Other Literary Forms
Robert Bolt began his career in drama as a writer of radio plays for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), starting in 1953 with The Master, a play about the wandering scholars of the Middle Ages. He wrote sixteen scripts for the BBC, including eight for children. The first version of A Man for All Seasons was broadcast as a radio drama in 1954, and his very first production on the legitimate stage, The Last of the Wine, originated as a radio script a year earlier.
Bolt’s most noteworthy achievements outside the legitimate theater, however, were as a screenwriter. He worked with the renowned British director David Lean on Lawrence of Arabia, creating a screenplay based on T. E. Lawrence’s own writings. The film received the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1962, and Bolt’s scenario received a special award from the British Film Academy. His adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago, another script written for Lean, won an Oscar for the Best Screenplay of 1965, an honor repeated in 1966 when Bolt adapted his own play, A Man for All Seasons (directed by Fred Zinnemann). The film version also earned for Bolt the British Film Academy Award and the New York Film Critics Circle Award in 1966. His next project was an original treatment of Ryan’s Daughter for Lean in 1970. In 1972, he wrote and directed Lady Caroline Lamb, based on the life of the mistress of George Gordon, Lord Byron, the famous English poet.
In the 1980’s, Bolt concentrated on screenplays, teleplays, and adaptations, notably The Mission (1986; starring Robert De Niro), Nostromo (an adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel, with Christopher Hampton, which was not completed), and Without Warning (1991), based on the life of James Brady, the press secretary to President Ronald Reagan who was disabled by a would-be presidential assassin’s bullet in 1981.