John Neville dies at 86
John Neville, who played Romeo to Claire Bloom’s Juliet, Hamlet to Judi Dench’s Ophelia and Othello to Richard Burton’s Iago (and vice versa), but who may be best known in the United States as the title character in the exuberantly loopy film “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and a recurring one in the television series “The X-Files,” died in Toronto on Saturday. He was 86.
The British-born son of a truck driver who as a youth spoke with a distinct working-class patois, Mr. Neville was an unlikely candidate to become a Shakespearean matinee idol, but in his early performing years that is exactly what he was. Slender, fluidly athletic and possessed of a voice known for its crisp diction and beautiful modulations, he appeared in the 1950s with London’s Old Vic Company in numerous Shakespearean roles.
In an interview with Canadian television not long ago, Mr. Neville recalled that during a six-year period in the 1950s he appeared in all of Shakespeare’s plays — he considered this both his training period and his greatest achievement — and that the very first thing he was asked to do afterward was to create the role of the callous young womanizer Alfie for the stage, the same role that would later propel Michael Caine to movie stardom. “The critics were sort of astonished at it,” he said. “ ‘This guy is a classical actor. What’s going on here?’ They didn’t know I had grown up with a cockney accent and had to get rid of it.”