The general public probably know Michael Winner best from those divisive ‘calm down dear’ insurance adverts.
Taken at face value, those ads felt like they were beamed in from another era – representing a view on gender and class that seemed to come straight from the ‘70s.
But, as was so often the case with Winner, the director was playing with his own public identity, with his tongue firmly shoved in his cheek. The campaign seemed to be designed to wind up his detractors – turning all the misconceptions about the man up to 11.
Winner gained a reputation for being a misogynist early in his career – thanks to extremely negative critical reactions to his Death Wish series.
In the ‘90s Winner seemed to respond to this aspect of his reputation, adapting Helen Zahavi’s book Dirty Weekend , turning it into another violent revenge fantasy – only this time, it featured a female protagonist brutally slaughtering any man brave enough to objectify her.
The film was a flop, critically mauled into submission, and banned from video by the BBFC for two years. But we’ve got a feeling it’s found its way into Quentin Tarantino’s collection.
The truth of the matter is, in exploitation circles, Winner was a hugely influential director. His Death Wish franchise spawned hundreds of imitators – admittedly ones which never made the leap from VHS to DVD.
He worked with Bronson, Brando (who considered him a close friend), Michael Caine and Sophia Loren.
In the ‘70s, his stock was so high that he was offered The French Connection to direct. He turned it down. Who knows how his career would have gone if he’d have taken it, but we suspect it wouldn’t have turned out too differently. Winner was a man who knew his own mind.
Towards the end of his life, Winner retired from the spotlight, surrounding himself with his expansive collection of art from children’s books.
“I suppose that by buying this children’s art and having it on my walls, I have been doing what I have done my entire life, which is to re-create my childhood.”
“It was a mixed, rather than happy, one. I was an only child and very lonely, as you will find most movie directors were.”
You probably wouldn’t have guessed that the man behind the Death Wish franchise was so in touch with his inner child. Or perhaps you would, it would explain a lot.
One thing’s for sure, the Michael Winner the general public knew, and the Michael Winner his friends and family knew seemed to be very different men. Our thoughts go to them at this difficult time.