Jack Cardiff

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Jack Cardiff
Jack Cardiff in the 1970s
Born(1914-09-18)18 September 1914
Died22 April 2009(2009-04-22) (aged 94)
  • Actor
  • cinematographer
  • director
  • photographer
Years active1918–2007
Known forA Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Black Narcissus (1947)
The Red Shoes (1948)
The African Queen (1951)
War and Peace (1956)
Sons and Lovers (1960)

Jack Cardiff OBE (18 September 1914 – 22 April 2009) was a British cinematographer, film and television director, and photographer. His career spanned the development of cinema, from silent film, through early experiments in Technicolor, to filmmaking more than half a century later.

He is best known for his influential colour cinematography for directors such as Powell and Pressburger (A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes), John Huston (The African Queen) and Alfred Hitchcock (Under Capricorn). He is also known for his work as a director – in particular, his critically acclaimed film Sons and Lovers (1960) for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director.

In 2000, he was appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and, in 2001, he was awarded an Academy Honorary Award for his contribution to the cinema.

Jack Cardiff's work is reviewed in the documentary film Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010) and Terry Johnson's stage play Prism (2017).

Early life[edit]

Cardiff was born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, the son of Florence and John Joseph Cardiff, music hall entertainers.[1]

He worked as an actor from an early age, both in the music hall and in a number of silent films, including My Son, My Son (1918), Billy's Rose (1922), The Loves of Mary, Queen of Scots (1923) and Tip Toes (1927). At 15, he began working as a camera assistant, clapper boy and production runner for British International Pictures, including Alfred Hitchcock's The Skin Game (1931).[citation needed]


In 1935, Cardiff graduated as a camera operator and occasional cinematographer, working mostly for London Films. He was a camera operator on the first film in Britain shot in Technicolor, Wings of the Morning (1937). When the Second World War began, he worked as a cinematographer on public information films. He did a number of films on India where the British wanted to showcase the new capital city of Delhi.

The turning point in his career was as a second unit Technicolor camera operator on Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943); they were sufficiently impressed to hire Cardiff as cinematographer on their post-war Technicolor A Matter of Life and Death (1946). Their collaboration continued with Black Narcissus (1947), which won Cardiff an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and The Red Shoes (1948). These films put Cardiff's talents in high demand, and a string of big-budget films followed.

In 1995, the British Society of Cinematographers conferred a lifetime achievement award on Cardiff.[2]

Directorial work[edit]

In the late 1950s Cardiff began to direct, with two modest successes in Intent to Kill (1958) and Web of Evidence (1959). His version of D. H. Lawrence's novel Sons and Lovers (1960), starring Trevor Howard, Wendy Hiller and Dean Stockwell, was a hit, critically and at the box-office. It received seven Oscar nominations (including a Best Director nomination for Cardiff) and Freddie Francis won for Best Black-and-White Cinematography. Cardiff received a Golden Globe Award for Best Director.

Later life[edit]

After concentrating on direction in the 1960s, he returned to cinematography in the 1970s and 1980s, working on mainstream commercial films in the United States. One of the last films Cardiff photographed was at Pinewood Studios in 2004 when he lit veteran actor Sir John Mills in a short entitled Lights 2 (dir. Marcus Dillistone). The combined age of leading actor and cinematographer was a record 186 years.


Cardiff died on 22 April 2009, aged 94,[3] the same day as Ken Annakin, with whom he had worked on The Fifth Musketeer (1979). He was survived by his wife and his four sons.[4]


Jack Cardiff was the camera operator and then cinematographer for 73 films, documentaries and TV series between 1935 and 2007.[5] These are some of the main films:


