Afternoon Off (1979)
Jumping from the boards to the screen, Cheshire-born Postlethwaite made his first film appearance in Ridley Scott’s 1978 movie The Duellists . But it was a year later in this TV movie that he got the screen time deserving of his talents.
Starring opposite the likes of Thora Hird and Richard Griffiths, it was part of a series penned by Alan Bennett and directed by Stephen Frears. Is that a screen career we see on the horizon?
A Private Function (1984)
Big names again, as Postlethwaite finds himself in another Alan Bennett production, this one starring Maggie Smith and Michael Palin. Pete’s right at the bottom of the cast list as butcher Douglas J. Nuttol in the story of local businessmen who decide to raise a pig in order to celebrate the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
The film was entered into the 1985 Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section, but came home empty handed. It went on to win three BAFTAs.
Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)
Having left the Royal Shakespeare Company a year before, Postlethwaite hit the big time with this autobiographical tale from director Terence Davis. Turning in an entrancing performance as an abusive, alcoholic dad, Pete really proved his acting mettle. He’s the enforcer of a patriarchal regime in a working-class Catholic family living during the 1940s.
Redistributed by the BFI in 2007, it was held as “Britain's forgotten cinematic masterpiece” by The Guardian.
Pete gets back to his theatre roots, bringing his own inimitable stage presence to the screen for a big budget Hollywood version of Shakespeare’s play. It may wobble in comparison to the 1996 version, but the star wattage alone makes it worth a gander.
Postlethwaite takes on the small role of Player King, making a brief but memorable appearance amid all that flamboyant frockery.
The Last Of The Mohicans (1992)
Michael Mann’s brutal, Oscar-winning epic paired Postlethwaite up with Daniel Day-Lewis for the first time on screen. The pair had met years earlier in 1979 when Day-Lewis was working as a student at the Old Vic.
After Hamlet , this was Pete’s second appearance in a sweeping period drama. The film went on to great critical acclaim, and still stands at 97% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes.
In The Name Of The Father (1993)
Back with Daniel Day-Lewis (who helped Pete secure his role in the film), Postlethwaite gives a performance that would go on to earn him his first and only Oscar nomination. In a supporting role, he plays Day-Lewis’s quiet, fiercely devoted father, who sticks by his son when he’s falsely accused of murder.
Up against stiff competition at the Academy Awards that year (Ralph Fiennes for Schindler’s List , Leo DiCaprio for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape ), Postlethwaite eventually lost out to Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Pete is just one cog in Bryan Singer’s whirling clockwork labyrinth of a mystery, appearing as the enigmatic and shady lawyer Kobayashi. The handler of crime boss Keyser Söze, Kobayashi enlists five criminals to pull off a suicidal heist that should end Söze forever.
This was the role that really opened doors for Postlethwaite, as his profile – buoyed along by that Oscar nom – set off into the stratosphere. By now, Postlethwaite was proving himself a dependable actor who delivered time and again, no matter what the role.
Brassed Off (1996)
Pete gets a lead role as Danny, the leader of a brass band living in an old mining community. When a new player joins, Danny attempts to encourage his band all the way to a national competition.
Postlethwaite’s speech at the close of the film has become the thing of film legend. Told not to rehearse it in front of co-stars so that his director could catch genuine reactions, it ended up being sampled by Chumbawumba for their hit ‘Tubthumping’. Not bad.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Baz Luhrmann’s ambitious adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy gets an injection of legitimacy and gravitas courtesy of Postlethwaite, who takes on the role of Father Lawrence.
Rolling those Shakespearean lines around his mouth, he delivers them with the kind of exceptional mastery that makes Leo DiCaprio look like a wet-behind-the-ears teen.
James And The Giant Peach (1996)
The same year that he starred alongside a massive CGI dragon voiced by Sean Connery (in Dragonheart) , Postlethwaite stars in an unconventional adaptation of Roald Dahl’s grim fairytale.
