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Nicolas Roeg

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Nicolas Roeg
Nicolas Jack Roeg

(1928-08-15)15 August 1928
St John's Wood, London, England
Died23 November 2018(2018-11-23) (aged 90)
London, England
Other namesNicholas Jack Roeg
  • Director
  • cinematographer
Years active1947–2013
(m. 1957; div. 1977)
(m. 1982, divorced)
Harriet Harper
(m. 2005)

Nicolas Jack Roeg CBE BSC (/ˈrɡ/ ROHG; 15 August 1928 – 23 November 2018) was an English film director and cinematographer, best known for directing Performance (1970), Walkabout (1971), Don't Look Now (1973), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Bad Timing (1980) and The Witches (1990).

Making his directorial debut 23 years after his entry into the film business, Roeg quickly became known for an idiosyncratic visual and narrative style, characterised by the use of disjointed and disorienting editing.[1] For this reason, he is considered a highly influential filmmaker, cited as an inspiration by such directors as Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle.

In 1999, the British Film Institute acknowledged Roeg's importance in the British film industry by naming Don't Look Now and Performance the 8th- and 48th-greatest British films of all time in its Top 100 British films poll.[2]

Early life[edit]

Roeg was born in St John's Wood in North London on 15 August 1928 to Jack Nicolas Roeg and Mabel Gertrude (née Silk).[3] He had an older sister, Nicolette (1925–1987), who was an actress.[4] His father, of Dutch origin, achieved considerable success in the diamond trade, until a failed South African investment saw him suffer heavy financial losses.[3] Of his initial attraction to the film industry, Roeg suggested it was sparked by a recording studio located opposite his home.[5] Roeg was educated at the Mercers' School in London.[6][7]



In 1947, after completing National Service, Roeg entered the film business as a tea boy moving up to clapper-loader, the bottom rung of the camera department, at Marylebone Studios in London.[8] For a time, he worked as a camera operator on a number of film productions, including The Sundowners and The Trials of Oscar Wilde.[3]

He was a second-unit cinematographer on David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and this led to Lean's hiring Roeg as cinematographer on his next film, Doctor Zhivago (1965); however, Roeg's creative vision clashed with that of Lean and eventually he was fired from the production and replaced by Freddie Young, who received sole credit for cinematography when the film was released in 1965.[9] He was credited as cinematographer on Roger Corman's The Masque of the Red Death and François Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451, as well as John Schlesinger's Far from the Madding Crowd and Richard Lester's Petulia; the latter is the last film on which Roeg was solely credited for cinematography and also shares many characteristics and similarities with Roeg's work as a director.[10]


In the late 1960s, Roeg moved into directing with Performance, alongside Donald Cammell. The film centres on an aspiring London gangster (James Fox) who moves in with a reclusive rock star (Mick Jagger) to evade his bosses. The film featured cinematography by Roeg and a screenplay by Cammell, the latter of whom had favoured Marlon Brando for the James Fox role.[11] The film was completed in 1968 but withheld from release by its distributor Warner Bros. who, according to Sanford Lieberson, "didn't think it was releasable."[11] The film was eventually released with an X rating in 1970 and, despite its initial poor reception, has come to be held in high esteem by critics due to its cult following.[12]

He followed up with Walkabout, which tells the story of an English teenage girl and her younger brother who are abandoned in the Australian Outback by their father after his suicide and forced to fend for themselves, with the help of an Aboriginal boy on his walkabout. Roeg cast Jenny Agutter in the role of the girl, his son Luc as the boy, and David Gulpilil as the Aboriginal boy.[13] It was widely praised by critics despite its lack of commercial success.[14]

His next film, Don't Look Now, is based on Daphne du Maurier's short story of the same name and starred Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland as a married couple in Venice mourning the death of their daughter who had drowned. It attracted scrutiny early on due to a sex scene between Sutherland and Christie, which was unusually explicit for the time. Roeg's decision to inter-cut the sexual intercourse with shots of the couple dressing afterwards was reportedly due to the need to assuage the fears of the censors and there were rumours at the time of its release that the sex was unsimulated.[15] The film was widely praised by critics and considered one of the most important and influential horror films ever made.[16]

