Edward Woodward Filmography

Edward Woodward was a fine stage actor, notably with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s repertory company. He also made a name for himself in television.

His first big TV role was as the rule-breaking spy Callan. He walked a fine line between stoicism and controlled rage, and this was a role that would define his small screen career.

The Wicker Man (1973)

When you consider the grim winter shoot, the battle in the editing suite and the original film cans that were supposedly buried beneath the M4 motorway, it’s remarkable that The Wicker Man survived at all. Yet it has emerged in cinemas and on DVD and video to dazzle fans anew.

Robin Hardy’s cult classic is a folk horror that criss-crosses genres and confounds expectations. It combines murder and rural isolation with paganism, Christianity and the sex symbolism of Britt Ekland. It is a film that suggests there is something ancient, primal and dangerous lurking underneath our pretence at sophistication and modernity.

Woodward is superb as a buttoned-up police officer thrown into the midst of a local conspiracy that threatens to tear society apart. He carries the film with an unflappable cool and his performance is at its most compelling during the climax when Howie’s worldview crumbles as he watches a wooden effigy burn. The 91-minute 4K final cut pares back the early exposition and deepens the mystery. It is a brilliantly measured performance from an actor who was at the pinnacle of his powers.

Breaker Morant (1980)

Woodward earned wealth, stardom and acclaim as rebellious TV spook Callan, but it was his turn as the title character in this Australian war drama that brought him international fame. The film tackles the tricky subject of wartime morality and is considered by many to be one of the best examples of Australia’s New Wave cinema.

The movie centers on the court-martial of three soldiers, including Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant (Edward Woodward), who is accused of the summary execution of Boer prisoners and a German missionary. The British commander-in-chief Lord Kitchener is determined to see the men found guilty, as he wants to use them as bargaining chips during peace negotiations.

Directed by Bruce Beresford, the movie is intelligent and moving, with mesmerising performances from all the actors involved. It has a distinctly art-house feel to it, and although the script addresses difficult issues of wartime morality, it’s never didactic or close-minded. This is a movie that demands to be viewed in the right frame of mind. Woodward later appeared in a number of television shows including a starring role as a London gangster family member in the BBC series The Bill and guest-starred in the 2007 spoof cop movie Hot Fuzz.

The Equalizer (1985-1989)

The Equalizer was a hugely popular and successful series for CBS from 1985 to 1989. It starred Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, a former operative of an unnamed US Security/Intelligence outfit who quit and set up a private detective/security consultancy in NYC. He used his previous skills to assist those who were in need and became known as The Equalizer.

Although he had many significant roles in film and TV throughout his career, it was this series that brought him major international attention and led to other work in the States. He also starred as Merlin in a series of television mini-movies, and portrayed a number of different characters over the years including a no-nonsense policeman in In Suspicious Circumstances, a horse racing champion in Champions and the 18th century patriarch in the biblical King Saul.

Unlike other TV heroes at the time, he wasn’t a big-boss action hero who toted a bunch of heavy weapons and was physically intimidating. Instead he was a smart and very resourceful character who could out-wittle any adversary. A new remake of the series is due out later this year directed by Antoine Fuqua and stars Denzel Washington as McCall.

Over My Dead Body (1990)

Few actors have enjoyed the kind of acclaim and wealth Edward Woodward did for portraying tough guys on both sides of the Atlantic – from seedy MI5 agents to score-settling private eyes. Woodward was a talented singer who recorded 12 albums of romantic songs and three volumes of poetry, but it was his acting that first brought him international attention, beginning with the series Callan from 1967 to 1972 (he reprised the role in a 1974 film).

In 1990 he starred as Maxwell Beckett in Over My Dead Body, a TV drama produced by the man behind Murder, She Wrote. The show followed a former Scotland Yard researcher turned mystery novelist who had written three best-sellers but found his latest books had bombed. He is approached by Nikki Page (Jessica Lundy) who says she has witnessed a murder through her apartment window and wants Beckett to help her solve it.

Edward Woodward died in November 2009 aged 84. He was born and raised in Croydon, the son of a chicken farmer and metal worker who had a dream of becoming an actor. He took a number of bit parts before landing the Callan role and was a stalwart of British theatre, appearing at the National Theatre in Two Cities and Cyrano de Bergerac, and enjoying seasons at Stratford and Broadway.

Common As Muck (1993)

British TV on DVD specialist Acorn Media starts 2010 with a number of highly entertaining titles, including a box set of the gritty BBC drama serial Common As Muck, which ran for two series. The show explored the lives of a crew of bin men and their management staff, and was nominated for a BAFTA Television Award.

The scripts, by William Ivory (who also gave us Callan), often addressed weighty themes like class, masculinity and family; and each of the “lads” got plenty of air time – Woodward’s Nev is the wary old hand; Roy Hudd’s John, the brash newcomer to the managerial side; and Sunil, the sensible university student.

Woodward exhibited fine versatility, playing everything from a gangster to a Shakespearean hero. He was also a prolific stage actor, appearing in dozens of productions. He is perhaps best remembered for his roles in Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, as Guy Crouchback. He remained married to Joanne for 50 years, a couple who eschewed the Hollywood lifestyle for a quiet life in Westport Connecticut and significant philanthropy.