Published on: 02 May 2012 in Directors UK

Jim O'Brien obituary

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Jim O'Brien, director of classic television series The Jewel in the Crown (1984) and The Monocled Mutineer (1986), has died aged 64. 

O’Brien was born in Dundee on February 15 1947, moving to south London with his family at the age of two. O’Brien’s career in the Arts saw him train first as an actor, where his performance in the lead role of Barry Reckord’s Skivers earned him a Critics’ Nomination for Most Promising Newcomer to the English stage. However, his career as a performer was not to be a long-lasting one, as O'Brien chose instead to concentrate on directing.

After training at the newly-founded National Film and Television School (NFTS), O’Brien began his career as a television director with the documentary Black Future (1977), followed by Another Day (1978,) Shadows On Our Skin (1980) and Jake’s End (1981), all for BBC Films.

In 1984 O’Brien began work on The Jewel in the Crown (pictured right), which was based on Paul Scott’s novels and co-directed with Charles Morahan. Filmed in both India and Great Britain, this ambitious series was met with numerous awards and great acclaim, and made stars of Art Malik, Geraldine James and Charles Dance.

His next project was another critical success, but was perhaps overshadowed by the controversy caused by its subject matter and the right-wing media’s reaction towards it. The Monocled Mutineer starred Paul McGann as Percy Toplis, an historical figure who led a 1917 mutiny of English and Australian soldiers at the British training camp at Etaples in France.

However, although according to the Telegraph the series “won praise (and awards) for its acting and its evocation of the mud, blood and slaughter of the trenches”, the conservative press took a less favourable view of its controversial portrayal of the British Establishment, at a time when relations between the BBC and the Tory government were already extremely strained. It is perhaps this controversy that informed the BBC’s decision to never repeat the series.

O’Brien’s last major work was a two-part television version adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1996) starring Charles Dance, Emilia Fox and Diana Rigg. Away from production, O’Brien spent a number of years teaching the craft at the NFTS, and later became head of Direction at the Metropolitan Film School. Former students of his include Lynne Ramsey (We Need to Talk About Kevin) and David Yates (Harry Potter)

He also played an active role in the Directors’ Guild of Great Britain, campaigning for better conditions for workers in the industry.

He is survived by his wife Christine Hauch, and their two sons. For a more detailed obituary, please visit the Telegraph site here

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