Box, Muriel 1905-1991

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BOX, Muriel 1905-1991

PERSONAL: Born Violette Muriel Baker, September 22, 1905, in Tolworth, Surrey, England; died May 18, 1991, in London, England; married Sydney Box (a writer and producer), 1935 (divorced, 1969); married Lord Gardiner, 1970.

CAREER: Playwright, publisher, and film director. During 1920s and 1930s, worked as a typist, continuity girl, and script editor for British Instructional Films, as well as at Elstree and Gaumont; directed short films and documentaries for Verity Films; Gainsborough Studios, head of script department, beginning 1946; Femina Books (publishing house), London, England, cofounder, c. mid-1960s. Director of films, including A Prince for Cynthia, 1953, The Beachcomber, 1955, To Dorothy a Son, 1956, Simon and Laura, 1956, Eyewitness, 1956, This Other Eden, 1959, Subway in the Sky, 1959, Too Young to Love, 1960, The Piper's Time, 1960, and Rattle of a Simple Man, 1964.

AWARDS, HONORS: Academy Award (with husband Sydney Box), 1945, for The Seventh Veil.


(With husband, Sydney Box) Ladies Only: Six One-Act Plays with All-Woman Casts, G. G. Harrap (London, England), 1934.

(With Sydney Box) Petticoat Plays: Six More One-ActPlays with All-Women Casts, G. G. Harrap & Co. (London, England), 1935.

(With Sydney Box) Martha and Mary: A One-Act Play in Three Scenes, S. French (Los Angeles, CA), 1936.

(With Sydney Box) A Marriage Has Been Disarranged: A Comedy for Women, in One Act, S. French (Los Angeles, CA), 1936.

(With Sydney Box) Pray Silence, and Other Sketches, limited edition, S. French (London, England), c. 1938.

The Big Switch (novel), Macdonald (London, England), 1964.

(Editor) The Trial of Marie Stopes (autobiography), Femina Books (London, England), 1967.

Odd Woman Out: An Autobiography, Frewin (London, England), 1974.

Rebel Advocate: A Biography of Gerald Gardiner, Gollancz (London, England), 1983.


(With husband, Sydney Box) Alibi Inn, 1935.

(With Sydney Box) The Seventh Veil, 1945.

(With Sydney Box) 29 Acacia Avenue, 1945.

(With Sydney Box) The Years Between, 1946.

(With Sydney Box) The Girl in a Million, 1946.

(With Sydney Box) The Brothers, 1947.

(With Sydney Box) Daybreak, 1947.

(With Sydney Box) Dear Murderer, 1947.

(With Sydney Box) Holiday Camp, 1947.

(With Sydney Box) The Man Within (also known as The Smugglers), 1947.

(With Sydney Box) When the Bough Breaks, 1947.

(With Sydney Box) The Blind Goddess, 1948.

(With Sydney Box) Easy Money, 1948.

(With Sydney Box) Portrait from Life (also known as The Girl in the Painting), 1948.

(With Sydney Box) Here Come the Huggetts, 1948.

(With Sydney Box) Christopher Columbus, 1949.

(And director of additional scenes) The Lost People (also known as Cockpit), 1949.

(With Sydney Box) So Long at the Fair, 1950.

The Astonished Heart, 1950.

(With Sydney Box) Good Time Girl, 1950.

(And director) The Happy Family (also known as Mr.Lord Says No!), 1952.

(And director) Street Corner (also known as Both Sides of the Law, The Gentle Arm, and The Policewoman), 1953.

(And director) The Passionate Stranger (also known as A Novel Affair), 1957.

(And director) The Truth about Women, 1958.

SIDELIGHTS: Muriel Box was a screenplay writer and director best known for her work with her first husband, Sydney Box. Over a career that spanned three decades, Box began by writing for the stage, then for film in productions that usually centered around female characters. Her career roughly paralleled the rise and fall of British cinema production through the documentary movement of the 1930s, the boom years of war and its aftermath, the precarious continuity of the 1950s, and the decline of the 1960s.

Seeking more to tell stories than to make an artistic statement, Box aimed her early plays mainly at repertory groups and amateur dramatic societies. She became a sought-after writer of plays for all-women casts, and many of her works continued to be performed decades after they were first written. Each play anticipated her future work in partnership with her first husband for Gainsborough Studios, with its dominant roles for women stars and its strong appeal to female audiences.

Although she had worked in the film industry for many years, it was the outbreak of war in 1939 that offered Box, like many other women, the chance to progress. Verity Films, the production company her husband had formed, gave Box her first solo credits both as a writer (the road safety film A Ride with Uncle Joe, commissioned by the Ministry of Information), and as a director (the short documentary on The English Inn, commissioned by the British Council).

In the boom conditions of postwar cinema the Box partnership moved into independent feature production and almost immediately had a huge popular and critical success with The Seventh Veil, for which they won a joint screenwriting Oscar. Gainsborough Studios subsequently signed them up, Sydney as head of production and Muriel as script editor. Gainsborough had become a household name during World War II for its vigorous melodramas, which were especially popular with women, who could identify with their romantic, often transgressing heroines, who were motivated by romantic and sexual desire. Box supervised, and often wrote, a series of woman-centered postwar melodramas both historical/costume (such asJassy) and contemporary (such as Good Time Girl), films that contrast starkly with the more tasteful, middle-class productions of other studios at the time, including Michael Balcon's Ealing Studios.

Significantly, Balcon had turned Box down as a director, declaring that a woman could not handle a film unit. During the 1950s and early 1960s Box proved him wrong, directing fourteen features across a wide range of mainstream genres. Many of these she also wrote herself, including the drama Street Corner, which is about female police officers, or adapted from short stories and plays. One example of the latter is Simon and Laura, a comedy about live television production. Unfortunately, it was another adaptation, Rattle of a Simple Man, that effectively ended Box's career as a director in 1964. Perceived at the time as a "sex comedy" and poorly received, this story of an encounter between a prostitute and her client can be seen as a film ahead of its time in its treatment of the ideology of the male group and its crude sexism.

Along with many other filmmakers of her generation, Box's career in cinema ended in the 1960s. Her activities as a writer and a feminist, however, continued undiminished. She began to write novels, including The Big Switch, which has a strong feminist theme. In 1966 she also cofounded Britain's first feminist press, Femina Books, and edited the first book to be published under its imprint, The Trial of Marie Stopes.



Film Criticism, fall-winter, 1991-92, Caroline Merz, "The Tension of Genre: Wendy Toye and Muriel Box."



Times (London, England), May 22, 1991.*