Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Late Great Jean Kent

Legendary English star Jean Kent died at the age of 92 yesterday, 29 November 2013. Thursday she suffered injuries from a fall in her home and was taken to hospital. She died early Friday morning.

Jean Kent was born on 29 June 1921 in Brixton, London. Her parents were variety performers Norman Field and Nina Norre. By the time she was 13 she was already appearing on the London stage at the Windmill Theatre in the West End. She mad her film debut under the name "Joan Kent" in the Lupino Lane comedy Who's Your Father in 1935. The late Thirties Miss Kent spent on the British stage.  Under the name Jean Carr, she appeared in George Black's revue Applesauce! in 1940. Applesauce!, starring Max Miler and Vera Lynn, ran from August 1940 to November 1941.

"Jean Carr" would eventually become "Jean Kent" and signed with Gainsborough Pictures. Her first film with Gainsborough was the comedy It's That Man Again in 1943, in which she had a small part. Over the next few years she appeared in the films Miss London Ltd. (1943), Warn That Man (1943), Soldier, Sailor (1944) , and Bees in Paradise (1944). She received her big break with the 1944 film Fanny by Gaslight. Although Miss Kent received only fifth billing in the film, her performance attracted attention and she was on her way to becoming a star of the British screen. Over the next several years she appeared in such films as Two Thousand Women (1944), Champagne Charlie (1944), Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945), The Wicked Lady (1945), and The Rake's Progress (1945). It was with Caravan in 1946 that Jean Kent first received top billing as an actress. For the rest of the Forties she appeared in The Magic Bow (1946), The Man Within (1947), The Loves of Joanna Godden (1947), Good-Time Girl (1948), Bond Street (1948), Sleeping Car to Trieste (1948), Trottie True (1949), The Reluctant Widow (1950), The Taming of Dorothy (1950), and The Woman in Question (1950).

In 1951 Jean Kent starred in The Browning Version alongside Michael Redgrave. During the Fifties she would also appear in such films as The Lost Hours (1952), Before I Wake (1954), The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), Bonjour Tristesse (1958) , Grip of the Strangler (1958), Beyond This Place (1959), Bluebeards Ten Honeymoons (1960), and Please Turn Over (1960). She also began appearing regularly on television, guest starring on such series as BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, The Errol Flynn Theatre, Sword of Freedom, and ITV Television Playhouse. She starred as Lady Kerwin in the serial Epilogue to Capricorn.

With the Sixties Miss Kent's career shifted more towards television. She was a regular on the TV series Sir Francis Drake, on which she appeared as Queen Elizabeth I. She also appeared on the series Emergency-Ward 10 in the role of Gillian Blane. She played the lead on the short lived comedy Thicker Than Water. She also guest starred on such shows as Maupassant, Love Story, The Indian Tales of Rudyard Kipling, No Hiding Place, This Man Craig, Vanity Fair, Comedy Playhouse, Detective, The Wednesday Play, ITV Playhouse, Up Pompeii, and Steptoe and Son.

In the Seventies she guest starred on such shows as Doctor at Large, Frankie Howard's Hour, A Family at War, Public Eye, Angels, and Do You Remember. She was a regular on the serial Tycoon. She also appeared in the film Shout at the Devil (1976). In the Eighties she appeared on the shows Crossroads, Lytton's Diary, and After Henry. In the Nineties she appeared on the shows Lovejoy and Shrinks.

Jean Kent was one of the most beloved leading ladies of British cinema, and there can be no doubt that she was a true film star. At the same time, however, while she is not often considered such, Miss Kent was one of the best character actresses to ever appear on movie screens, British or American. The simple fact is that she could play nearly anything. In Good Time Girl she convincingly played a teenage runaway, even though she was already in her late Twenties. She played the unfaithful wife of Andrew Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave) in The Browning Version. In Trottie True she played something close to her own life as a young actress. Like Miss Kent, Trottie was a music hall performer. The simple fact is that Jean Kent was something of a chameleon.

Indeed, if anyone doubts the enormous talent possessed by Jean Kent, they would find that doubt wiped away by a single viewing of The Woman in Question. In the film police interview various witnesses, all of whom have different views of a murdered woman (played by Jean Kent). Her sister saw her as a common trollop. Her housekeeper saw her as a genuine lady. An elderly bird shop owner saw her as a charming young woman. Jean Kent did an extraordinary job of playing the various facets of the murder victim, giving some consistency to what are often dramatically different views of the same woman. It was a bravura performance that truly deserved a BAFTA nomination. Of course, The Woman in Question was only one in a number of Jean Kent's great performances. She was an extraordinary actress with a versatility that was rare in her time and is now even rarer still.

1 comment:

callmemadam said...

Thank you for this tribute to a much-loved British actress. It is nice to know she was not forgotten and is appreciated.
I have "Champagne Charlie" on DVD, it is so very evocative of the British Music Hall tradition and very enjoyable.