Karel Reisz

Karel Reisz (21 July 1926 – 25 November 2002) was a Czech-born British filmmaker who was active in post–World War II Britain, and one of the pioneers of the new realist strain in British cinema during the 1950s and 1960s.

Karel Reisz
Left to right: Frank Beyer, Karel Reisz and Antonín Brousil at the 14th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, 7 July 1964
Born(1926-07-21)21 July 1926
Died25 November 2002(2002-11-25) (aged 76)
Camden, London, England[1]
Spouse(s)Julia Coppard (m. 19??; div. 19??)
Betsy Blair (m. 1963)

Early life

Reisz was born in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia of Jewish extraction.[2] He was a refugee, one of the 669 rescued by Sir Nicholas Winton.[3][4] His father was a lawyer.

He came to England in 1938, speaking almost no English, but eradicated his foreign accent as quickly as possible.[5] After attending Leighton Park School, he joined the Royal Air Force toward the end of the war; his parents died at Auschwitz.[6][7] Following his war service, he read Natural Sciences at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and began to write for film journals, including Sight and Sound. He co-founded Sequence with Lindsay Anderson and Gavin Lambert in 1947.


Free Cinema

Reisz was a founder member of the Free Cinema documentary film movement. His standard textbook The Technique of Film Editing was first published in 1953.

His first short film Momma Don't Allow (1955), co-written and co-directed with Tony Richardson, was included in the first Free Cinema program shown at the National Film Theatre in February 1956.[8]

He produced Every Day Except Christmas (1957) directed by Lindsay Anderson and Band Wagon (1958).

Reisz and Anderson produced and directed March to Aldermaston (1959), then Reisz alone directed We Are the Lambeth Boys (1959), a naturalistic depiction of the members of a South London boys' club, unusual in showing the leisure life of working-class teenagers as it was, with skiffle music and cigarettes, cricket, drawing and discussion groups.[9] The film represented Britain at the Venice Film Festival. (The BBC made two follow-up films about the same people and youth club, broadcast in 1985.) He produced I Want to Go to School (1959) directed by John Krish.

Early features

His first feature film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) was based on the social-realism novel by Alan Sillitoe, and used many of the same techniques as his earlier documentaries. In particular, scenes filmed at the Raleigh factory in Nottingham have the look of a documentary, and give the story a vivid sense of verisimilitude.[10] The film won the Grand Award for Best Feature Film at the 1961 Mar del Plata International Film Festival.[11] It was successful at the box office and made a film star of Albert Finney.

Reisz directed a TV series Adventure Story (1961). He produced Anderson's feature directorial debut This Sporting Life (1963), then he and Finney reunited on Night Must Fall (1964).

Reisz directed Morgan – A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966) adapted by David Mercer from his 1962 television play.

His fourth feature as director was Isadora (1968), a biography of dancer Isadora Duncan, with a screenplay by Melvyn Bragg that starred Vanessa Redgrave.


Reisz's first film shot in America was The Gambler (1974) with James Caan.[12][13]

He did Who'll Stop the Rain (1978) with Nick Nolte and Tuesday Weld.[14] He was meant to follow it with an adaptation of Brian Moore's novel The Doctor's Wife based on a script by Joe Eszterhaus, but the film was never made.[15]

Back in London, he directed The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), which was probably the most successful of his later films.[16] Adapted from the John Fowles novel by Harold Pinter, it starred Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep. In 1982 he directed John Guare's Gardenia Dreams on stage in Boston.[17]

He did Sweet Dreams (1985), based on the life of country singer Patsy Cline, starring Jessica Lange. After it he did a script about Libby Holman for Ray Stark but it was never made.[18]

Later career

Reisz's last feature was Everybody Wins (1990), with a screenplay by Arthur Miller and based on his play.

From 1991 to 2001, Reisz focused on theatre directing in London, Dublin and Paris.[19] He directed an adaptation of The Deep Blue Sea (1994) for British TV. In 1995, he directed Moonlight by Harold Pinter with Jason Robards and Blythe Danner. At a Beckett festival at Lincoln Center in 1996, he directed Happy Days. In 1999, he did Pinter's Ashes to Ashes, with Lindsay Duncan and David Strathairn at the Roundabout Theater Company. At the Pinter Festival at Lincoln Center in 2001, he staged A Kind of Alaska and Landscape. When the Gate Theater filmed all Beckett's stage plays, Reisz did Act Without Words I (2001).

Personal life

Reisz had three sons by his first wife Julia Coppard, whom he later divorced.[20] Reisz wed Betsy Blair, former wife of Gene Kelly, in 1963 and remained married until his death.


Short films

  • Momma Don't Allow 1955 (documentary)
  • We Are the Lambeth Boys 1958 (documentary)
  • March to Aldermaston 1959 (documentary) about the first of the Aldermaston Marches


  • Adventure Story (1961) (6 episodes)
  • Performance (TV series) (1 episode) (1994)


  • Reisz, Karel (1953). The Technique of Film Editing. London: Focal Press. ISBN 0240521854.


  1. Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006
  2. Milne, Tom; "Obituary: Karel Reisz" Guardian.co.uk, 28 November 2002 (Retrieved: 3 July 2009)
  3. Gardner, Colin (2006). Karel Reisz. Oxford Road, Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 13. ISBN 0719075483.
  4. Latynski, Maya (1992). Reappraising the Munich Pact: Continental Perspectives. Washington, D. C.: The Woodrom Wilson Center Press. p. 6. ISBN 0943875390.
  5. "Karel Reisz". London: telegraph.co.uk. 28 November 2002. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  6. Newsmakers: the people behind today's headlines 2004 "After the war's end, the boys learned that both parents had died at Auschwitz, the German-run concentration camp"
  7. Peter Worsley. An academic skating on thin ice, Page 52, 2008. "My best friend at College, Karel Reisz, a Czech, never told me what I only learned from his recent obituary – that both of his parents had been killed at Auschwitz."
  8. Aufderheide, Patricia (2007). Documentary Film, A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University.
  9. Hill, John (1986). Sex, Class and Realise: British Cinema 1956 - 1963. London: British Film Institute. p. 128. ISBN 0851701337.
  10. Rule, John (1994). Saturday night and Sunday morning: time and the working classes. Southampton: University of Southampton. ISBN 0854325247.
  11. "Mar del Plata Awards 1961". Mar del Plata. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
  12. Karel Reisz Gambles on Las Vegas By A. H. WEILER. New York Times 8 Apr 1973: 171.
  13. "Karel Reisz: From Viewer to Doer in the World Cinema," Warga, Wayne. Los Angeles Times, 20 Oct 1974: q30.
  14. 'We wanted to connect with British life in the way American cinema connected with American life. Politically our films were tangential.' Karel Reisz, his new film opening on Thursday, talks to Clancy Sigal The Guardian 16 Dec 1978: 13.
  15. KAREL REISZ: 'Dog Soldiers' Dedicated Director Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times 30 May 1977: g8.
  16. Welsh, Jim (1982). "The Man Who Made the French Lieutenant's Woman". Literature Film Quarterly. 10 (1).
  17. John Guare play; Gardenia Drama by John Guare. Directed by Karel Reisz.Beufort, John. The Christian Science Monitor, 6 May 1982.
  18. "Karel Reisz and His Three-Year Itch", Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times, 15 Sep 1985: 18.
  19. "Karel Reisz", Milne, Tom. The Guardian (1959-2003); London (UK) [London (UK)]28 Nov 2002: 26.
  20. Vallance, Tom; "Karel Reisz: Director of 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning'" Independent.co.uk, 28 November 2002 (Retrieved: 18 March 2009)
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