Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Period Drama Actress - Anna Massey

On July 2, 2011 the British actress Anna Massey passed away peacefully in her home at the age of 73. I didn't know this before but Ms. Massey had been battling cancer. Her roles in numerous period dramas were spectacular and she became a legend in her own right.

Since Ms. Massey was one of my favorite actresses I've been remiss in not posting about her sooner. But I wanted to collect the best information possible before writing about her prestigious life and work.

Massey Family
Mother Adrianne, Father Raymond, baby Anna and older brother Daniel

She was born Anna Raymond Massey, the daughter of Canadian born actor Raymond Massey and British actress Adrianne Allen. Anna's older brother Daniel Massey was also an actor (an old-fashioned handsome one at that!). 

Anna on the set of Frenzy with Alfred Hitchcock
Anna began her acting career on stage at the age of 18. While she's probably best known for her roles in TV series and films, she did star on the silver screen as well. She was in Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy in 1972. I've never seen this but it seems like her role was a larger one. 

She played the strict unfeeling step-aunt Jane Murdstone in the 1969 TV film adaptation of David Copperfield. I have seen this adaptation once but strangely I don't remember her in it. Perhaps because she was quite young. Film also stars greats Laurence Olivier, Wendy Hiller and Ralph Richardson.

She played the character Lady Laura Kennedy in the 1974 TV miniseries adaptation of Anthony Trollope's The Pallisers. I found several lovely photos of her in this series, she's so pretty and had such lovely costumes! I don't know much about this series but I really want to watch it sometime. 

She tackled the role of Lucetta Templeman in The Mayor of Casterbridge (1978). This was my first experience seeing Anna Massey in her younger years and seeing how truly lovely she was! You can read my review of this adaptation here.  

Anna with then husband Jeremy and son David.
She was married for a time to actor Jeremy Brett (best known for his role as Sherlock Holmes in the Granada TV series) and they had one son, writer David Huggins. She played housekeeper Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca (1979) alongside Jeremy Brett and Joanna David

My favorite role of Anna Massey's by far is her absolutely spot on portrayal of Aunt Norris in Mansfield Park (1983)! As I'm reading Mansfield Park for the first time I can't get her face and voice out of my head. Especially the way in which she purses her lips in displeasure and snips whenever she's crossed! 
I associate Ms. Massey very much with Jane Austen not only because of Aunt Norris but also because of my audiobooks of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion which she reads. Often when I'm reading Jane Austen's novels I can hear her unique voice in my head.

In the 1980's she also had roles in period dramas The Day After the Fair (adaptation of a Thomas Hardy story which I've seen and been meaning to review), A Hazard of Hearts (a very romantic Regency era adventure), Around the World in 80 Days and A Tale of Two Cities (haven't seen but heard it's good).

In 1987 Anna won a BAFTA for Best Actress in the BBC's Hotel du Lac. I watched this on YouTube not too long ago and she was truly stunning as the character Edith Hope, a young novel writer who visits a hotel in Switzerland hoping for peace and quiet but instead gets caught up in the interesting lives of the hotel's glamorous guests.  

Another of my favorite of Anna's roles is as Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest (2002). This is one of my all time favorite films, it's so fun and very cleverly adapted for the big screen. There's nothing like hearing her say lines like "The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is was fiction means." 
She starred alongside Judi Dench, Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon and Rupert Everett among many other talented actors.

She amazed me once again in her role as Aunt Stanbury in the BBC's 2004 adaptation of Anthony Trollope's novel He Knew He Was Right. Aunt Stanbury starts out seeming a very similar character to Aunt Norris of Mansfield Park but soon proves that she is loving and witty underneath her tight laced exterior. 
You can read my review of the miniseries here.  

Anna with actors Kevin Whately & Edward Fox in Inspector Lewis.
Near to my love of period dramas is my love of British mystery programs. One reason I really enjoy them is that many actors from period dramas are continually popping up! So I pleased but not surprised to see Anna Massey make appearances in TV mystery shows such as Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis and Midsomer Murders (two different appearances).

In 2007 she played the kindly housekeeper Mrs. Bedwin in Oliver Twist. I recently watched and reviewed this adaptation (read my review here) and was struck again by Anna Massey's power and ability as an actress! 
While reading various articles on her I found this delightful quote that perfectly sums up her work in this film: 
"In later years, she became best known for her award-winning work in television and film. What constantly impressed was her fastidious intelligence and capacity for stillness: always the mark of a first-rate actor." - quoted from The Guardian 

Gemma Arterton as Tess with Anna Massey
She was a formidable Mrs. D'Urbeville in Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbevilles (2008). I still haven't seen this adaptation but want to watch her performance there even though I probably wouldn't watch the rest of the film. I don't really like the story of Tess, it's one of the saddest tales ever! 

Not from Poirot but similar hairstyle
The next to the last appearance Anna made and her last period drama role was Miss Pebmarsh in Poirot: The Clocks. The character she played is a blind lady who finds a murder victim surrounded by seven clocks. Miss Pebmarsh is not all she seems though and has a strength that was a perfect way for Anna's career to end. I love Poirot films too! 

In 2005 Anna received a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) from the Queen for her services to drama. There's a lovely little article here to read if you are interested. She definitely deserved it as her acting and experience is similar to Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith. 
At the time she said: "I am absolutely thrilled to receive this. It was a lovely surprise to have my name put forward. We live in a country full of tradition and this is a wonderful tradition. In our profession, you get quite a lot of rejections so to receive something like this is lovely." 

In 2006 Anna Massey's autobiography Telling Some Tales was released. From the articles I've read it seems she didn't have an easy life. Tragedies such as an estranged father, eating disorders, extreme stage fright,  and a horribly failed first marriage are discussed in her book. Anna herself admits that acting didn't come easy: "'I find acting incredibly difficult - it demands much more of my time than it does for some people. I'm not instinctive. It takes enormous discipline and bravery to get me there." - quoted from the Mail Online

For more about Anna Massey you can read these articles about her life and death:
Love this signed photograph!

Dear Anna Massey, that quiet brilliant talent that graced many period dramas. She will be greatly missed. 

What is your favorite Anna Massey role?

Very Truly Your's,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Anna Massey was an actress who kind of sneaked up on me. As I was watching more and more Brit shows, I began to notice her presence. It took me awhile as she's such a "quiet" actress. Quite the opposite of someone like Freddie Jones, who lets you know immediately he's "there".

And as I became more aware of her, I began to see what a consumate professional she was. What amazing skill she was capable of. And how she used it so seemingly effortlessly.

I've come to admire her and love her performances. And I can't think of anyone more deserving to be recognized than Anna Massey. Thank you for doing just that.

Vicki Sperling

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...