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Richard John Briley
Richard John Briley

(1925-06-25)June 25, 1925
DiedDecember 14, 2019(2019-12-14) (aged 94)
Alma materUniversity of Michigan (BA), (MA)
University of Birmingham (PhD)

Richard John Briley[1][2] (June 25, 1925[1][2][3] – December 14, 2019) was an American writer best known for screenplays of biographical films. He won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar at the 55th Academy Awards for Gandhi (1982).[1][4] As well as film scripts, he wrote for television and theatre, and published several novels.[1]

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Briley was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan,[1][2][3] and served in the United States Army Air Forces, 1943–46, reaching the rank of captain.[1] At the University of Michigan, he gained a BA in 1950 and an MA in English 1951.[1] He married Dorothy Louise Reichart in 1950, and they had four children.[2] He worked in public relations for General Motors before rejoining the air force in 1955.[1] He was posted to RAF Northolt airbase at South Ruislip near London, where he was director of orientation activities and started writing.[1]

In 1960, he earned a PhD in Elizabethan drama from the University of Birmingham, left the air force and became a staff writer with MGM-British in Borehamwood.[1] While with the studio, he wrote the script for Children of the Damned (1964), effectively a sequel of Village of the Damned (1960), but objected to the changes made for the finished film.[5] He left MGM in 1964.[1] He also had an uncredited part in the comedy Situation Hopeless... But Not Serious (1965).[1][3][6]


Briley's script for Pope Joan (1972) attracted the interest of Richard Attenborough, although Attenborough was ultimately not involved in that project,[7] and the film was critically panned.[8] Several scripts for Attenborough's Gandhi project had been rejected, and Robert Bolt was scheduled to rewrite his own earlier draft when he suffered a stroke.[7] Attenborough then turned to Briley.[7] Briley shifted the focus of the narrative away from the point of view of the British in India to that of the Indian independence movement.[7] He originally opposed Ben Kingsley in the title role, favouring John Hurt, but was later glad that Attenborough had cast Kingsley.[7] Briley envisaged more emphasis on the relationship between Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, but Kingsley's towering performance came to dominate the finished film.[7] Briley claims he and Attenborough were personally satisfied with the movie and unconcerned about any critical and commercial success.[7] In the event, Briley's original screenplay won the Oscar and the Golden Globe.[1][4][7] Attenborough later said of Briley, "He's a difficult bugger, a bit of a prima-donna, but the bastard's brilliant".[9]

Later life

In 1985, Briley began developing a musical about Martin Luther King Jr.,[10][11] writing the book and lyrics[10] and acting as co-producer, originally for American Playhouse.[11] He left the project in February 1989 after contract negotiations broke down.[11] A different version opened in London in 1990. Briley attempted to obtain an injunction, claiming he had paid the King family $200,000 in personality rights.[11]

In 1987, Briley again teamed up with Attenborough for Cry Freedom, about the South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.[9] Briley had disagreements with Donald Woods, the journalist whose books formed the basis of the script.[9] Briley viewed the nonviolence of the Black Consciousness Movement as principled, whereas Woods felt it was a tactical decision.[9] Although Woods feared Briley lacked an awareness of the complexities of political debate among black South Africans, those shown a preview of the film felt it was realistic.[9]

In 1993, Briley switched agents from International Creative Management to the William Morris Agency.[12] In 1998, he was a founding partner of "the Film Makers Company", a venture intended to encourage film production in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and was planning to relocate to there.[13] He was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Big Bear Lake International Film Festival in 2000.[14] He died on December 14, 2019, aged 94.[15]

Unproduced scripts

Unproduced scripts on which Briley worked include: adaptations of Henderson the Rain King,[2][16] Mister God, This Is Anna,[2] White Fang,[2] and his own novel How Sleep the Brave;[2] biopics of Franz Kafka,[16] Genghis Khan – to have been directed by Shin Sang-ok,[16] Tina Modotti (A Fragile Life),[2][17] Beryl Markham (West with the Night), and Pope John Paul II;[18] The Cross and the Crescent,[1] about Francis of Assisi and the Crusades;[19] and a miniseries about the Italian Renaissance.[20] Briley's adaptation of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible was dropped when Miller's son Robert secured production rights; Arthur Miller himself wrote the screenplay for the 1996 film.[21]