Similarly to Performance, he cast musicians in leading roles for his next two films, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Bad Timing. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) stars David Bowie as a humanoid alien who comes to Earth to collect water for his planet, which is suffering from a drought. The film divided critics and was truncated upon its U.S. release.[17] Despite this, it was entered into the Berlin International Film Festival where Roeg was nominated for the Golden Bear. It is today considered an important science fiction film and is one of Roeg's most celebrated films. Bad Timing was released in 1980 and stars Art Garfunkel as an American psychiatrist living in Vienna who develops a love affair with a fellow expatriate (played by Theresa Russell, to whom Roeg was later married), which culminates in the latter being rushed to hospital due to an incident the nature of which is revealed over the course of the film. At first, it was disliked by critics, as well as by the Rank Organisation, its distributor, who allegedly described it as "a sick film made by sick people for sick people."[18] Rank requested that their logo be taken off the finished film.[19]

Bad Timing marked the beginning of a three-film partnership with Jeremy Thomas. The second of these films Eureka (1983) is loosely based on the true story of Sir Harry Oakes; it received a largely limited release both theatrically and on home video.[20] It was followed up with Insignificance, which imagines a meeting between Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, Monroe's second husband Joe DiMaggio and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Insignificance was screened in competition at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, with the film being selected to compete for the Palme d'Or.[21]

In 1986, Roeg was approached by then Secretary of State for Health and Social Services Norman Fowler and the advertising agency TBWA to direct the British government's public health campaign AIDS: Don't Die of Ignorance.[22]

His next two films, Castaway and Track 29, are considered minor entries in his oeuvre[by whom?].[23] Roeg was selected to direct an adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's novel The Witches by Jim Henson, who had procured the film rights to the book in 1983.[24] This would prove to be his last major studio film and proved a great success with critics, although it was a box-office failure. Roeg made only three theatrical films following The Witches: Cold Heaven (1992), Two Deaths (1995) and Puffball (2007).[25] Roeg also did a small amount of work for television, including Sweet Bird of Youth, an adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play, and Heart of Darkness and an episode of George Lucas's Young Indiana Jones.[26][27]

Roeg did not make any more films after 2007, but published a memoir, The World Is Ever Changing, in 2013.[25]

Style and influence[edit]

Roeg's films are known for having scenes and images from the plot presented in a disarranged fashion, out of chronological and causal order, requiring the viewer to do the work of mentally rearranging them to comprehend the story line. They seem to "shatter reality into a thousand pieces" and are "unpredictable, fascinating, cryptic, and liable to leave you wondering what the hell just happened..."[28] This is also the strategy of Richard Lester's 1968 film Petulia, which was Roeg's last film as a cinematographer only. A characteristic of Roeg's films is that they are edited in disjunctive and semi-coherent ways that make full sense only in the film's final moments, when a crucial piece of information surfaces; they are "mosaic-like montages [filled with] elliptical details which become very important later."[9]

These techniques, along with Roeg's foreboding sense of atmosphere, influenced later such filmmakers as Steven Soderbergh,[9] Tony Scott,[29] Ridley Scott, François Ozon and Danny Boyle.[30] In addition to this, Christopher Nolan has said his film Memento would have been "pretty unthinkable" without Roeg and cites the finale of Insignificance as an influence on his own Inception.[31] In addition to this, Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight features a love scene that is visibly influenced by that in Don't Look Now.[32]

A further theme that can be seen to be running through Roeg's filmography is characters who are out of their natural setting.[33] Examples of this include the schoolchildren in the Outback in Walkabout, the men and women in Venice in Don't Look Now, the alien on Earth in The Man Who Fell to Earth, and the Americans in Vienna in Bad Timing.

Roeg's influence on cinema is not limited to deconstructing narrative. The "Memo from Turner" sequence in Performance predates many techniques later used in music videos. The "quadrant" sequence in Bad Timing, in which the thoughts of Theresa Russell and Art Garfunkel are heard before words are spoken set to Keith Jarrett's piano music from The Köln Concert, stretched the boundaries of what could be done with film.[23]

Legacy and honours[edit]

Roeg's cinematic work was showcased at the Riverside Studios from 12–14 September 2008. He introduced the retrospective with Miranda Richardson, who starred in Puffball. The programme included Bad Timing, Far from the Madding Crowd, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Witches, Eureka, Don't Look Now and Insignificance. The London Film Academy organised this event for Roeg in honour of his patronage of the school.[34][35]

In 1994, he was awarded a British Film Institute Fellowship. In the 1996 New Year Honours, Roeg was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.[36][37]

Personal life and death[edit]

