Obituary: Ann Todd

Ann Todd, actress: born Hartford, Cheshire 24 January 1909; married 1933 Victor Malcolm (one son), 1939 Nigel Tangye (one daughter), 1949 David Lean (died 1991; marriage dissolved 1957); died London 6 May 1993.

ANN TODD had displayed her versatility on both stage and screen for 17 years before one film gave her instant stardom.

The Seventh Veil (1945) was the perfect film for its time; a heady brew of psychiatry, classical music and a long-suffering heroine who finally has to choose from four handsome leading men, it was an epitome of the Hollywood melodramas being turned out for stars like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Enormously popular all over the world, it made Todd an international box-office name and consolidated James Mason's status. The scene in which he smashes his cane down upon the keyboard at which Todd sits ('Well, Francesca, if you won't play for me you shan't play for anyone else ever again') has become one of the most famous in film history.

Born in 1909 in Hartford, Cheshire, Todd studied at the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art with the intention of becoming a teacher of elocution and fencing, but after being asked to play a 'Faery Child' in WB Yeats's The Land of Heart's Desire at the Arts Theatre, London, in 1928, she decided to be an actress. She made her film debut in Keepers of Youth (1931) but during the next decade spent more time on the stage (including roles in The Middle Watch, Cynara, When Ladies Meet, No More Ladies, Flood Tide and The Man in Half Moon Street) than in films. Screen appearances included The Ghost Train (1931), The Water Gypsies (1932) The Return of Bulldog Drummond (1934), Things to Come (1936) and The Squeaker (1937).

She made a strong impression as Ralph Richardson's neurotic wife in South Riding (1937), in one sequence riding her horse up a mansion staircase before beating Richardson with her riding crop, then played a sensitive ingenue in Poison Pen (1939) and a seductive singer (her voice dubbed) in Ships with Wings (1941) before returning to the London stage to play the title roles of Peter Pan (1942) and Lottie Dundass (1943). She wanted to make a film version of the latter, but the producer Alexander Korda told her that she was not yet ready to play a murderess on the screen.

Todd's next West End role was that of Madeleine Smith, the enigmatic suspected murderess in The Rest is Silence (1944). Todd became fascinated with the real-life character and conceived an ambition to play her on screen. She returned to films with the small but effective role of Robert Donat's understanding nurse in Perfect Strangers (1945) and this led to her casting in The Seventh Veil. An international star with the film's success, Todd made Gaiety George and the bleak Daybreak (both 1946) before journeying to Hollywood, where her experience was to be no happier than that of Margaret Lockwood, Phyllis Calvert and Patricia Roc before her. Hitchcock's The Paradine Case (1947) gave her the thankless role of Gregory Peck's wife in a static thriller which put its emphasis on the accused murderess played by Alida Valli, while Lewis Allen's So Evil, My Love (made in England) was a darkly brooding film noir which was not popular.

The first of three films in which she was directed by David Lean, The Passionate Friends (1949, updated by Eric Ambler from HG Wells's novel) had excellent performances by Todd, Trevor Howard and particularly Claude Rains as wife, lover and husband. (It was retitled One Woman's Story in the US, where the Production Code forbade the use of 'passionate' in a title). After its completion, Todd and Lean were married and he acceded to her request to portray Madeleine Smith on screen. Though not a commercial success (the public awareness that the story ended with a 'not proven' verdict and the question of guilt undetermined was doubtless a deterrent), Madeleine (1950) remains one of Lean's most impressive works in which he makes brilliant use of the glacial blonde Todd's cool, Garboesque quality, allowing the viewer to read a myriad of emotions and motives into her sphinx-like features. Todd next performed in a stage version of The Seventh Veil, which was not successful, and starred in Lean's The Sound Barrier (1952) as the wife of the test pilot Nigel Patrick.

The theatre again began to dominate her acting life: a period with the Old Vic Company (1954-55) featured her as Lady Macbeth, Katharine and other Shakespeare heroines, and was followed by a revival of The Doctor's Dilemma (1956) and her debut on Broadway in The Four Winds (1957). The following year she took over from Claire Bloom in the London production of Duel of Angels. Her sporadic films, The Green Scarf (1954), Joseph Losey's Time Without Pity (1957), Taste of Fear (1961), The Son of Captain Blood (1962), 90 Degrees in the Shade (1965), The Fiend (1971), The Human Factor (1979, a dull thriller despite being a Grahame Greene story, adapted by Tom Stoppard and directed by Otto Preminger) and The McGuffin (1985) were not impressive.

Divorced from Lean in 1957, Todd became a film-maker herself with two well-regarded documentaries Thunder of the Gods (1966) and Thunder of the Kings (1967). She also wrote her autobiography The Eighth Veil (1980), and continued to make occasional television appearances. Last year she was featured on television (looking extremely frail) in an episode of Maigret.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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 People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor