Anna Massey: Award-winning actress on stage, film and television acclaimed for her subtlety and intelligence

A stage and screen actress highly regarded for her subtlety and intelligence, Anna Massey carved out a career playing repressed women and spinsters while constantly battling with insecurity.

Stage fright was there from the beginning, when she made her professional debut, aged 17, as Jane atthe Theatre Royal, Brighton, inthe pre-London tour of WilliamDouglas Home's play The Reluctant Debutante (1955). Nevertheless, one critic described her as giving a performance of "nice, down-to-earthdetermination" and Massey herself recalled of the first night that, as Wilfrid Hyde-White and Celia Johnson joined her to take a curtain-call, he told his older co-star: "Let's get in front of that bloody girl – she's too damned good for us."

Massey continued in the role in the West End (Cambridge Theatre, 1955-56) and the Broadway production (Henry Miller's Theatre, 1956-57), for which she received a Tony Award nomination. Her pinched features and slim figure stood out, making her unconventionally attractive.

She made her film debut as Sally, daughter of the Scotland Yard detective, in Gideon's Day (1958), a crime drama directed by her godfather, John Ford, then had a good leading role in Michael Powell's notorious Peeping Tom (1960) as Helen Stephens, who falls in love with a film focus puller who has a sideline in photographing young women, then killing them.

However, the cinema struggledto come to terms with Massey'sunstereotypical looks and she wasbetter served by television. She played a vinegary Miss Murdstone in David Copperfield (1969), the superficial Lucetta Farfrae in Dennis Potter's adaptation of The Mayor of Casterbridge (1978) and a wonderfully severeMrs Danvers in Rebecca (1979), aserialisation that also featured her first husband, Jeremy Brett, as Maximde Winter.

Massey's best role on the small screen was in the 1986 BBC adaptation of Anita Brookner's novel Hotel du Lac, as Edith Hope, the mousy, cardigan-wearing crime writer who lives on her own, is having an affair with a married man and seeks to escape her loneliness by moving to a hotel – but discovers the other guests are just as lonely. The performance won her Best Actress awards from both Bafta and the Royal Television Society.

Born in Thakeham, West Sussex, Massey was the daughter of the actors Raymond Massey (a Canadian best known for playing Dr Gillespie in the television series Dr Kildare) and Adrianne Allen (the original Sybil in Noel Coward's Private Lives), whose elder child, Daniel, also went on to become an actor. The couple split up when Massey was a baby. Her father married an American lawyer whose ex-husband then married Raymond Massey's former wife.

With her mother away much of the time, Massey was brought up by a nanny and educated in London, New York, Switzerland, France and Italy. On leaving school, she decided to follow her parents on to the stage.

She was a regular in the West End for a quarter of a century. Her many roles included Penelope Shawn in Dear Delinquent (Westminster Theatre, 1957), Lady Teazle in School for Scandal (Haymarket Theatre Royal, 1962), Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie (Haymarket Theatre Royal, 1965), the title character in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Wyndham's Theatre, 1966) and Driver in Donkey's Years (Globe Theatre, 1977).

In the cinema, she was seen as the murdered bartender Babs Milligan, carried off in a sack, in Frenzy (1972, directed by Alfred Hitchcock), the pivotal lonely widow Mrs Linde in A Doll's House (1973), Imogen Bennett, the public schoolboy Guy's society mother, in Another Country (1984) and the governess Miss Laetitia Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest (2002).

Not all of Massey's film shoots were a happy experience. In her 2006 autobiography, Telling Some Tales, she described the director Otto Preminger – with whom she worked on Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) –as "one of the cruellest and most unpleasant directors that I have ever worked with."

On television, she also played Lady Laura Kennedy in The Pallisers (1974), Aunt Norris in Mansfield Park (1983), Queen Victoria in Around the World in 80 Days (1989). Towards the end of her career she played Baroness Thatcher in Pinochet in Suburbia (2006) and Mrs D'Urberville in Tess of the D'Urbervilles (2008).

To the end, Massey remained unconventional in an industry where glamour is often the watchword. "Over the years," she said in 2006, "I've put on less and less make-up. The unadorned face is far more interesting, if less flattering, but it requires courage. Nowadays, facelifts prevent the map of people's lives from being seen. This saddens me. It's like putting a cover on your life."

When her son, the writer David Huggins, from her first marriage, to Jeremy Brett, was a child, Massey employed her own former nanny to care for him. On her death in1965, the actress suffered a nervous breakdown.

Massey was created a CBE in 2005 for her services to drama. Her four-year marriage to Jeremy Brett was dissolved in 1962 after she claimed that he left her for another man. Twenty-six years later, Massey married the Russian scientist Uri Andres, who survives her, along with her son.

Anna Raymond Massey, actress: born Thakeham, West Sussex 11 August 1937; CBE 2005; married 1958 Jeremy Brett (divorced 1962, died 1995; one son), 1988 Uri Andres; died 3 July 2011.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Sport
Dwight Gayle (left) celebrates making it 1-1 with Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak
premier leagueReds falter to humbling defeat
Sport
Harry Kane
premier leagueLive minute-by-minute coverage
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin