Possibly best known for his portrayal of Alex in A Clockwork Orange (1971) he began his professional life serving drinks in a pub; acting classes offered relief from his working-class existence, and eventually he secured work as an extra with the Royal Shakespeare Company. McDowell made his screen debut in Poor Cow (1967) followed by The Raging Moon(1970), Figures in a Landscape (1970) and If (1968). His performances caught the attention of Stanley Kubrick, who cast McDowell as the lead in A Clockwork Orange. Unfortunately, despite winning great acclaim (nominated for Best Actor by the New York Film Critics Circle) for his role as the leader of a gang of futuristic toughs, the role created a characterization so unforgettable that the public had a hard time separating actor from character. Fortunately, good parts did come his way, both on stage and screen. He rejoined Lindsay Anderson for the ambitious O Lucky Man! (1973) and Britannia Hospital (1982), and starred in Royal Flash (1975). He co-starred in Voyage of the Damned (1976), and made a favourable Hollywood-movie debut as H. G. Wells in Time After Time (1979). That popular movie also introduced him to Mary Steenburgen, whom he subsequently married, but divorced some years later (1990).
For some reason, McDowell drifted into villainous parts in the 1980s-none more notorious than the title character in Caligula (1980).
McDowell is now married to Kelley Kuhr (1991 - present) and has two children, Lily Amanda, born 1981 and Charles Malcolm born 1983.