Sir Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation) gave me the idea for this article. Thank, you Sir Stewart! Recently on The View, the English actor spoke on the honor of being knighted by Queen Elizabeth. When he said some UK actors don’t accept knighthood – for whatever reason – I had to write about it.
Unlike Marlon Brando’s famous Oscar rejection, on sociopolitical reasons, for The Godfather, bestowing Knighthood is an involved process. It’s considered for more than acting skill. Its complexity encompasses a range of things one does in life and what it represents for the United Kingdom. But some British actors either don’t want, or feel they can’t accept the recognition.
Known for his commanding voice, and best known to USA audiences for his Oscar winning performance in A Man For All Seasons, and an Academy Award nominated role in Robert Redford’s movie Quiz Show, Scofield declined the knighthood prize three times. He finally accepted becoming Commander Of The British Empire in 1956 and a Companion of Honour in 2001.
When Julia Roberts thanked her co-star Albert Finney by sharing her Best Actress Oscar win with him for Erin Brockovitch, it was another accolade in a long and respected acting career. However, a Knighthood is an accolade he thoroughly rejects. Finney feels such a system “perpetuates snobbery.” Finney did accept two BAFTA (British Academy of Film & Television Arts) and an Emmy for his amazing portrayal of Winston Churchill in HBO’s The Gathering Storm.
Best known to movie fans as ultra violent droog Alex in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, playing crazed Roman emperor Caligula, and as Soran, the man who killed Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations, Malcolm McDowell doesn’t often portray wimpy characters. He may be best at playing delightful baddies, but there’s no denying his power as an actor in any role. McDowell turned down Knighthood in 1995. Alex would probably approve.
Trevor Howard co-starred with Marlon Brando in 1962’s Mutiny On The Bounty, and with Oscar winner Ben Kingsley in Ghandi, but is best known to Americans in a small, but vivid role in the blockbuster Superman. Reunited with Brando in Richard Donner’s film, Trevor Howard plays the Kryptonian First Elder. His line to Jor-El (Brando), Superman’s father, is memorable indeed, “Any attempt by you to create a climate of fear and panic amongst the populace must be deemed by us an act of insurrection.” A 2003 leaked British government document listed Howard as one of about 300 UK celebrities who rejected honors of the British Empire.
In 1951 Alistair Sim played Ebeenzer Scrooge in one of the most beloved movie adaptations of the Charles Dicken’s literary classic. Twenty years later, he again conjured Scrooge’s bitter spirit to voice the character for an animated TV film. It was so well received, the producers released it theatrically and it won an Oscar. Alistair Sim apparently never felt easy with fame, maybe it’s why he rejected Knighthood.