ustinov: the cosmopolitan

…If Peter Ustinov’s life seemed relatively simple and uncomplicated for so versatile a character, his ancestry certainly was not. On the little finger of his left hand, he wore a gold ring with family crest dating from the time of Peter the Great. On his father’s side were Russian landowners with vast estates. His great-great grandfather, who died at the age of one hundred and eight, had two wives and twenty-five children and at his death left sixteen churches that he had built, along with 6,000 serfs and 150,000 acres.

—Instead of bringing back Sidney Lumet to direct, Bradbourne hired journeyman action director John Guillermin to helm the new film. And instead of re-casting Albert Finney, Bradbourne hired Peter Ustinov for the pivotal role of Belgian private detective, Hercule Poirot. It would turn out to be the first of six times he would portray the character. The ironic thing about ”DEATH ON THE NILE” is that although ”MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” had received more acclaim – the point of being regarded as the finest adaptation of any Christie novel – my heart belongs first and foremost to the 1978 movie.—Read More:

Ustinov’s grandfather rejected the Russian Orthodox Church and fled into exile in Wurttemberg, where he became a German subject. On his mother’s side, Ustinov’s ancestors were originally French. A Russian strain was introduced when one of those forebears became chef at the court of Czar Paul I, in 1794. Ustinov’s maternal grandfather was Russian court architect; his maternal grandmother, besides bearing eight children, found time to run a huge caviar fishery.

Ustinov’s journalist father, Iona (Klop) von Ustinov- the family was given a baronial title in Germany- and his mother, Nadia Benois, met in St. Petersburg during the Bolshevik Revolution. Klop had gone there to find his father, who bravely but rashly had left Wurttemberg to assist his old friends in their time of trouble. By the time Klop arrived, the elder Ustinov had died of starvation. Klop and his bride got away  on a refugee train and went to The Hague. They moved on to London when Klop received an appointment as press attache at the German Embassy there, and Peter was born a few months later.

— Hot Millions
An embezzler fresh out of prison (Peter Ustinov) and his girlfriend (Maggie Smith) use computers to rob a corporation. See a couple of Britain’s best thesps (Hercule Poirot! Minerva McGonagall!) play a heist picture for laughs in tribute to classic comedies like The Lavender Hill Mob.—Read More:

The realization that only by chance was he born in England made Ustinov an anti-nationalist from the beginning. His many racial associations have intensified his belief in international fellowship- the dominant theme of his play Romanoff and Juliet. His father’s sister was married to an Egyptian and one of his fathers brothers was married to a Canadian; another, to an Argentinian. Ustinov himself first married and English girl, and then a French Canadia who also had Irish and Indian blood, which ended in a nasty divorce, before marrying a third time. ( to be continued)…


(see link at end)…Despite his many skills, Ustinov’s genius lies in his ability to tell stories. Ultimately, you are best known as a raconteur, I say. “In England,” he answers instantly, defensively. Just in England? “Yes.” Why? “I have no idea. Except that I don’t think the English take anybody particularly seriously if they can help it. Even as a performer, I’m always being pushed into laughter, which is not necessarily true of other nations. For instance, it’s only in England that I get elderly people coming up to me with a negative head wobble to indicate their prejudice, saying, ‘But tell me Ustinov, have the Germans got a sense of humour?’ And when I say yes, there is general scepticism. The English have tried to colonise humour. They have put a Union Jack in humour and said keep orfff, that belongs to us.” Read More:

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