MCM: Peter O’Toole


Rakish, charming, and everything I think of as an old-school movie star, Peter O’Toole is classic man candy. He reputedly had over 1,000 lovers, including fellow actors Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Vivien Leigh, plus he had an eight-year affair with Britain’s Princess Margaret. O’Toole was known as a hard-drinking hell-raiser, but he was also a romantic who had memorized all of Shakespeare’s sonnets and re-read them daily. He made many historical costume movies and TV series throughout his life, working steadily until his death in 2013.


Robin MacGregor in Kidnapped (1960)

Peter O'Toole, Kidnapped (1960)

Playing Scottish, tho’ he’s Irish!


Capt. Monty Fitch in The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (1960)

Peter O'Toole, The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (1960)

A 1900s heist story.


T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Peter O'Toole, Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Yes, the history of T.E. Lawrence is deeply problematic.

Peter O'Toole, Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

But O’Toole’s performance is magnetic & David Lean’s film is stunning.


King Henry II in Becket (1964)

Peter O'Toole, Becket (1964)

Brilliant acting between O’Toole & Richard Burton.


James Burke in Lord Jim (1965)

Peter O'Toole, Lord Jim (1965)

Adapted from Joseph Conrad’s novel.


Henry II in The Lion in Winter (1968)

Peter O'Toole, The Lion in Winter (1968)

So witty & snarky, we all love this movie!


Capt. Charles Edstaston in Great Catherine (1968)

Peter O'Toole, Great Catherine (1968)

It’s a comedy with Jeanne Moreau as the queen.


Arthur Chipping in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)

Peter O'Toole, Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)

A nebbishy 1920s schoolteacher marries a showgirl.


Don Quixote De La Mancha / Miguel de Cervantes / Alonso Quijana in Man of La Mancha (1972)

Peter O'Toole, Man of La Mancha (1972)

I wanted to like this more than I did — O’Toole’s performance was fine, but the whole musical didn’t work for me.


Robinson Crusoe in Man Friday (1975)

Peter O'Toole, Man Friday (1975)

A reimagining of the Robinson Caruso story. Co-starring Richard Roundtree.


Tiberius in Caligula (1979)

Peter O'Toole, Caligula (1979)


General Cornelius Flavius Silva in Masada (1981)

Peter O'Toole, Masada (1981)


Alan Swann in My Favorite Year (1982)

Peter O'Toole, My Favorite Year (1982)

This movie was my first introduction to Peter O’Toole. I loved him so much that I went back to watch his earlier work!


Peter O'Toole, My Favorite Year (1982)


Professor Henry Higgins in Pygmalion (1983)


Peter O'Toole, Pygmalion (1983)


Reginald ‘R. J.’ Johnston in The Last Emperor (1987)

Peter O'Toole, The Last Emperor (1987)

Key role as tutor to the young emperor.


Maj. Lyautey in Isabelle Eberhardt (1991)

Peter O'Toole, Isabelle Eberhardt (1991)


Lord Sarn in Rebecca’s Daughters (1992)

Peter O'Toole, Rebecca's Daughters (1992)

Looks like a pretty standard frock flick, right?

Peter O'Toole, Rebecca's Daughters (1992)

But now I have SO MANY QUESTIONS!?!


Sam Trump in Heaven & Hell: North & South, Book III (1994)

Peter O'Toole, Heaven & Hell: North & South, Book III (1994)

That American Civil War series.


Clarence, Earl of Emsworth in Heavy Weather (1995)

Peter O'Toole, Heavy Weather (1995)

A P.G. Wodehouse adaption.


Emperor of Lilliput in Gulliver’s Travels (1996)

Peter O'Toole, Gulliver's Travels (1996)

Fantasy with a historical spin.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in FairyTale: A True Story (1997)

Peter O'Toole, FairyTale: A True Story (1997)

Historical with a fantasy spin.


William Williamson in Molokai (1999)

Peter O'Toole, Molokai (1999)


Bishop Pierre Cauchon in Joan of Arc (1999)

Peter O'Toole, Joan of Arc (1999)

With Neil Patrick Harris as King Charles VII of France.


Colonel Blount in Bright Young Things (2003)

Peter O'Toole, Bright Young Things (2003)


President Paul von Hindenburg in Hitler: The Rise of Evil (2003)

Peter O'Toole, Hitler: The Rise of Evil (2003)


Augustus Caesar in Imperium: Augustus (2003)

Peter O'Toole, Imperium: Augustus (2003)


Priam in Troy (2004)

Peter O'Toole, Troy (2004)


Older Casanova in Casanova (2005)

Casanova (2005)

An actual older Casanova plays an older Casanova.


The Duke of Rudling in Lassie (2005)

Peter O'Toole, Lassie (2005)


Samuel, the Prophet in One Night With the King (2006)

Peter O'Toole, One Night With the King (2006)


Pope Paul III in The Tudors (2008)

Peter O'Toole, The Tudors (2008)

He excommunicated Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ smarmy Henry VIII.


Fisk Senior in My Talks With Dean Spanley (2008)

Peter O'Toole, My Talks With Dean Spanley (2008)


What’s your favorite of Peter O’Toole’s historical costume movie or TV roles?

23 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    Loved him in Becket and Lion in Winter. He remarkably held his own against both Burton and the incomparable Kate Hepburn.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Everyone in that movie is brilliant! It might win for our Most Frequently Referred to Frock Flick That We Really Don’t Talk About The Costumes.

      • Susan Pola Staples

        I agree with your assessment of the brilliance of the whole cast. It’s my touchstone on how I see Queen Eleanor.

  2. Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

    My god, he was a beautiful man. It’s not a costume flick, but the scene in How to Steal A Million where he and Audrey Hepburn are trapped in a tiny closet Sigh. I was lucky enough to see him on stage in Pygmalion in New York. The Lion in Winter with Katherine Hepburn is still one of my favorite movies. I can quote every line.

    • Roxana

      I will never forget our first look at O’Toole in ‘How to Steal a Million’, standing there, staring at Audrey Hepburn with those blue, blue eyes…

  3. LydiaR

    He’s one of my classic favorites, and when I think of Henry II, he looks like Peter O’Toole in my mind. And while Lawrence of Arabia is very problematic, I had the opportunity to see the restored version in the newly restored Fox Theatre (a truly opulent movie palace of the old school) in Detroit many years ago. I will never forget it.

  4. Charity

    I’m with the other commenters — “How to Steal a Million” is my favorite of his movies.

    Though I always start laughing hysterically whenever I hate-watch The Tudors, and he pops up with his droll humor, sarcastic inferences, and above all, that terrific line — “What of this Anne Boleyn, the king’s whore? Why doesn’t someone just get RID of her?”

  5. Sam Marchiony

    I have so many questions about the Neil Patrick Harris thing, but my favorite things I’ve seen him in were Troy and Casanova. He completely salvaged the former, outclassing everyone (but especially Brad Pitt) with that one scene where he asks for Hector’s body back. And the scene in Casanova where he gets Rose Byrne all worked up just by talking is gold.

    • nkkingston

      That Casanova scene absolutely does it for me too – it’s such a perfect seduction and a reminder that real charisma never grows old.

    • Roxana

      Oh God yes, he just wipes the floor with the rest of the cast and totally out acts Brad Pitt.

  6. Nzie

    Ah, Peter O’Toole! Grew up with Becket and Man of La Mancha.. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I adored the film version of the play, and then I read the play itself and did my final costume design project renderings on it—and came to the realization as I was working on it that it really belonged as a play, rather than a film, where one’s own imagination as the audience would have to participate to realize the world Cervantes was creating in that prison. And yet still, I love it. :-)

    Also, Lawrence.. I’m sure if I rewatched it (haven’t seen it in probably 12 years..) now I’d notice things that were problematic, but I can accept that and also recognize that it’s cinematically stunning.

    Sadly I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Lion in Winter all the way through! But the bits I have seen he’s great. He is one of a very few actors who got Oscar leading actor/actress nominations for playing the same person in two different films.. My parents’ extensive classic movie connection came in handy when that was a Jeopardy question quite a while ago, although I missed Bing Crosby because I don’t think they’d ever owned Going My Way (I knew Paul Newman; since then Cate Blanchett has joined this rare group with Elizabeth I).

  7. Kathleen Norvell

    Lawrence of Arabia. The scene with Lawrence walking atop the train cars is etched in my brain. My god, he was beautiful! Second is Becket. MY favorite non-FF movie would be The Ruling Class.

    • M.E. Lawrence

      Yes to “The Ruling Class”! It’s full of wonderful comic performances (until the end, which sours, because this is about–well, class). Note that O’Toole’s character thinks he’s god, and I agree.

      • MoHub

        Thank you! Not period, but my favorite of all O’Toole’s performances!

  8. Lynne Connolly

    Actually I’m really busy today, but you went and did it, didn’t you? I mean, there’s Lawrence, a big-budget lavish blockbuster that actually has a brain, such a great film, even more now it’s been redigitised. Really love My Favourite Year (even though it’s not a historical) and OMG the double act with Hepburn in The Lion In Winter – it just doesn’t get better than that.
    And there’s even a few up there that I haven’t seen, so thank you for that!

  9. India Edghill

    I love, love, LOVE My Favorite Year. The scene in which Alan Swann dances with “the fair Anne” (played by Gloria Stuart, aka “Old Rose in Titanic) is wonderful. Despite the fact that Swann is about to cut out a Hot Young Thing, when he’s dancing with older woman Anne, he’s DANCING WITH HER. His eyes never leave hers, and for that span of dancing moments, he is hers, all hers. That’s why women adore Alan Swan — and is probably why they adored Errol Flynn.

  10. kathleeze

    Another historical film I have always liked is “Kim” where O’Toole has such an unlikely part as a Tibetan lama and plays it in an un-typical way. But whoever was in charge of lighting must have had eyes closed while editing… the plastic bald-maker sometimes seems to have a life of its own. Dang, cannot seem to paste a picture to this…

  11. Lily Lotus Rose

    Oh, dear what choices!! I loved Bright Young Things, until the end which totally departed from the book. Like many people have said, he completely outclassed everyone in Troy. He was at his most beautiful in Lawrence of Arabia, but alas Omar Sharif was even more beautiful!