One of the most extraordinary achievements in the long history of film acting was the performance by Pauline Murray in the leading role of It Happened Here (1964). This film, about life in England under a supposed German occupation, is enjoying s omething of a revival; it was transmitted by BBC2 last November and was recently released by Connoisseur Video. Andrew Mollo and I began work on it when we were teenagers.
Pauline Murray had never acted before; she was a busy doctor's wife in New Radnor on the Welsh border. Dr Richard Jobson, her husband, was not only the local GP; he was a sort of modern Renaissance man, brilliant in a dozen fields. I first met him in 1957 when he came to London to receive an award for an amateur film, but I failed to meet Pauline. It was the film journalist Derek Hill who told me how perfect she would be for my film. When I visited the Jobsons I realised how right he was. Pauline's reaction, in agreeing to my shy request, was "Well, it's only an amateur thing." It was; but it eventually became semi-professional, financed by Tony Richardson and Woodfall films, and instead of its taking a weekend or two, Pauline wa
s involved in shooting sessions over a period of almost eight years.
At first Andrew Mollo and I were able to shoot in the New Radnor area. Dick Jobson rounded up patients to act as extras - including German ex- prisoners of war who had settled in Wales - and Pauline was surrounded by people she knew. Since they never lost the habit of calling her "Pauline" in front of the camera, we reverted to her maiden name, Pauline Murray, for the character.
Pauline was a sort of Mrs Miniver on camera and off. She never turned a hair when we arrived at her house with 25 muddy extras in German uniform. She cooked vast amounts of stew, found everyone places to sleep and still found time to play her own part.
She was Irish. She was born in 1922, during the civil war, her arrival hastened by a street battle during which her mother had to cower on the floor of a Dublin tram. She qualified as a nurse in Manchester, where she served during the Second World War. Her nursing experience proved invaluable during the film - we even made her character a nurse.
When our locations switched to London, she was put under more of a strain. Yet she never missed a session. One weekend, when Dick was ill and she had to stay behind, we went ahead anyway, shooting what we could. Dick soon recovered and she telephoned that she was coming. When she reached the location, she had to pack two days' work into two hours. The fact that she did it set the style for the rest of the film.
We realised we had that rarest of creatures, a natural actress. Again and again she had to act as a foil for other players - some of whom were non-actors who couldn't act - having her close-ups done very quickly very late at night. Yet she thought she was awful. Towards the end of the film, when she found herself playing opposite seasoned professionals like Sebastian Shaw and Fiona Leland, she wrote to me after seeing the rushes; "Sebastian and Fiona seemed alive, real people and I look like a vicious moron. If we hadn't got so far, I'd say get someone else. I honestly feel the lack of expression on my face is disastrous and could ruin the whole thing for you."
Fortunately, we could see what she couldn't - that in her restraint lay her strength. For Pauline Murray was the film. And as it depended on her performance, so we all grew to depend on her.
Despite the praise aroused by her performance, she never acted again, except in village plays. By an unhappy coincidence, the leading man of the film, Sebastian Shaw (he played Dr Fletcher), died just a week before her.
Kevin Brownlow Pauline Murray: born Dublin 30 August 1922; married 1950 Richard Jobson (died 1978); died Kington, Herefordshire 31 December 1994.
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