Title Year Notes
The Populist[2] 1999 about Ernst Hanfstaengl; based on his memoirs Hitler: the missing years[22][23]
Molokai: The Story of Father Damien[1][6] 1999 about Father Damien and the Kalaupapa Leper Colony; also associate producer.[6] Nominated for the AFI Award.[3][14]
Christopher Columbus: The Discovery[1][2][3][6] 1992 about Christopher Columbus; written with Cary Bates and Mario Puzo. Nominated for the Golden Raspberry.[14][24]
The Warriors of the Rainbow[6] 1992 about Greenpeace; based on Warriors of the Rainbow: A Chronicle of the Greenpeace Movement by Robert Hunter.[25]
Sandino[1][2][3][6] 1990 about Augusto César Sandino, inspiration for the Sandinistas
Cry Freedom[1][2][3][6] 1987 about Steve Biko, from the books Asking for Trouble and Biko by Donald Woods. Briley was also co-producer[1][6]
Tai-Pan[2][3][6] 1986 with Stanley Mann; based on the novel Tai-Pan by James Clavell
Marie[1][2][3][6] 1985 about Marie Ragghianti; based on the book by Peter Maas
Enigma[1][2][3][6] 1982 based on the novel by Michael Barak
Gandhi[1][2][3][6] 1982 about Mohandas K. Gandhi; won the Oscar[4][7] and Golden Globe;[1][14] nominated for the BAFTA.[14]
Eagle's Wing[1][2][3][6] 1979 Western; story by Michael Syson
The Medusa Touch[1][2][3][6] 1978 based on the novel The Medusa Touch by Peter Van Greenaway
That Lucky Touch[1][2][3][6] 1975 comedy; written with Monja Danischewsky and Moss Hart
Pope Joan[1][2][3][6] 1972 about Pope Joan; also associate producer.[6]
Hammerhead[2] 1968 story by James Mayo; adaptation by Briley; screenplay by William Bast and Herbert Baker
Children of the Damned[1][2][3][6] 1963 horror sequel to Village of the Damned
Postman's Knock[2][3][6] 1962 comedy; written with Jack Trevor Story
Invasion Quartet[2][3][6] 1961 based on the novel by Norman Collins; written with Jack Trevor Story


Name Year Type Notes
The History of Sex[3] 1999 television History Channel documentary
The First Stone[2] 1997 novel A Jewish American woman is recruited by Mossad to marry a rich Saudi Arabian.[26]
Mary Sidney – a 20th Century Reappraisal[27] 1985 book chapter In a festschrift for Willem Schrickx
The Last Dance[2] 1978 novel A rogue scientist tries to force global disarmament by threatening a nuclear holocaust.[28][29]
So Who Needs Men![2] 1976 theatre bedroom farce set in university lodgings; Briley also directed.[30]
The Traitors[2] 1969 novel In the Vietnam War, six US soldiers are captured by the Viet Cong and indoctrinated by a renegade GI.[31] Richard Rhodes reviewed the novel in the New York Times as, "Bitter reality... it all might have happened... the terrible thing is that it ever had to."[32] The Chicago Sun-Times called it, "A magnificent blockbuster of a book. If you can find the time to read only one book this year, let The Traitors be that book." David Schoenbrun of CBS said, "It captures the tragedy and comedy, in the classic sense, of that absurd aberration of American history." Shirley K. Sullivan of KTIB Radio called it, "Unsettling, haunting... a proper shocker," and the Saturday Review of Literature urged, "Read it for his explosive accounts of jungle warfare and his moral passion." Described by Peter S. Prescott as "a sermon masquerading as a novel".[33] UK edition (1971) titled How Sleep the Brave[2][34]
The Airbase[2][6] 1965 television BBC sitcom ; based on his own experiences[1]
Seven Bob a Buck,[2] subtitled
How to Survive as a Tourist in the USA[35]
1964 theatre "a short-lived, intimate revue which satirised American values and attitudes";[36] Briley also acted in it.[37] Televised on BBC2 as See America First on November 28, 1964.
Hits and Misses[2] 1962 television BBC teleplay
A biography of William Herbert, third earl of Pembroke, 1580–1630 1961 dissertation PhD dissertation[38]
Edward Alleyn and Henslowe's Will[39] 1958 journal article in Shakespeare Quarterly
Of Stake and Stage[40] 1955 book chapter in Shakespeare Survey


