Character Witness: Albert Finney: Tom Jones vs. Hercule Poirot

Albert Finney

One actor. Two film roles. You tell us which portrayal was the best. The most memorable. Or iconic. Or simply your favorite.

But before you pass judgment, a few words defending the “character” of each…

The case for Tom Jones

Good: After a marathon four-day screen-test Albert Finney finally landed the lead as T. E. Lawrence in 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia. Bad: The shooting schedule was so arduous and interminable that he ended up declining the role. Good: The following year Finney secured the titular role in Tom Jones. Bad: From the start Finney was unhappy with how his part was written and thus was a dour presence on set, later saying “I just felt I was being used. I wasn’t involved. I felt bored most of the time.” Good: Finney was nominated for his first Academy Award. Bad: He didn’t win. Good: Finney’s loveable rogue is an enduring character to this day.

The case for Hercule Poirot

Alec Guinness and Paul Scofield were first and second choices to play the formidable Hercule Poirot in 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express. Neither was available, so it fell to the 37-year-old Finney to essay Agatha Christie’s middle-aged mustachioed Belgian detective. Though the rest of the cast—Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Richard Widmark, et cetera—was impressive, it was truly Finney’s movie, punctuated by his grand summation scene which runs just short of a half-hour of screen time (eight written pages). Finney was masterful, earning his second Oscar nom. No less an authority than Dame Agatha herself thought the actor’s performance came closest to her ideal Poirot.


Now that you’ve heard the arguments for both it’s time to render your verdict!