Gilbert on the set of You Only Live Twice
Photo: Keystone Features (Getty Images, Hulton Archive)

As reported by The New York Times, British filmmaker Lewis Gilbert—director of the 1966 comedy-drama Alfie and several James Bond films—has died. He was 97.

Born in 1920 to a family of traveling musical performers, Gilbert occasionally assisted his parents on stage and then became a successful child actor after his father died when he was seven years old. As a teenager, he had an opportunity to study acting at the Royal Academy Of Dramatic Art, but he chose to pursue directing instead.

During World War II, Gilbert was part of the Royal Air Force’s film unit, and he filmed several documentary shorts about the experiences of British pilots. He continued doing similar work after the war, directing a number of movies based on true stories of British war-time heroes like Reach For The Sky and Carve Her Name With Pride—though, as The New York Times notes, his first feature film was The Little Ballerina, a movie about a little girl who dreams of being a ballerina.

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In 1966, Gilbert directed Alfie, his most critically acclaimed film. Alfie is the story of a young womanizer dealing with the consequences of his heartless, misogynist ways, and it’s credited with jumpstarting the career of its star, Michael Caine. The movie landed multiple Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor, though Gilbert was only nominated as a producer and not director.

After Alfie raised his status, Gilbert was given a chance to direct 1967's You Only Live Twice, the fifth film in the James Bond series. Gilbert was mostly known for his character dramas and fact-based war stories at that point, but he evidently did well enough with Bond that he returned to the series a decade later on The Spy Who Loved Me. He then directed Moonraker in 1979, with Roger Moore replacing Sean Connery as James Bond, with Gilbert arguing for Moore to play to his strengths and portray Bond with a bit more humor than Connery did—a detail that came through in the overt wackiness that Moonraker has over the rest of the Bond series.

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Gilbert directed Caine again in 1983's Educating Rita another critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated film. It centered on a young woman who tries to better herself by studying literature and a friendship she develops with her jaded, alcoholic professor (played by Caine). Gilbert’s final movie was 2002's Before You Go, which centers on three sisters who reflect on their lives at their mother’s funeral.