Best known for his many distinguished years in British theater, Tom Courtenay is also a noted film star who, while never achieving the fame of his contemporaries Albert Finney and Alan Bates, has earned great respect for his memorable performances. A ship painter's son born in Hull, Yorkshire, Courtenay learned the craft at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He took his first professional bow in a 1960 production of Chekhov's The Seagull at the Old Vic. Courtenay next replaced Albert Finney in Billy Liar and went on to play the title character in the 1963 film version. In 1962, Courtenay made an auspicious film debut as the angry, misunderstood young protagonist in the highly acclaimed The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Through the '60s, the gaunt Courtenay played similar roles. In 1971, his promising film career mysteriously derailed and Courtenay returned to working on-stage. He first appeared on Broadway in the 1977 production of Otherwise Engaged. Courtenay returned to the screen in 1983 to co-star with Albert Finney in The Dresser, a project for which they both earned Oscar nominations for Best Actor.
He appeared in the infamous Bill Cosby flop Leonard, Part 6, but in 1991 he was in the solid British crime drama Let Him Have It. He followed that up with parts in The Old Curiosity Shop, A Rather English Marriage, and Whatever Happened to Harold Smith. At the beginning of the 21st century he could be seen on screen as part of the impressive ensemble in Last Orders. He took a few years off from movies, returning in 2007's The Golden Compass, and the next year's Little Dorrit.