Greenwood, Joan

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Nationality: British. Born: Chelsea, London, 4 March 1921. Education: Attended St. Catherine's School, Bramley, Surrey; Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London. Family: Married André Morell, 1960 (died 1978), one son. Career: 1938—stage debut in Le Malade imaginaire in London; 1940—film debut in John Smith Wakes Up; 1944—played Ophelia in Hamlet; later stage work includes roles in The Confidential Clerk in New York, 1957, Hedda Gabler, 1960 and 1964, The Chalk Garden, 1971, and The Understanding, 1982; 1983—in TV series Girls on Top. Died: In London, 28 February 1987.

Films as Actress:


John Smith Wakes Up (Weiss—short) (as herself)


My Wife's Family (Mycroft) (as Irma Bagshott); He Found a Star (Carstairs) (as Babe Cavour)


The Gentle Sex (Howard) (as Betty)


They Knew Mr. Knight (Walker) (as Ruth Blake); Latin Quarter (Sewell) (as Christine Minetti)


A Girl in a Million (Searle) (as Gay)


The Man Within (The Smugglers) (Knowles) (as Elizabeth); The October Man (Baker) (as Jennie Carden); The White Unicorn (Bad Sister) (Knowles) (as Lottie Smith)


Saraband for Dead Lovers (Saraband) (Dearden) (as Sophie/Dorothea)


The Bad Lord Byron (Macdonald) (as Lady Caroline Lamb); Whisky Galore! (Tight Little Island) (Mackendrick) (as Peggy Maccroon); Kind Hearts and Coronets (Hamer) (as Sibella)


Garou-Garou, le passe-muraille (Le Passe-Muraille; Mr. Peek-a-boo) (Boyer)


Flesh and Blood (Kimmins) (as Wilhelmina Cameron); Young Wives' Tale (Cass) (as Sabina Pennant); The Man in the White Suit (Mackendrick) (as Daphne Birnley); The Importance of Being Earnest (Asquith) (as Gwendolen Fairfax)


Knave of Hearts (Monsieur Ripois; Lovers, Happy Lovers; Lover Boy) (Clément) (as Norah); Father Brown (The Detective) (Hamer) (as Lady Warren)


Moonfleet (Lang)


Stage Struck (Lumet)


Horse on Holiday (English-language version of Danish film Hest pá sommerferie) (Henning-Jensen) (as voice)


Mysterious Island (Endfield) (as Lady Mary Fairchild); The Amorous Prawn (Playgirl and the War Minister; The Amorous Mr. Prawn) (Kimmins) (as Lady Fitzadam)


Tom Jones (Richardson) (as Lady Bellaston)


The Moon-Spinners (Neilson) (as Frances Ferris)


Girl Stroke Boy (Kellett)


"London, 1912" ep. of The Uncanny (Héroux); The Hound of the Baskervilles (Morrissey)


The Water Babies (Jeffries)


Country (Eyre)


Ellis Island (London—for TV)


Wagner (Palmer)


Little Dorrit: Part I, Nobody's Fault and Little Dorrit: Part II, Little Dorrit's Story (Edzard) (as Mrs. Clennam)


Melba (Fisher)


On GREENWOOD: articles—

"People of Talent: Joan Greenwood," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1956.

Obituary, in Variety (New York), 4 March 1987.

Obituary, in Films and Filming (London), April 1987.

Obituary, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), May 1987.

Brock, Patrick, "Joan Greenwood," in Classic Images (Muscatine), January 1993.

* * *

And how, Dennis Price inquires of Joan Greenwood on her return from abroad, did she enjoy her honeymoon? "Not at all." "Not at all?" "Not—at all." By means of the briefest possible pause, Greenwood invests the line with an infinite wealth of sexual innuendo.

Being at once sexy and witty was Greenwood's forte. Petite and graceful, she moved with a delicate feline sensuality; her breathily husky voice, accentuating unexpected vowels, hovered always on the verge of self-parody. She countered questionable situations with an exquisitely inquiring stare, poised somewhere between amusement and mock outrage. When she was given the chance—which happened nowhere near often enough—she brought to her roles a quality of playful eroticism all too rare in British cinema.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (in which the above dialogue occurs) provided one of her finest opportunities. As the hero's mistress, Sibella, her stylish playing was perfectly attuned to the ironic elegance of Hamer's wit. She was well used by Mackendrick, too, in Whisky Galore! and The Man in the White Suit—displaying in the latter a delectable subtlety of inflexion when attempting, half-reluctantly and half-willingly, to seduce Alec Guinness. Near-mandatory casting for Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest, she almost rivaled Edith Evans for Wildean hauteur, and was equally well chosen as Lady Caroline Lamb in The Bad Lord Byron; unfortunately, the film was abysmal.

Hollywood seemed even less capable than Britain of knowing what to do with an actress of Greenwood's style and individuality. Perhaps the French might have given her the films she deserved. In Monsieur Ripois her performance as one of Gérard Philipe's victims revealed unexpected depths of pathos, though her only other French film, Le Passe-Muraille, proved disappointing. After the mid-1950s, perhaps discouraged, she devoted herself largely to the stage, and to married life, only occasionally turning up in small cameo roles to suggest what we had been missing.

—Philip Kemp

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Greenwood, Joan

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