Born on August 25, 1936, to Michael Donaldson-Hudson and Jacynth Mary Ellerton, Hudson attended Eton College and began working in film as an editor on documentary movies. He founded a documentary production company with famed graphic designers Robert Brownjohn and David Cammell (brother of influential British director Donald Cammell) but quickly turned his focus to advertising. He joined Ridley Scott Associates (RSA) in the 1960s, and like his brilliant commercial-directing peers (Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Alan Parker, and Adrian Lyne) eventually gravitated toward feature-length filmmaking.
After shooting the documentary “Fangio: A Life at 300” about Formula 1 driver Juan Manuel Fangio, the 44-year-old Hudson was hired by producer David Puttnam to direct “Chariots of Fire.” Puttnam viewed the tale of Abrahams and Liddell as a stirring drama about overcoming religious prejudice. Abrahams ran to combat antisemitism, while Liddell sprinted for the glory of god. Whereas the Scotts, Parker, and Lyne infused their films with heightened commercial style, Hudson served the material and made a deeply moving film that foregrounded the struggle of its two underdog athletes. The movie won the hearts of Academy members, who voted it Best Picture over that year’s favorite, Warren Beatty’s “Reds.”
Hudson evidently grew finicky after the success of “Chariots of Fire,” and probably could’ve been finickier. He followed up the Oscar-winner with “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes,” a passion project for screenwriter Robert Towne. When Towne was forced off the movie by David Geffen, Hudson stepped in and made a film that was gorgeous and tedious in equal measure. His next film, 1985’s “Revolution,” was a catastrophic flop that lost over $20 million for Columbia Pictures and drove Al Pacino to a four-year hiatus from acting. Hudson maintained that the movie was rushed into theaters, and salvaged its reputation to a degree with a 2009 director’s cut.