David Warner, who played Henry VI in Peter Hall and John Barton’s landmark RSC production of The Wars of the Roses in 1963, has died aged 80.
Broadcast by the BBC in 1965 and released on DVD and download by Illuminations in 2016, the iconic close-up of Warner as Henry VI adorns the cover of our DVD release, The Wars of the Roses, which can be purchased from the Film Shop.
Warner’s early success with The Wars of the Roses was followed by another collaboration with Peter Hall: a radical interpretation of Hamlet at the RSC in 1965 that saw the young Danish prince become a very modern student complete with spectacles, Aran sweater, and long red scarf. In 2001 the Telegraph proclaimed him, “the finest Hamlet of his generation”.
Warner’s early success in the theatre led inevitably to a move into film. However, despite his good looks, he was never cast in a traditional leading role and this was perhaps best summed up by Warner himself when, at the ripe old age of 24 he said, “I’m really a character actor, an old man actor.” Warner went on to star in films such as The Omen, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, worked with Alain Resnais in Providence, and starred in three films for Sam Peckinpah including, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Straw Dogs, and Cross of Iron.
In 1972, during the production of I, Claudius and David Hare’s, The Great Exhibition, Warner suffered from stage fright and withdrew from the theatre for another 30 years. His later return to the stage was in a Broadway revival of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara as Andrew Undershaft.
The actor’s later work on the big screen displayed a suitably eclectic and kooky filmography. Warner was often cast as the villain, such as in James Cameron’s blockbuster, Titanic. He starred as two different characters in two Star Trek films, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, with the latter film’s subtitle originating from Hamlet and including the line, “You’ve not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”
Other later roles included Scream 2, Tim Burton’s much-maligned reboot of The Planet of the Apes, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. On the latter film, Warner remarked, “Now, at last, I can look [my child’s] friends in the face. When they ask me, ‘What do you do?’, I don’t have to say, ‘I’ve done a bit of Shakespeare, a bit of Chekhov.’ I can say I was in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II.”