of his stage career: Richard III (1920) and Hamlet (1923), the latter of which ran long enough to set a New York record and had a successful run in London. Following these triumphs, Barrymore devoted his time to his film career and appeared in one MGM production, Rasputin and the Empress, with his siblings, Lionel and Ethel. After many years in Hollywood—starring in more than 60 films, including such classics as “Grand Hotel,” “Dinner at Eight,” “Twentieth Century,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Maytime,” and “Marie Antoinette,” John Barrymore returned to Broadway in 1939 for a brief run in 1 comedy with his fourth wife, Elaine Jacobs.
Theatre historians generally agree that had Barrymore possessed the necessary dedication and determination, John Barrymore would have been the greatest stage actor of his generation. After 1925, however, the hedonistic actor dissipated his talents.
Barrymore died in 1942, at the age of 59, mourned as much for the loss of his life as for the loss of grace, wit, and brilliance which had characterized his career at its height. Today, granddaughter Drew Barrymore carries on the family name.
Great Performances is a production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers. For 50 years, THIRTEEN has been making the most of the rich resources and passionate people of New York and the world, reaching millions of people with on-air and online programming that celebrates arts and culture, offers insightful commentary on the news of the day, explores the worlds of science and nature, and invites students of all ages to have fun while learning.
Great Performances is funded by Anne Ray Charitable Trust, the Irene Diamond Fund, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, The LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, The Agnes Varis Trust, Rosalind P. Walter, The Starr Foundation, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation and public television viewers, and PBS.
Barrymore is produced by Steve Kalafer, Peter LeDonne, and Garth H. Drabinksy. Production designer: Cameron Porteous. Director of Photography: Bernard Couture. Editor: Jean-Francois Bergeron. Composer: Michel Corriveau. Scenic designer: Debra Hanson.
For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer; David Horn is executive producer.