Ronald Harwood

Sir Ronald Harwood
Born Ronald Horwitz
(1934-11-09) 9 November 1934
Cape Town, South Africa
Occupation Writer, screenwriter
Years active 1960–present

Sir Ronald Harwood, CBE, FRSL (born Ronald Horwitz; 9 November 1934) is an author, playwright and screenwriter. He is most noted for his plays for the British stage as well as the screenplays for The Dresser (for which he was nominated for an Oscar) and The Pianist, for which he won the 2003 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. He was nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007).

Early life and career

Harwood was born Ronald Horwitz in Cape Town, South Africa, the son of Isobel (née Pepper) and Isaac Horwitz.[1] Harwood moved from Cape Town to London in 1951 to pursue a career in the theatre. He changed his surname from Horwitz to Harwood after an English master told him it was too foreign and too Jewish for a stage actor.[2]

After training for the stage at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he joined the Shakespeare Company of Sir Donald Wolfit. From 1953 to 1958, Harwood was Sir Donald's personal dresser. He would later draw on this experience when he wrote the stage play, The Dresser, and the biography, Sir Donald Wolfit CBE: His life and work in the Unfashionable Theatre. In 1959, after leaving the Donald Wolfit Company, he joined the 59 Theatre Company for a season at the Lyric Hammersmith during which time he played the role of Pablo both in the stage debut of Alun Owen's play The Rough and Ready Lot and in its 1959 television adaptation.[3][4]

In 1960, Harwood began a career as a writer and published his first novel, All the Same Shadows in 1961, the screenplay, Private Potter in 1962, and the produced stage play, March Hares in 1964. Harwood continued at a prolific pace penning more than 21 stage plays, and 10 books. He also created more than 16 screen plays, but seldom wrote original material directly for the screen, usually acting as an adapter, sometimes of his own work (notably The Dresser).

One of the recurring themes in Harwood's work is his fascination for the stage, its performing artists and artisans as displayed in The Dresser, his plays, After the Lions (about Sarah Bernhardt), Another Time (a semi-autobiographical piece about a gifted South African pianist), Quartet (about ageing opera singers) and his non-fiction book All the World's a Stage, a general history of theatre.

Harwood also has a strong interest in the Nazi period, especially the situation of individuals who either voluntarily collaborated with the Nazis or, alternatively, who faced strong pressure to do so and had, in each case, to work out their own personal combination of resistance, deception and compromise. His work focusing on this period includes the films Operation Daybreak (covering the assassination by the Czechoslovakian Resistance of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich), The Statement (a fictionalized account of the post-War life-on-the-run of French collaborator Paul Touvier), The Pianist (an adaptation of the autobiography of the Jewish-Polish musician Władysław Szpilman covering his survival during the Nazi occupation of Poland), the play later adapted to film Taking Sides (focused on the post-War "de-Nazification" investigation of the German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler), the play Collaboration (about the composer Richard Strauss and his partnership with the Jewish writer Stefan Zweig), and the play An English Tragedy (dealing with the British fascist John Amery).[5][6]

Harwood also wrote the screenplay for the films, The Browning Version (1994) with Albert Finney, Being Julia (2004) with Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons, and Roman Polanski's version of Oliver Twist (2005) with Ben Kingsley.

He won an Academy Award for the script of The Pianist, having already been nominated for The Dresser in 1983. Harwood received his third Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2007 for his adaptation of the memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, for which he also won a BAFTA and the Prix Jacques Prévert du Scénario in 2008, for Best Adaptation. In 2008, Harwood was also awarded the Humanitas Award in recognition of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.


Harwood was president of the English PEN Club from 1989 to 1993, and of PEN International from 1993 to 1997. He was chairman of the Royal Society of Literature from 2001 to 2004, and is president of the Royal Literary Fund since 2005. He was made Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL) in 1974, Knight (Chevalier) of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1996, and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1999.

In 2003, he was appointed a member at the Department of Language and Literature of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. He was awarded a DLitt degree from Keele University in 2002,[7] honoured with a Doctor Honoris Causa from the Krastyo Sarafov National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts (Sofia, Bulgaria) in 2007, made an Honorary Fellow of the Central School of Speech and Drama (London, England) in 2007, and an Honorary Fellow of the University of Chichester in 2009. Harwood was knighted in the 2010 Birthday Honours.[8][9] He has been the Chairman of the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford since 2008. In June 2013, he was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Aberdeen by the Duchess of Rothesay.[10] He received the National Jewish Theatre Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.

Personal life

He attended the Seapoint Boys' High School in that area of Cape Town. He moved to England in 1951. In 1959, he married Natasha Riehle (1938–2013), a descendant of Russian nobility. They had three children: Antony (born 1960), Deborah (born 1963), and Alexandra (born 1966).[11]

The actor Sir Antony Sher is his cousin. He is the brother of South African dance critic Eve Borland.[12]


Stage plays


Books and published works

See also


  2. Walker, Tim "In Praise of the Patriotic Playwright", The Spectator, 14 June 2006
  3. Owen, Alun (1960). The Rough and Ready Lot: A play in Three Acts. Cover design by Elisabeth Frink (First ed.). London: Encore Publishing Co. Ltd. p. 4.
  4. "The Rough and Ready Lot", Radio Times, London (1871), p. 19, 18 September 1959, retrieved 6 April 2016
  5. Financial Times interview with Ronald Harwood, 16 February 2008
  6. Evening Standard review, 19 February 2008
  7. Keele University
  8. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 59446. p. 1. 12 June 2010.
  9. Zeta-Jones joins cricket buffs Duckworth and Lewis on honours list
  10. "HRH The Duchess of Rothesay joins University 'family'". University of Aberdeen.
  11. "Lady Harwood (1938–2013)". Peerage News.
  12. "Final curtain for Eve Borland – dancer, teacher, critic." (21 August 2007) The Cape Times, Cape Town
  13. Stage review of the 2004-5 revival of The Dresser

Further reading

Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
György Konrád
International President of PEN International
Succeeded by
Homero Aridjis
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