Robert Bolt, Master of Historical Drama

by Adam White, dramaturg

Screenwriter and dramatist Robert Oxton Bolt was born near Manchester, England in 1924. He received his education first at Manchester Grammar School and next at Victoria University of Manchester. After serving in the Royal Air Force in World War II, Bolt finished his schooling at Exeter University.

Bolt developed a deep love for the subjects of English and History during his education and decided to utilize his passions by teaching in country schools. Although school children can find both subjects to be rather tedious, Bolt had a superior talent in making curriculum vivacious and enjoyable. During his time as a schoolteacher, he also wrote radio plays and stage plays. It would be the success of his play Flowering Cherry in 1958 that would enable him to end his teaching career and pursue writing for film and the stage full time.

Robert Bolt is probably best known for the epic scope of his films. He is a sampling of his finest film work:

Lawrence of Arabia (1960) is the story of T.E. Lawrence and his experiences in Arabia during World War I. Bolt and co-adapter Robert Wilson received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for their work on this production.

Doctor Zhivago (1962) is a film adaptation of a novel of the same name written by Boris Pasternak. Zhivago remains one of the highest grossing films of all time, ranking eigth after ticket price inflation. Bolt also received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film.

A Man For All Seasons (1966) was released six years after the stage play. Bolt also won Best Adapted Screenplay for this film.

Besides his work in the theatre and in the movies, Bolt was very politically active. He was first involved party politics as a member of the Communist Party, but left after he found himself unsatisfied. He then began to involve himself in anti-nuclear war causes, joining the Committee of 100 in 1960. This group of influential people rose education and awareness around the issues of nuclear war, and staged demonstration against the use of nuclear weapons in warfare. In 1961, Bolt spent a month in prison for participating in such a demonstration in Trafalgar Square.

In 1978, Bolt suffered a severe stroke that forced him to relearn how to speak and write. This event marked a change of behavior for Bolt, who chose to abstain from wine and quit smoking after his stroke. Despite his health challenges, Bolt continued to produce new work for the rest of his life. His later works include the play Vivat! Vivat Regina! (1970) about Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I of England and the films The Bounty (1984) and The Mission (1986), which were also film adaptations of historical events. Truly, Bolt remained a lover of history and its intricacies throughout his career.

Bolt passed away in 1995. He is survived by his wife Sarah Miles and four children.


Calder, John. “OBITUARY: Robert Bolt.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 23 Feb. 1995. Web. 19 Sept. 2013.

Lyall, Sarah. “Robert Bolt Is Dead at 70; Oscar-Winning Screenwriter.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Feb. 1995. Web. 07 Jan. 2014.

“Robert Bolt (English Playwright and Screenwriter).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *