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
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Sport
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
transfers
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home