Harwood, Ronald

Sir Ronald Harwood (born Horwitz, 9 November 1938) was an author, playwright, and screenwriter. Born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1934, he was a cousin of the actor Anthony Sher. In the 1950s he moved to London to pursue a career in the theatre. After he was told that ‘Horwitz’ sounded too Jewish for a stage career, he changed his last name to ‘Harwood’. He attended the Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts (RADA) and later joined the Royal Shakespeare Company of Donald Wolfit where he became his personal dresser. This experience inspired Harwood’s writing of The Dresser (1980) which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1983.

Harwood wrote numerous plays during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. One of his best-known plays is The Summit: A Nuclear Age Drama (1987) which deals with the Reykjavik summit meeting that took place between Ronald Regan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986. Some of Harwood’s dramatic work has been strongly influenced by the Nazi period. Plays that revolve around this theme include Operation Daybreak (1975) and The Statement (2003). Harwood has also written several screenplays such as Being Julia (2004) and Oliver Twist (dir. Roman Polanski, 2005). His adaptation of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) won Harwood another Academy Award nomination as well as a BAFTA, a Prix Jacques Prévert du Scénario, and a Humanitas Award. On May 18, 1995, his play Taking Sides premiered at Chichester in a production directed by Harold Pinter. Successful runs in London’s West End (Criterion 1995) and on Broadway (Brooks Atkinson Theatre 1996) followed, as well as a revival in 2008 (with his play Collaboration, on the composer Richard Strauss and novelist Stefan Zweig). A biographical play similar to Collaboration, the two-hander Taking Sides focuses on the Nazi past of German composer Wilhelm Furtwängler, who is interrogated by  Major Steve Arnold. The play was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play and was adapted on film from Harwood’s own screenplay, directed by István Szabó and starring Harvey Keitel as Major Arnold and Stellan Skarsgård as Furtwängler. The Pianist (dir. Roman Polanski, 2002), which won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2003, is his most famous work, adapted from the autobiography of the Polish-Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman.

Harwood was honoured as Knight (Chevalier) of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1996 and became Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1999 and was knighted in 2010. He has held the presidency of the English PEN Club from 1989 to 1993, was chair of the Royal Society of Literature from 2001 to 2004, and was president of the Royal Literary Fund. In 2007 he was made an honorary fellow of the Central School for Speech and Drama and in 2014 received the National Jewish Theatre Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. An authorized biography, Speak Well of Me, by W. Sydney Robinson, was published in 2017 (Oberon Books). Harwood passed away on 8 September 2020.


—. The Dresser. Charlbury: Amber Lane Press, 1980.

—. The Collected Plays of Ronald Harwood. London: Faber and Faber, 1993.

—. Plays 2 : Taking Sides, Poison Pen, Tramway Road, the Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, After the Lions and the Guests. London: Faber and Faber, 1995.

—. The Handyman. London: Faber and Faber, 1996.

—. Quartet & Equally Divided. London: Faber and Faber, 1999.

—. Mahler’s Conversion. London: Faber and Faber, 2001.

—. Collaboration & Taking Sides. London: Faber and Faber, 2008.

—. An English Tragedy. London: Faber and Faber, 2008.