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A look at what you probably haven't seen
on November 28, 2013
Two things drew me to read this book. One is Alec Guinness's conversion to Catholicism. The other is his work on films like The Bridge on the River Kwai and (of course) Star Wars. So naturally I am interested in his autobiography.
The book is a little odd in its structure. Each chapter covers an event (like his early childhood with just a mom or his conversion or his service in World War II) or a person important in his life. Many of the people were friends from the 1930s and 1940s, so the chapters often cover the same time span but with different stories. The book is a little choppy and definitely weighted towards his younger days.
In his younger days he was focused on theater acting. Films were a nice side bonus but most of his work was on the stage. The stories are about fellow actors, though the famous ones (Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, etc.) are mostly side characters; other more personal friends are his focus. They are all interesting enough but I doubt I will remember them.
Guinness's film career has passing mentions throughout the book (for example, the director David Lean is referenced several times but only one or two small stories are told). I'm much more familiar with that part of his work, so I was a little disappointed not to hear more about film makers and film craft. Also, Star Wars is barely mentioned, mostly as a well-paying job. The part of his career I am most interested in was not given any depth or expansion.
His conversion is discussed primarily in one chapter, but bits of the story (including the conversion of other friends) crop up in other chapters. He ends the book by saying his proudest claim is that he never lost a friend. Maybe that is the true unifying thread in the book--the important thing in his life is the blessings he's had through the people he's encountered. I'd probably appreciate the book more if I'd read it with that expectation rather than my own.