One of the most accomplished and critically celebrated of all contemporary dramatists, South African-born Ronald Harwood spent the majority of his career dividing his time between prolific careers as a playwright, scriptwriter for theatrical films, and author of teleplays. Harwood (born Ronald Horwitz in Cape Town) bided his early years as a stage actor in Britain, maintaining his highest profile in Shakespearean productions. The dramaturgy bug bit Harwood as early as 1960, however, and at that point he more or less completely relinquished his acting career in favor of playwriting and scriptwriting. He spent the following two decades gleaning such credits as the telemovies The Barber of Stamford Hill (1962) and Private Potter (1962), and the big-screen features A High Wind in Jamaica (1965) and Eyewitness (1970). During the late '70s, Harwood briefly returned to the talent sphere by hosting two nonfiction BBC programs.
The 1980s marked an eminently successful period for Harwood. Kick-starting the decade, his play The Dresser premiered in 1980 to rave reviews. An autobiographical piece, it was culled from Harwood's experience in the 1950s apprenticing as a backstage dresser under the aegis of noted stage player Sir Donald Wolfit. Peter Yates helmed a 1983 film version (also scripted by Harwood), starring the esteemed Albert Finney as Wolfit and Tom Courtenay in a role loosely modeled on Harwood. The effort gleaned a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination for Harwood and a Best Screenplay Golden Globe nomination. Additional career high points from the '80s and '90s included the telemovie Evita Peron (1981), the 1987 HBO pay-cable film Mandela (on the life of South African leader Nelson Mandela, here played by Danny Glover), and the big-screen farce A Fine Romance (1992), starring Julie Andrews and the late Marcello Mastroianni. On the side, Harwood authored and published a substantial number of literary works, including short stories, novels, essays, and nonfiction biographies.
The following decade, Harwood kept particularly active with theatrical films; among other accomplishments, he won his first Oscar for scripting Roman Polanski's period drama The Pianist (2002), about the harrowing World War II-era experiences of Polish refugee (and Nazi target) Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody); adapted Gabriel García Márquez's beloved novel Love in the Time of Cholera (2007) for Mike Newell's film version of the same name; and adapted quadriplegic Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for director Julian Schnabel's visually inventive biopic of the same name. His work on that film scored him his third nomination from the Academy for Best Adapted Screenplay.