Elliott pursued a stage career after spending three years in a prisoner-of-war camp during World War 2. He made his London stage debut in 1946, his film debut in 1949 Dear Mr. Prohack and his Broadway debut one year after that. Always reliable, often inspired, Elliott came into his own (at least in movies) during the 1970s and 1980s with a series of plum parts, the best of which was arguably the drunken, dissolute filmmaker who fashions an "artistic" Bar Mitzvah movie in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974). He earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Mr. Emerson in A Room With a View (1985). He also worked occasionally in television, and in 1991 he inherited the role of John Le Carré's fabled spy George Smiley from Alec Guinness for the TV movie A Murder of Quality.
He died one
year later (1992) from AIDS-related tuberculosis.