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac "John Briley". Archived from the original on January 25, 2013. Retrieved May 23, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag "John Briley Biography (1925–)". Retrieved May 23, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "John Briley > Filmography". allmovie. Retrieved May 23, 2009.
  4. ^ a b c Clarke, Gerald; Kane, Joseph J.; Simpson, Janice C. (April 25, 1983). "History Crunches Popcorn". Time. Archived from the original on February 16, 2008. Retrieved May 24, 2009.
  5. ^ Gilbey, Ryan (December 20, 2019). "John Briley obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved December 22, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Molokai: The Story of Father Damien John Briley (I) at IMDb
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Malanowski, Jamie (March 18, 2001). "Shaping Words into an Oscar: Six Writers Who Did". The New York Times. p. 15, Sec.2. Retrieved May 23, 2009.
  8. ^ Rustici, Craig M. (2006). The afterlife of Pope Joan: deploying the Popess legend in early modern England. University of Michigan Press. pp. 153–4. ISBN 0-472-11544-8.
  9. ^ a b c d e Woods, Donald (November 22, 1987). "Filming with Attenborough". The Observer. pp. 19–20.
  10. ^ a b "American Playhouse slates 'King' musical for next year". Jet. 69 (13). Johnson Publishing Company: 64. December 9, 1985. ISSN 0021-5996.
  11. ^ a b c d Cassidy, Suzanne (April 23, 1990). "After Struggle, Musical on Dr. King Is Opening". The New York Times. pp. C11. Retrieved May 28, 2009.
  12. ^ "Short Takes". Daily Variety. October 21, 1993.
  13. ^ Mariani, Dominic (June 21, 1998). "The View From Bridgeport: A City as a Backdrop In a Fledgling Film Plan". The New York Times. p. 2, section 14CN. Retrieved May 24, 2009.
  14. ^ a b c d e Awards for John Briley (I) at IMDb
  15. ^ Gilbey, Ryan (December 20, 2019). "John Briley obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved December 21, 2019.
  16. ^ a b c Ptacek, Greg (May 24, 1991). "'Gandhi' writer Briley pens 'Khan'". The Hollywood Reporter.
  17. ^ Archerd, Army (November 14, 1996). "Just for Variety". Daily Variety.
  18. ^ "Pope pic plans Prague scouting". Daily Variety. March 1, 2002.
  19. ^ Vivarelli, Nick (June 6, 2000). "Eagle Pictures takes flight with widened slate". The Hollywood Reporter.
  20. ^ Vivarelli, Nick (April 13, 2000). "Eagle Pics flies in face of indie player status: Italian outfit wields $300 mil war chest". The Hollywood Reporter.
  21. ^ Meyers, Jeffrey (2001). Privileged Moments: Encounters With Writers. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 36. ISBN 0-299-16944-8.
  22. ^ "Kotcheff draws bead on Hitler in 'Populist'". The Hollywood Reporter. November 22, 1996.
  23. ^ Honeycutt, Kirk (August 9, 1996). "Panoptica's slate aims at Canadian, Euro co-prod'n". The Hollywood Reporter.
  24. ^ "1992 Razzies". Golden Raspberry Award Foundation and John Wilson. Archived from the original on February 28, 2009. Retrieved May 24, 2009.
  25. ^ "Trans Atlantic ends Todd-AO co-venture". Daily Variety. November 8, 1994.
  26. ^ Briley, John (1997). The First Stone: A Novel. W. Morrow and Co. ISBN 0-688-15235-X. OCLC 35822504.
  27. ^ Briley, John (1985). "Mary Sidney – a 20th Century Reappraisal". In J.P. Vander Motten (ed.). Elizabethan and Modern Studies, presented to Professor Willem Schrickx on the Occasion of his Retirement. Ghent University: Seminarie Voor Engelse en Amerikaanse Literatuur. pp. 47–56. ISBN 90-900114-8-X. OCLC 18879080.
  28. ^ Briley, John (1978). The last dance. London: Secker & Warburg. ISBN 0-436-06860-5. OCLC 59236063.
  29. ^ Brians, Paul. "Chapter Two The Causes of Nuclear War". Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction. Archived from the original on April 12, 2009. Retrieved May 24, 2009.
  30. ^ Lewsen, Charles (October 8, 1976). "Reviews: So Who Needs Men? New London". The Times. p. 11, col F; Issue 59829.
  31. ^ Briley, John (1969). The traitors; a novel. New York City: G. P. Putnam's Sons. OCLC 33480.
  32. ^ New York Times, September 7, 1969
  33. ^ Prescott, Peter S. (2005). "A Genuinely Dreadful Novel". Encounters with American Culture Volume 1: (1963–1972). introduction by Anne L. Prescott. Transaction Publishers. p. 63. ISBN 1-4128-0496-5.
  34. ^ Briley, John (1971). How sleep the brave. London: Corgi. ISBN 0-552-08670-3. OCLC 16213201.
  35. ^ Stephens, Frances (1965). Theatre world annual 1966 : a full pictorial review of the 1964–65 London season (16 ed.). Rockliff. pp. 21, 29, 30. OCLC 221674302.
  36. ^ Benedick, Adam (May 2, 1996). "Obituary: David Kelsey". The Independent. Retrieved May 24, 2009.
  37. ^ Gascoigne, Bamber (July 12, 1964). "All the riches of the Incas". The Observer. p. 24.
  38. ^ OCLC 34765036
  39. ^ Briley, John (Summer 1958). "Edward Alleyn and Henslowe's Will". Shakespeare Quarterly. 9 (3). Folger Shakespeare Library with George Washington University: 321–330. doi:10.2307/2867333. JSTOR 2867333.
  40. ^ Briley, John (1955). "Of Stake and Stage". In Allardyce Nicoll (ed.). The Comedies. Shakespeare Survey. Vol. 8. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 106–108. doi:10.1017/CCOL0521816564.011. ISBN 9781139052887.

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