From 1957 to 1977, Roeg was married to English actress Susan Stephen. They had four sons: Waldo, Nico, Sholto and (film producer) Luc Roeg. Luc appeared as an actor, as Lucien John, in Walkabout,[38] Roeg's first film as solo director.[6] In 1982, Roeg married American actress Theresa Russell and they had two sons: Maximillian (an actor) and Statten Roeg. They later divorced.[6] Roeg was then married to Harriet Harper from 2005 until his death, from dementia, on 23 November 2018, at a nursing home in Ladbroke Grove, London.[6][25]

Actor Donald Sutherland (who named one of his sons after Roeg) described Roeg as a "fearless visionary". Filmmaker Duncan Jones, the son of David Bowie, who starred in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), also paid tribute to Roeg, calling him a "great storyteller" and "inimitable".[39]


Roeg is credited on the following films:[40]

Films as director[edit]

Year Title Notes
1966 Judith 2nd unit director
Directed by Daniel Mann
1970 Performance Co-director with Donald Cammell
Also cinematographer
1971 Walkabout Also cinematographer
Nominated – Palme d'Or
1972 Glastonbury Fayre Co-director with Peter Neal
1973 Don't Look Now Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Direction
1976 The Man Who Fell to Earth Nominated – Golden Berlin Bear
Nominated – Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation
1980 Bad Timing London Film Critics' Circle Award for Director of the Year
Toronto International Film Festival People's Choice Award
1983 Eureka
1985 Insignificance Cannes Technical Grand Prize
Nominated – Palme d'Or
1986 Castaway
1987 Aria Segment: "Un ballo in maschera"
Nominated – Palme d'Or
1988 Track 29 Nominated – Deauville Critics Award
1990 The Witches Nominated – Fantasporto International Fantasy Film Award
Nominated – Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation
1991 Cold Heaven
1995 Two Deaths Nominated – Gold Chicago Hugo
2007 Puffball


Year Title
1967 Breakthrough
1995 Hotel Paradise
2000 The Sound of Claudia Schiffer


Year Title Notes
1961 Ghost Squad 2 episodes
The Pursuers Episode: "The Frame"
1989 Sweet Bird of Youth Television film
1993 The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles Episode: "Paris, October 1916"
Heart of Darkness Television film
1995 Full Body Massage
1996 Samson and Delilah

Films as cinematographer[edit]

Year Title Director Notes
1960 Jazz Boat Ken Hughes Co-cinematographer with Ted Moore
1961 Information Received Robert Lynn
1962 Dr. Crippen
Band of Thieves Peter Bezencenet
1963 Just for Fun Gordon Flemyng
The Caretaker Clive Donner
1964 The Masque of the Red Death Roger Corman
Nothing But the Best Clive Donner Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography (Colour)
Code 7, Victim 5 Robert Lynn
The System Michael Winner
1965 Every Day's a Holiday James Hill
1966 Fahrenheit 451 François Truffaut
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum Richard Lester
1967 Far from the Madding Crowd John Schlesinger Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography (Colour)
Nominated – National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Cinematography (3rd place)
1968 Petulia Richard Lester
1970 Performance Himself Also director
1971 Walkabout

Additional photography credits[edit]

Year Title Director DoP Notes
1962 Lawrence of Arabia David Lean Freddie Young 2nd unit photography
1965 Doctor Zhivago Additional photography
1967 Casino Royale Ken Hughes
John Huston
Joseph McGrath
Robert Parrish
Val Guest
Jack Hildyard
John Wilcox