Scrambling together live action and stop-motion animation, he gets the honour of being narrator, as well as appearing as the Old Man bearing a magical gift.
More period finery, as Postlethwaite plays DA William S. Holabird. Grilling people in court with fiery, unrepentant ferocity, Pete cranks the tension effortlessly up to unbearable.
His screen time may not be a patch on many of his co-stars', but this is a pivotal, unforgettable moment.
Lost For Words (1999)
Another ITV film, and another one co-starring Thora Hird. Pete plays Dedric, whose mother Annie (Hird) is suffering from dementia.
Hird went on to receive a National Television Award for her part, while the film itself landed an International Emmy for Best Drama.
The Divine Ryans (1999)
More dynastic disharmony, as Pete plays Uncle Reg. When Draper Doyle’s father drops dead two days after his birthday, Draper realises that he his memories of visiting his father two days previously have vanished.
With the help of Uncle Reg, he attempts to piece his memory back together. A quirky, funny little dramedy.
What would you do if your husband turned into a rat? That’s the problem facing Imelda Staunton’s Conchita when her hubbie Hubert (Postlethwaite) returns home from work one day and transforms into a rodent.
Should his family kill him? He is a pest after all. An oddball comedy from the chap who directed Coneheads and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles .
The Shipping News (2001)
A film more celebrated for its stunning cast than its ability to weave a bewitching tale, Shipping News is still masterful in evoking mood and detailing painfully realistic character studies.
Based on E. Annie Proulx’s novel, Kevin Spacey is Quoyle, who returns to his ancestral home with his daughter after feeling beaten by the world. Postlethwaite plays the old editor of The Gammy Bird , a Newfoundland newspaper.
Strange Bedfellows (2004)
Wacky Aussie drama starring Crocodile Dundee ’s Paul Hogan as a bloke who pretends he’s in a gay relationship with Michael Caton in order to receive government benefits. It's mostly daftness, notable only for Postlethwaite's excellent turn as the auditor who becomes suspicious of the authenticity of the guys’ relationship.
The producers sued Universal after they released I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry, which has an almost identical premise.
The Constant Gardener (2005)
In an odd thematic link to Strange Bedfellows , Postlethwaite’s character in Constant Gardener wears a cap bearing the logo of the Human Rights Campaign, a group seeking equal rights for all sexual orientations.
A celebrated adaptation of John le Carré’s novel, Gardener follows a British diplomat whose wife is murdered in Kenya. In his investigation, the diplomat tracks down Postlethwaite’s mysterious character, who may or may not hold the key to her death.
The Age Of Stupid (2009)
“It’s extraordinary,” Pete told us back in 2009 of his eco-movie. “I turned up to meet Franny [ director ] thinking that I was going to do a voice over. The first thing she said to me was, ‘The make-up trailer's over there, and the wardrobes over there, will you go to wardrobe first?’
“I said, ‘Hang on, this is a voice over isn’t it?!’ And she said 'No, no, you’re on camera! You’re the archivist!’ I went ‘What?!’ So it was scramble, bollock and run, and get up and do it, really.” The result is surprisingly coherent and watchable.
A return to epic filmmaking after a concentration on smaller projects, Postlethwaite pitched up in one of 2010’s most hotly anticipated films. He’s playing a father again, this one the dying owner of a massive empire who is bequeathing everything he owns to his son (Cillian Murphy).
Reminding us that he can do more with a small role than most actors do with a massive one, Pete tears out our heartstrings as a cynical, mean old man.
The Town (2010)
Proving he’s always had a nose for good projects, Postlethwaite jumped aboard Ben Affleck’s sophomore directing gig for what turned out to be a great follow-up project to his critically lauded Gone Baby Gone.
It’s another modest but pivotal role, Pete playing Fergie the Florist, a savage, fearsome crime boss. As a penultimate role, it’s a blinder, and a reminder of what a talent the world has lost. We’ll have to wait ‘til April for Postlethwaite’s last film, Killing Bono.