Sir Ronald Harwood, Oscar-winning scriptwriter for The Pianist, dies at 85 | Stage

Sir Ronald Harwood, the playwright and screenwriter best known for The Dresser and his Oscar-winning script for The Pianist, has died aged 85.

Harwood, who also wrote several books and other successful plays such as Quartet, died at his home in Sussex.

His agent, Judy Daish, said he died of natural causes on Tuesday, according to the BBC.

His most celebrated work was The Dresser, a play about an ageing Shakespearean actor and his dresser based on his own experience as dresser to the actor Sir Donald Wolfit.

First staged in 1980, it went to become a successful film three years later, starring Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, who was nominated for an Oscar for his eponymous role.

Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay in The Dresser.


But Harwood, who was born in South Africa and moved to Britain in the early 1950s to train at Rada, claimed to be puzzled by the success of the play and film. Speaking four years ago, Harwood said: “I have no idea what its lasting appeal is, I really don’t.

“It was my first big success, of course, and I do love it and am very proud of it, but I am puzzled by its popularity. I am still proud of the relationships and feeling within the play, it is a play about emotion; it’s not a play about the brain, it’s about the heart and that’s what I like.”

Harwood was also nominated for best screenplay for The Dresser but had to wait another 20 years before claiming his own statuette for his work on the Roman Polanski film The Pianist. He also wrote the screenplay for the 2007 film The Diving Bell And The Butterfly.

Adrien Brody and Roman Polanski in 2002 film The Pianist.

Adrien Brody and Roman Polanski in 2002 film The Pianist. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Tributes on social media described Harwood “full of heart, humanity, wit & high intelligence”.

Wendi Peters

Sad news … a joy, and privilege, to play Cissy in Quartet in 2018, and meet Sir Ronald #rip #RonaldHarwood

September 8, 2020

Mark Shenton

Farewell to Ronald Harwood, playwright (universally known as Ronnie), who has died, aged 85. His most famous play was THE DRESSER, also made into a feature film.

September 8, 2020

Gyles Brandreth

Ronald Harwood was a great man: full of heart, humanity, wit & high intelligence. Donald Wolfit’s biographer & sometime dresser, “The Dresser” was his great hit on stage & screen (he always said “You only need the one!”) but he did so much over so many years. And he was such fun.

September 8, 2020

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