  1. ^ "Nicolas Roeg – Biography, Facts, Films and Marriage to Theresa Russell". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  2. ^ "Entertainment Best 100 British films – full list". BBC News. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  3. ^ a b c "Nicolas Roeg: From tea-maker to director". BBC News. bbc.com. 24 November 2018. Retrieved 25 November 2018.
  4. ^ "Nicolas Roeg obituary | Nicolas Roeg". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 February 2022.
  5. ^ Rose, Steve (24 November 2018). "Nicolas Roeg, director of Don't Look Now and Walkabout, dies aged 90". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 November 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d Baxter, Brian (25 November 2018). "Nicolas Roeg obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 June 2023.
  7. ^ "Nicolas Roeg, film director whose dazzling style was best seen in 'Don't Look Now', 'The Man Who Fell to Earth' and 'Performance' – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 24 November 2018. Retrieved 12 June 2023.
  8. ^ "Screenonline". British Film Institute (BFI). BFI.
  9. ^ a b c Wood, Jason (3 June 2005). "Nicholas Roeg". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  10. ^ Danks, Adrian. "The Art of Falling Apart: Petulia and the Fate of Richard Lester". screeningthepast.com. Retrieved 12 June 2023.
  11. ^ a b Watkins, Jack (21 July 2015). "James Fox and Sandy Lieberson: how we made Performance". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  12. ^ "Performance". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 25 November 2018.
  13. ^ Godfrey, Alex (9 August 2016). "How we made Walkabout". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  14. ^ "Walkabout: Cheat Sheet". 11 August 2016. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  15. ^ "Nicolas Roeg on Don't Look Now". Film 4. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  16. ^ "British film director Nicolas Roeg dies aged 90". Independent.co.uk. 24 November 2018. Archived from the original on 20 June 2022. Retrieved 25 November 2018.
  17. ^ "The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  18. ^ Hasted, Nick (15 August 2000). "Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 June 2023.
  19. ^ "Pictures from Roeg's gallery". Retrieved 25 November 2018.
  20. ^ "NICHOLAS ROEG – INTERVIEWED BY HARLAN KENNEDY". americancinemapapers.homestead.com. Retrieved 25 November 2018.
  21. ^ "Official Selection 1985: All the Selection". festival-cannes.fr. Archived from the original on 2 December 2013.
  22. ^ Jonze, Tim (4 September 2017). "'It was a life-and-death situation. Wards were full of young men dying': How we made the Don't Die of Ignorance Aids campaign". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  23. ^ a b "Nicolas Roeg – Great Director profile". Senses of Cinema. 21 May 2002. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  24. ^ Jordan, Louis (20 August 2015). "Summer of '90: The Witches – The House Next Door". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  25. ^ a b c Sinyard, Neil (2022). "Roeg, Nicolas Jack (1928–2018), film director and cinematographer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.013.90000380577. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  26. ^ "ARTS / The horror, the horror]: Nic Roeg has just finished filming". Independent.co.uk. 2 July 1993. Archived from the original on 20 June 2022. Retrieved 25 November 2018.
  27. ^ The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Demons of Deception (1999), retrieved 27 May 2023
  28. ^ Steve Rose. "'You don't know me.'", The Guardian, 12 July 2008; accessed 12 July 2014.
  29. ^ Ariel Leve. "Interview with Tony Scott" Archived 14 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine, The Sunday Times Magazine. August 2005; accessed 12 July 2010.
  30. ^ Adams, Tim "Danny Boyle: 'As soon as you think you can do whatever you want... then you're sunk'" The Guardian, 5 December 2010.
  31. ^ Gilbey, Ryan (10 March 2011). "Nicolas Roeg: 'I don't want to be ahead of my time'". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  32. ^ "Steven Soderbergh Interview". Mr. Showbiz. 1998.
  33. ^ "Where to begin with Nicolas Roeg". BFI. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  34. ^ "Film London News Bulletin – 12 September 2008". Archived from the original on 17 December 2010. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  35. ^ Hubert, Andrea (5 September 2008). "Film review: Nicolas Roeg At Tyneside/Roeg At Riverside, Newcastle upon Tyne/London". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  36. ^ "BFI Fellows". British Film Institute. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  37. ^ "THE NEW YEAR HONOURS: Musicals top the bill". The Independent. 30 December 1995. Archived from the original on 20 June 2022. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  38. ^ Mawston, Mark. "Talkabout Walkabout". Cinema Retro. Retrieved 21 March 2024.
  39. ^ Noah, Sherna (24 November 2018). "Donald Sutherland leads tributes to 'fearless visionary' Nicolas Roeg". Independent.ie. INM Website. Retrieved 25 November 2018.
  40. ^ "Nicolas Roeg". BFI. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 24 November 2018.


  • Nicolas Roeg, Neil Feineman, Boston: Twayne, 1978 ISBN 9780805792584
  • The Films of Nicolas Roeg: Myth and Mind, John Izod, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1992 ISBN 9780312079048
  • Fragile Geometry: The Films, Philosophy and Misadventures of Nicolas Roeg, Joseph Lanza, New York: Paj Publications, 1989 ISBN 9781555540333
  • The Films of Nicolas Roeg, Neil Sinyard, London: Letts, 1991 ISBN 9781852381660

External links[edit]