Although yet to be connected with the kind of box-office hit that establishes a director as a household-word, Richard Loncraine has demonstrated a wide versatility, directing comedy, poignant dramas, thrillers, psychodramas and spy films, leading up to Shakespeare's "Richard III" (1995) starring Sir Ian McKellen.
Loncraine originally sought to be a set designer and then an actor. As a kinetic sculptor, he had several exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art. His first commercial success was as a toy designer, with an "executive toy" called "Newton's cradle". Turning to directing, he handled documentaries and educational programming for the BBC, as well as over 400 TV commercials in the first decade of his career. In 1971, director John Schlesinger asked Loncraine to create the toys for Murray Head's character (a toy designer) in "Sunday, Bloody Sunday". Loncraine not only designed the toys but also talked his way into a featured acting role. He made his own feature debut as a director with "Flame" (1975), a behind the scenes study of a rock band, starring Tom Conti, with whom he would collaborate on several other films during the next two decades. It was two years before Loncraine helmed his second feature, "Full Circle/The Haunting of Julia", an atmospheric horror story, with Conti and Mia Farrow in her "Rosemary's Baby" mode. He followed with the hilarious "The Missionary" (1981), written by and starring Michael Palin. Although the story is told in a fragmentary way, the lively cast headed by Palin, Maggie Smith (as a predatory aristocrat), Michael Hordern and Phoebe Nicholls (as Palin's sweetheart) provide the amusement.
"Brimstone and Treacle" (1982) was an underrated psychological horror film with little violence but much suspense. Scripted by Dennis Potter, it traced how a charming con man (Sting) ingratiates himself into the lives of a middle class couple with a mentally handicapped daughter. Loncraine followed with a crime drama "Bellman and True" (1987) that centers on a computer analyst who becomes enmeshed in a bank heist that goes awry. "Deep Cover" (1989) reunited Loncraine and Tom Conti in a spy thriller. The director continued to work in TV including the heart-pulling "Wide-Eyed and Legless", starring Julie Walters, which was released theatrically in the US as "The Wedding Gift" (1993). Loncraine joined with Sir Ian McKellen in to adapt Shakespeare's "Richard III" (1995). This was a surprise to some as Loncraine did not have a theatrical background, yet the result yielded rave reviews and a moderate box office.
After being tapped to helm the second episode of the Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg-produced 2001 HBO WWII miniseries "Band of Brothers" (for which he was nominated for an Emmy along with the rest of the series' directors), Loncraine directed two highly acclaimed telepics for the pay-cable network: "The Gathering Storm" (2002), an inside look at the tense life of Winston Churchill (Albert Finney); and "My House In Umbria" (2003), an adaptation of the William Trevor novel about a group of myriad people thrown together in the wake of a terrorist attack. The director was nominated an Emmy and a DGA Award for both projects, and as a result returned to the big screen for his first major Hollywood studio offering, the romantic comedy "Wimbledon" (2004), which paired Paul Bettany, as a fading tennis ace, with Kirsten Dunst, as a star on the rise, in a love match set against the background of the sport's most prestigious tournament.