Geoffrey Unsworth

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Geoffrey Unsworth
Geoffrey Gilyard Unsworth

(1914-05-26)26 May 1914
Atherton, Lancashire, England
Died28 October 1978(1978-10-28) (aged 64)
Paris, France
Occupation Cinematographer
Years active1939–1978

Geoffrey Gilyard Unsworth, OBE, BSC (26 May 1914 – 28 October 1978) was a British cinematographer who worked on nearly ninety feature films during a career that wound up spanning over more than forty years. He is best known for his work on critically acclaimed releases such as Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey , Bob Fosse's Cabaret and Richard Donner's Superman .


The British news agency The Guardian has highlighted the nature of his work for Kubrick, in the words of fellow cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, given that Unsworth's approach reportedly "became the benchmark" for a given cinematic style. Suschitzky added specifically that he had initially turned down working for filmmaker George Lucas (on the original Star Wars movie) and had "said straight away" to Lucas: "You don’t really want me, you want Geoffrey Unsworth." [1]


Unsworth began his career working at Gaumont British from 1932 to 1937. [2] Having joined Technicolor in 1938, he acted as assistant director of photography on many notable productions, such as Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) and A Matter of Life and Death (1946). After working on some of the Gainsborough melodramas, he worked at the Rank Organisation throughout the 1950s, notably on films such as A Town Like Alice and A Night to Remember . [3]

In the 1960s, Unsworth's work extended abroad, such as with the 1962 CinemaScope epic The 300 Spartans ; the decade also saw him receive his first Academy Award nomination for his work on 1964's Becket . In 1965, he was responsible for photographing the Royal National Theatre's production of William Shakespeare's Othello .

His film work brought him an impressive array of awards, including five British Society of Cinematographers awards, three BAFTAS and two Academy Awards. Unsworth was especially in demand as cinematographer in two very different genres, period pieces and science fiction. Among the highlights of his career, he collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on the visually innovative 2001: A Space Odyssey (on which he was assisted by John Alcott, who would become a regular collaborator of Kubrick's) and Bob Fosse's dark musical exploration of the end of Weimar Germany, Cabaret . In Sidney Lumet's 1974 film adaptation of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express , his lighting and use of diffusion capture the danger and romance of the train while graceful integration of camera movement and optical effects contributes to the realism of the set while controlling the claustrophobia of the setting.

Unsworth's work reached its widest audience with Richard Donner's Superman in 1978. He was responsible for integrating the work of a who's-who of cinematographers and visual effects designers (including Zoran Perisic, an animation stand crew member from 2001, who extended Kubrick's front projection technique for Superman), with the plausibility and sense of grandeur befitting a (mostly) reverent take on a superhero. The style he developed alongside director Donner was essentially that of a science-fiction period film; the glamorous, often highly diffused cinematography observed a panoply of images of Americana, suggesting an epic timeframe for the film's scenes, a mythical America somewhere between the 1930s of the original comics and the 1970s. The style of the sequences that did not involve extensive science-fiction elements had to match scenes displaying Superman's powers.

Unsworth's other work in the 1970s included the Oliver Cromwell biopic Cromwell in 1970, the 1972 John Barry musical Alice's Adventures in Wonderland , John Boorman's 1974 fantasy film Zardoz , The Return of the Pink Panther (the fourth film in Blake Edwards' Pink Panther series), Richard Attenborough's 1977 war epic A Bridge Too Far . In 1981, he won a posthumous Oscar for Best Cinematography for his collaborative work with Ghislain Cloquet on Roman Polanski's Tess .

For Superman, Unsworth was not named in the Special Achievement in Visual Effects Academy Award the film received, but instead as director of photography, and without a separate credit for special effects work, he would not have been eligible. Donner expressed great disgust that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did not recognise Unsworth with a nomination for Best Achievement in Cinematography in 1979.

Death and legacy

Unsworth died of a heart attack in France at the age of 64 while filming Roman Polanski's Tess in 1978.

Both Superman and The First Great Train Robbery were dedicated to Unsworth's memory. As alluded to in the Superman dedication, Unsworth was an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

He was admired for his charming manner at work. For instance, Margot Kidder was flattered when he arranged lighting for her shots and insisted on concentration by saying "Quiet, I'm lighting the Lady." [4] His wife Maggie worked in the British film industry, often as a script/continuity supervisor.


Short film

1946Make Fruitful the Land Ken Annakin
1950Mr. Know-AllSegments of Trio
Verger, The
1955Cyril Stapleton and the Show Band Michael Carreras With Walter J. Harvey
The Eric Winstone Bandshow
1956Eric Winstone's Stagecoach

Documentary short

1942Teeth of SteelRonald H. Riley
Gardens of England Michael Hankinson
World GardenRobin Carruthers
1943Power on the Land: The Story of the
Mechanisation of British Farming
Ralph Keene
The People's Land

Feature film

1946 Meet the Navy Alfred Travers Technicolor photography
The Laughing Lady Paul L. Stein
1947 The Man Within Bernard Knowles
1948 Blanche Fury Marc Allégret Exterior photography
Scott of the Antarctic Charles Frend With Osmond Borradaile and Jack Cardiff
1949 The Blue Lagoon Frank Launder
Fools Rush In John Paddy Carstairs
The Spider and the Fly Robert Hamer
1950 Double Confession Ken Annakin
The Clouded Yellow Ralph Thomas
1951 Where No Vultures Fly Harry Watt
1952 Penny Princess Val Guest
The Planter's Wife Ken Annakin
Made in Heaven John Paddy Carstairs
1953 Turn the Key Softly Jack Lee
The Sword and the Rose Ken Annakin
1954 The Million Pound Note Ronald Neame
The Seekers Ken Annakin
The Purple Plain Robert Parrish
1955 Simba Brian Desmond Hurst
Passage Home Roy Ward Baker
Value for Money Ken Annakin
1956 A Town Like Alice Jack Lee
Jacqueline Roy Ward Baker
Tiger in the Smoke
1957 Hell Drivers Cy Endfield
Dangerous Exile Brian Desmond Hurst
1958 A Night to Remember Roy Ward Baker
Bachelor of Hearts Wolf Rilla
1959 Whirlpool Lewis Allen
North West Frontier J. Lee Thompson
1960 The World of Suzie Wong Richard Quine
1961 Don't Bother to Knock Cyril Frankel
1962 The Playboy of the Western World Brian Desmond Hurst
The 300 Spartans Rudolph Maté
The Main Attraction Daniel Petrie
1963 Tamahine Philip Leacock
1964 Becket Peter Glenville
1965 Genghis Khan Henry Levin
You Must be Joking Michael Winner
Othello Stuart Burge
1966El rey en LondresAníbal UsetWith Agustín González Paz and Aníbal González Paz
1967 Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You
in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad
Richard Quine
Half a Sixpence George Sidney
1968 2001: A Space Odyssey Stanley Kubrick
The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom Joseph McGrath
1969 The Assassination Bureau Basil Dearden
Dance of Death David Giles
The Magic Christian Joseph McGrath
1970 The Reckoning Jack Gold
Cromwell Ken Hughes
Goodbye Gemini Alan Gibson
Three Sisters Laurence Olivier
John Sichel
1971 Say Hello to Yesterday Alvin Rakoff
Unman, Wittering and Zigo John Mackenzie
1972 Cabaret Bob Fosse
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland William Sterling
1973 Baxter! Lionel Jeffries
Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing Alan J. Pakula
Voices Kevin Billington
Don Quixote Rudolf Nureyev
Robert Helpmann
1974 Zardoz John Boorman
The Internecine Project Ken Hughes
The Abdication Anthony Harvey
Murder on the Orient Express Sidney Lumet
1975 The Return of the Pink Panther Blake Edwards
Royal Flash Richard Lester
Lucky Lady Stanley Donen
1976 A Matter of Time Vincente Minnelli
1977 A Bridge Too Far Richard Attenborough
1978 Superman Richard Donner
The First Great Train Robbery Michael Crichton Also actor (uncredited)
1979 Tess Roman Polanski With Ghislain Cloquet (Posthumous release)
1980 Superman II Richard LesterWith Robert Paynter (Posthumous release)
2006 Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut Richard Donner

Documentary film

1963 An Evening with the Royal Ballet Anthony Havelock-Allan
Anthony Asquith
Segments "La Valse", "Les Corsaire" and "Aurora's Wedding"
1965 Pop Gear Frederic Goode


1956 The Magical World of Disney Ken Annakin "When Knighthood Was in Flower" (Part 1 & 2)
1972 Columbo Richard Quine "Dagger of the Mind"

Awards and honours

Academy Awards

1964 Best Cinematography Becket Nominated
1972 Cabaret Won
1974 Murder on the Orient Express Nominated
1979 Tess (shared with Ghislain Cloquet)Won

BAFTA Awards

1964 Best British Cinematography Tamahine Nominated
1969 Best Cinematography 2001: A Space Odyssey Won
1973Cabaret, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Won
1975Murder on the Orient Express, Zardoz Nominated
1978 A Bridge Too Far Won
1979 Superman Nominated
1982Tess (shared with Ghislain Cloquet)Won

National Society of Film Critics

1969 Best Cinematography 2001: A Space Odyssey3rd place
1972Cabaret4th place
1981Tess (shared with Ghislain Cloquet)3rd place

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  1. Hoad, Phil (2 April 2018). "50 years of 2001: A Space Odyssey – how Kubrick's sci-fi 'changed the very form of cinema'". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 26 February 2024.
  2. "BFI Screenonline: Unsworth, Geoffrey (1914-1978) Biography". Retrieved 26 May 2017.
  3. "BFI Screenonline: Unsworth, Geoffrey (1914-1978) Biography". Retrieved 26 May 2017.
  4. Superman – The Movie (Four-Disc Special Edition): Disc 3, "Making Superman: Filming the Legend"