Basil Sydney



  • Date of Birth: 23 April 1894
  • Place Of Birth:  St. Osyth, Essex, England, UK


The son of a stage manager, Basil Sydney entered the acting profession in 1909. His burgeoning career was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I, during which he saw action with the Norfolk Regiment in the British Army. In the early 1920’s, Basil established himself as a matinée idol on the London stage. His film debut, however, took place on the other side of the Atlantic in the silent feature Romance (1920), based on a play by Edward Sheldon. His co-star was the prominent American Broadway star Doris Keane, with whom he had appeared in the theatrical performance of the play five years prior and subsequently married. Basil was rapidly promoted through a starring role in his second screen outing, the comedy Red Hot Romance (1922), but decided to turn down the offer of a lucrative Hollywood contract. His single-minded insistence on being cast exclusively in roles based on works by Shakespeare or Shaw led him to New York and back to the theatre. He spent the remainder of the decade as a leading player on Broadway, playing the parts he craved and duly receiving critical plaudits for his Mercutio of “Romeo and Juliet” (1922-23) and for his leads as Hamlet (1925-26) and Petruchio in “The Taming of the Shrew” (1927-28). Basil did not return to films until 1932, back in Britain and henceforth as a burly character actor, albeit of never less than commanding presence. His stock-in-trade were shifty opportunists, public servants, domineering fathers or military types. He alternated smoothly between charming or dependable and menacing or sinister. Generally typed as a quintessential Englishman, his casting as a German infiltrator in the wartime drama Went the Day Well? (1942), lent additional gravitas to the warning against complacency. Otherwise, he stood out as Caesar’s military aide-de-camp Rufio in the decidedly stodgy screen adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra (1945); as the brutish squire Nick Helmar in the period Gainsborough melodrama Jassy (1947); as the indefatigable Captain Smollett battling the pirates of Treasure Island (1950) and as Waldemar Fitzurse, advisor to the devious Prince John (played by Guy Rolfe) in MGM’s excellent Technicolor swashbuckler Ivanhoe (1952).