Jack Clayton (1 March 1921 - 26 February 1995) was a British film director, who specialised in bringing literary works to the screen.
Born in Brighton, Clayton started his career as a child actor on the 1929 film Dark Red Roses. He joined Alexander Korda's Denham Film Studios at the age of 14, and rose from tea boy to assistant director to film editor.
While in service with the Royal Air Force during World War II, Clayton shot his first film, the documentary Naples is a Battlefield (1944), representing the problems in the reconstruction of Naples, the first great city liberated in World War II, ruined after Allied bombing and destruction caused by the retreating Nazis. After the war Clayton became an associate producer working on several of the John and James Woolf's Romulus film productions, then directed the Oscar winning short The Bespoke Overcoat (1956) for their company. Based on Wolf Mankowitz's theatrical version (1953) of Nikolai Gogol's short story The Overcoat (1842), in this film, Gogol's story is re-located to a clothing warehouse in the East End of London and the ghostly protagonist is a poor Jew.
His first feature was the internationally acclaimed Room at the Top (1959), a harsh indictment of the British class system that has been credited with spearheading Britain's movement toward realism in films; in fact it inaugurated a series of realist films known as the British New Wave, which featured, for that time, unusually sincere treatments of sexual mores and introduced a new maturity into British cinema. It won two Oscars, and Clayton received a Best Director nomination.
Clayton followed with the ghost story The Innocents (1961), based on Henry James The Turn of the Screw, then lay back for several years, establishing a pattern he followed thereafter.
He directed The Pumpkin Eater (1964), and Our Mother's House (1967), for which Steven Spielberg has expressed great admiration. In the next phase of his career several projects had to be abandoned, on some occasions when plans were well advanced. The one completed project of this period, his high-profile American production of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1974), did not fare well with the critics. However Tennessee Williams, in his book 'Memoirs' (p. 178), wrote: "It seems to me that quite a few of my stories, as well as my one acts, would provide interesting and profitable material for the contemporary cinema, if commited to ... such cinematic masters of direction as Jack Clayton, who made of The Great Gatsby a film that even surpassed, I think, the novel by Scott Fitzgerald." Clayton had a stroke in 1978 which deprived him of speech for a time. He did not commit to another assignment for almost a decade. He filmed Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983), the Disney studio production, which fitted more closely with the ideas he had explored earlier, especially in the sense of the exposure of children to evil. But the finished film was a compromise between Disney's insistence on a more commercial version and the original vision of the director. Although the film was well received by critics, it was another disappointment for Clayton.
His last feature film, the British-made The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1987), featured Maggie Smith as a spinster who struggles with the emptiness of her life; it won Clayton critical plaudits for the first time in many years. He worked with Smith again in 1992 for a television film Memento Mori, based on the novel by Muriel Spark, for which he also co-wrote the screenplay. Like previous ones, that film expressed quietly moving meditations on disappointment and aging.
When asked his religion, he replied: "ex-Catholic". He was married to the Israeli actress Haya Harareet until his death.
^ Clayton, Jack (1921-1995), BFI screenonline,
^ "Synopses: Dark Red Roses". British Film Institute. ,
^ Brian McFarlane (ed.) The Encyclopedia of British Film, London: Methuen/BFI, 2003, p.125,
^ Williams, Tennessee (1975). Memoirs. Doubleday & Co. ,
^ Sinyard, Neil (2000). Jack Clayton. UK: Manchester University Press. p. 289. ISBN 0-7190-5505-9.