A writer of distinctively British sensibilities who possesses the keen ability to portray sympathetic and eccentric characters in extraordinary situations, screenwriter/director William Nicholson directed numerous documentaries for the BBC before moving into feature film work. It was likely during this time that Nicholson developed and refined his noted humanistic approach and his affection towards stories dealing with humans' constant search for meaning in life and nature.
Finding success early on with Shadowlands (1985), the true-life tale of the moving relationship between English author C.S. Lewis and American poet Joy Gresham, Nicholson later brought the story to stage before reworking the film for director Richard Attenborough in 1993 (this time garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay). Nicholson continued writing dramatic biographical screenplays, with subjects ranging from the consequences of abortion A Private Matter (1992) to the exploration of the quest for cultural identity Grey Owl (1999), while also exploring similarly themed issues in fictional form with his screenplays for Sweet As You Are (1987) and Nell (1994).
In 1997, Williamson stepped into the director's chair with the romantic period drama Firelight. A return to the relationship-themed territory of Shadowlands, Firelight was a melodramatic meditation on the themes of love and motherhood that involved the director more intimately with the characters he usually only wrote about. After Grey Owl, Nicholson once again exercised his pen, this time on a grand scale, with Ridley Scott's sword-and-sandal epic Gladiator. Though he had explored similar themes in his screenplay for First Night (1995), it was Gladiator that earned the writer his second Oscar nomination (along with screenplay collaborators John Logan and David Franzoni).