January 2, 2017


Rita Tushingham (1940-) b. Garston, Liverpool, England.

Rita Tushingham

Unorthodox, waif-like lead whose famous heavy-fringed black bob became a familiar sight in swinging 60s ciinema. Daughter of a Liverpool pharmacist, Rita Tushingham cut her teeth by acting in plays at La Sagesse convent school and then trained at the Liverpool Rep before responding to a Daily Express advertisement in 1961 and being handed the lead in Tony Richardson‘s breakthrough kitchen-sink drama. She burst into the public eye with a debut film role as the jaded Salford teenager falling pregnant by a black sailor in Richardson’s A Taste of Honey (1961).

Later came Sidney J. Furie’s The Leather Boys (1963), a dramatic study of the ill-fated teenage marriage between a beautiful teenage girl and a motorcyclist mechanic, and their unhappy life together. Tushingham’s next film was Desmond Davis’ emotional drama Girl with Green Eyes (1964), about a country girl that leaves her home in rural Ireland and moves to Dublin with old school friend Lynn Redgrave. While there, Tushingham falls for dashing, older writer Peter Finch, much to the consternation of her family, but soon feels overwhelmed in his circle of friends.

Tushingham then plunged into Richard Lester‘s Swinging London sexual-revolution comedy The Knack (1965), confirming her status as a key face of the emergent social order. Her mix of gawky innocence and feisty humour made her perfect for the role of a young northern girl fighting off the attentions of two men, one shy and the other seductive. In 1965 she was cast opposite Alec Guinness in David Lean‘s epic Doctor Zhivago (1965), playing the confused, fragile orphan of Omar Sharif’s Zhivago and Julie Christie‘s Lara.

The George Melly-scripted Smashing Time (1967) was filled with slapstick and slaps in the face to the movers and shakers of London’s swinging scene, including David Bailey and the Rolling Stones’ first manager Andrew Loog Oldham. It was savaged upon its release. Her 1960s roles came to an end with two movies, both made in 1969: The Guru, James Ivory‘s sceptical look at faddish spiritual tourism and the apocalyptic post-nuclear war madness of Richard Lester‘s The Bed Sitting Room (1969).

During the 60s Tushingham had become typecast as the doe-eyed female equivalent of the British "angry young man", but now her career faltered in the bleak cynical 1970s. Her first film of the new decade was the brutally misogynist Straight on Till Morning (1972) – in which the psychotic man seducing her is a long way from the suitor played by Ray Brooks in The Knack.

Television appearances and Italian and Israeli films filled the remaining years. She resurfaced in the 1980s, starring in the 1986 thriller, A Judgement in Stone, directed by her second husband, Ousama Rawi and the Paul Greengrass directed Resurrected (1989). Tushingham experienced a new lease of life in the mid-1990s. She starred alongside Hugh Grant in An Awfully Big Adventure (1995), Tom Courtenay in The Boy from Mercury (1996) a year later, and Samantha Morton in Under the Skin (1997) the year after that. Tushingham has remained active in film and television, making an appearance in Broken Lines (2007) as a snack-bar-owning aunt, and in the Joe Meek biopic Telstar (2008).

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