Nobel Prize in Literature Harold Pinter delivers fiery anti-U.S. acceptance speech
“The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them,” said 75-year-old British playwright and screenwriter Harold Pinter (The Servant, The Go-Between) during his fiery 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature acceptance speech on Dec. 7.
“You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.
“I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It’s a winner.”
Iraq War: ‘Act of blatant state terrorism’
After deriding the use of “the American People” as political bait, Harold Pinter went on to describe the U.S.-led Iraq War as “a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law,” asserting that “at least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don’t exist. They are blank.”
The Nobel Prize in Literature honoree also called for U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to be tried before the International Criminal Court.
“But Bush has been clever,” Pinter added. “He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. … But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they’re interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.”
‘Stands seen as controversial’
The Swedish Academy’s press release states that “since 1973, Pinter has won recognition as a fighter for human rights” and “has often taken stands seen as controversial.”
But the Nobel Prize-bestowing Academy apparently has a yen for “controversial” types. In the New York Times, Sarah Lyall asserts that in recent years the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to writers “with left-wing ideologies” – though in all fairness, “writers with a(n equally controversial) liberal-humanistic worldview” would have been a more accurate description of Pinter’s, Dario Fo’s, Günter Grass’, and José Saramago’s “ideologies.”
Harold Pinter movies
Among the London-born Harold Pinter’s best-known screenplays are those for:
- Clive Donner’s The Caretaker / The Guest (1963, from Pinter’s 1959 play), a three-person psychological study featuring Donald Pleasence in the title role, Robert Shaw, and Alan Bates.
- Joseph Losey’s socio-psychological drama The Servant (1963), from Robin Maugham’s novella. Dirk Bogarde stars as the manservant who exchanges places with master James Fox. Sarah Miles is the other member of the trio.
- Jack Clayton’s The Pumpkin Eater (1964), a portrayal of a highly dysfunctional married couple, toplining Peter Finch, Best Actress Academy Award nominee Anne Bancroft, James Mason, and Maggie Smith. Penelope Mortimer wrote the novel on which the film is based.
- Michael Anderson’s spy thriller The Quiller Memorandum (1966), with George Segal, Alec Guinness, Max von Sydow, and Senta Berger.
- The Go-Between (1971), another collaboration with Joseph Losey, and an excellent exploration of class and sexuality based on L.P. Hartley’s novel. Julie Christie and Alan Bates star, while veteran Margaret Leighton received a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
- Peter Hall’s The Homecoming (1973, from Pinter’s 1964 play), about a married couple on a visit to the husband’s estranged family. Michael Jayston, Vivien Merchant, Ian Holm, Paul Rogers, and Cyril Cusack star.
- Karel Reisz’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), which earned Harold Pinter a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination for his handling of John Fowles’ postmodern period romantic novel. Best Actress Oscar nominee Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons star as both the period characters and the actors playing them.
- Betrayal (1983, from his semi-autobiographical 1978 play), a psychological drama revolving around a romantic triangle which earned Harold Pinter his second Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination. Jeremy Irons, Ben Kingsley, and Patricia Hodge star. In the 1960s, Pinter, at the time married to The Homecoming actress Vivien Merchant (Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for Alfie, 1966), had an affair with television presenter Joan Bakewell, then married to TV producer Michael Bakewell.
- Paul Schrader’s The Comfort of Strangers (1990), about the uncomfortable relationship between two couples who become acquainted in Venice. Based on a novella by Ian McEwan, the film stars Natasha Richardson, Christopher Walken, Helen Mirren, and Rupert Everett.
- The 25-minute made-for-TV documentary Against the War (1999), an indictment of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
Smashing the mirror
Described on the Swedish Academy’s website as “the foremost representative of British drama in the second half of the 20th century,” Harold Pinter has been suffering from esophagus cancer, and was forbidden by his doctors to travel to Stockholm for the Nobel Prize ceremony. His speech was delivered through a video recording.
While accepting his prize, in addition to lambasting the U.S. government, George W. Bush, and Tony Blair, Pinter also quoted Pablo Neruda’s poem “I’m Explaining a Few Things,” wrapping things up with the following admonishment:
“When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror – for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.
I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory. If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.”
Full text of Harold Pinter’s speech.
Harold Pinter website.
Harold Pinter image: Still from 1969 BBC interview, via The Paris Review.
Alan Bates and Dominic Guard The Go-Between image: EMI Film Productions.
“Harold Pinter Nobel Prize in Literature: Fiery Anti-U.S. & Anti-Iraq War Speech” last updated in January 2019.