Year Title Director Notes
1939 Delhi Hans Nieter
1942 The Great Mr. Handel Norman Walker
1946 A Matter of Life and Death Powell and Pressburger
1947 Black Narcissus
1948 The Red Shoes
1949 Under Capricorn Alfred Hitchcock
1950 The Black Rose Henry Hathaway
1951 The Magic Box John Boulting
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman Albert Lewin
The African Queen John Huston
1954 The Barefoot Contessa Joseph L. Mankiewicz
1956 War and Peace King Vidor
1957 The Prince and the Showgirl Laurence Olivier
Legend of the Lost Henry Hathaway
1958 The Vikings Richard Fleischer
1961 Fanny Joshua Logan
1973 Scalawag Kirk Douglas
1977 The Prince and the Pauper Richard Fleischer
1978 Death on the Nile John Guillermin
1979 The Fifth Musketeer Ken Annakin
1980 The Awakening Mike Newell
1981 Ghost Story John Irvin
The Dogs of War
1984 The Far Pavilions Peter Duffell
1984 Conan the Destroyer Richard Fleischer
1985 Cat's Eye Lewis Teague
1985 Rambo: First Blood Part II George P. Cosmatos
1986 Tai-Pan Daryl Duke
1987 Million Dollar Mystery Richard Fleischer


Year Title Notes
1953 The Story of William Tell unfinished
1958 Intent to Kill
1959 Beyond This Place US title: Web of Evidence
1960 Scent of Mystery
Sons and Lovers
1962 My Geisha
The Lion
1963 The Long Ships
1965 Young Cassidy
The Liquidator
1968 Dark of the Sun Also known as The Mercenaries
The Girl on a Motorcycle US title: Naked Under Leather
1973 Penny Gold
1974 The Mutations

Awards and nominations[edit]

Academy Awards

Year Category Nominated work Result
1947 Best Cinematography Black Narcissus Won
1956 War and Peace Nominated
1960 Best Director Sons and Lovers Nominated
1961 Best Cinematography Fanny Nominated
2001 Honorary Oscar Won

Other awards

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1947 Golden Globe Awards Best Cinematography Black Narcissus Nominated
1956 British Society of Cinematographers Best Cinematography War and Peace Won
1960 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Sons and Lovers Nominated
1960 Golden Globe Awards Best Director Won
1960 Directors Guild of America Best Director Nominated
1960 New York Film Critics Circle Best Director Won
1960 National Board of Review Best Director Won
1985 British Academy Television Awards Best Film Cameraman The Far Pavilions Nominated
1994 American Society of Cinematographers International Award Won
1994 British Society of Cinematographers Lifetime Achievement Award Won
1996 London Film Critics' Circle Lifetime Achievement Award Won
2002 British Film Institute BFI Fellowship Won


A feature-length documentary was made about Cardiff's life and career, Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010) by Craig McCall.[6] It took 17 years to make, and was not completed until after Cardiff had died. As well as many interviews with Cardiff, it included tributes from Sir John Mills, Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker, Kathleen Byron, Kim Hunter, Moira Shearer, Lauren Bacall, Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas. It was selected for the official selection of Cannes Classics at the Festival de Cannes in 2010, as well as four other important film festivals that year.[7]

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff was shown as part of the Great Yarmouth Arts Festival 2014 along with some of his photographs, often taken as preliminaries to lighting the films. Further celebrations to mark his birth date took place that September, particularly at the Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth.[citation needed]

Cardiff's life was also explored in the 2017 stage play Prism by Terry Johnson.


  • Magic Hour (1996). Faber and Faber limited. ISBN 0-571-19274-2. Foreword by Martin Scorsese.
  • Conversations with Jack Cardiff: Art, Light and Direction in Cinema by Justin Bowyer (ISBN 0-7134-8855-7)


  1. ^ "Jack Cardiff biography". Film Reference. Advameg, Inc. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  2. ^ "Jack Cardiff". The Daily Telegraph. 24 April 2009. Retrieved 2 May 2009.
  3. ^ Martin, Douglas (24 April 2009). "Jack Cardiff, Film Director, Dies at 94". The New York Times. p. 19. Retrieved 27 April 2009.
  4. ^ "Film director Jack Cardiff dies". MSN Movies. Microsoft. 23 April 2009. Archived from the original on 25 April 2009. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  5. ^ Jack Cardiff at IMDb. Retrieved 22 April 2011.
  6. ^ Adams, Mark (6 May 2010). "Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff". screendaily.com. Media Business Insight Limited. Retrieved 22 April 2011.
  7. ^ ""Documentary" Sunday at Cannes Classics". Festival de Cannes. 16 May 2010. Archived from the original on 6 April 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2011.

External links[edit]