January 2, 2017


Celia Johnson (1908-1982) b. Richmond, Surrey, England.

Celia Johnson

Celia Johnson has become so inextricably linked to the part of Laura in Brief Encounter (1945) that it is sometimes surprising to see her in other roles. Much of her career was in theatre, and since her acting is in any case quietly self-effacing she seems to invite her own invisibility. One only has to compare her role as the English suburban rose in Brief Encounter, however, with that of the respectable working-class mam in This Happy Breed (1944), made the year before, to recognise the skill and range she brought to her film performances. Noël Coward and David Lean provided Johnson with a third memorable role as the naval wife in In Which We Serve (1942).

She was impressive as a dutiful, abnegatory daughter in Dear Octopus (1943) and The Holly and the Ivy (1952). She seized the chance to demonstrate her comic gifts in The Captain’s Paradise (1953), sending up her position opposite an equally unbuttoned Alec Guinness. The British cinema of the 1960s and 1970s had little to offer her, other than a good supporting role as the headmistress in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969). In 1980 she partnered Trevor Howard again, with passion spent but skill undiminished, in the BBC television adaptation of Paul Scott’s Staying On.

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