It was the voice that set her apart. Husky, plummy, sexy. It cut through her essential gentility and made her seem like a woman of the world even when she was playing it innocent. In one of the most memorable cinema quotes, Karel Reisz described her speaking her lines "as if she dimly suspected some hidden menace in them which she can't quite identify".
She was born in London and went to RADA and then did some theatre. In her first films she usually played children and it wasn't until Latin Quarter that she got her first star role. Shortly after, she signed a Rank contract. Her parts improved but it was Whisky Galore and Kind Hearts and Coronets for Ealing that really put her on the map. Her sexy ingénue in The Man in the White Suit was equally memorable.
Her Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest is the definitive portrayal. Unlike other actresses of the period who made films but preferred theatre, she never gave the impression that she was slumming. She made a couple of films in Hollywood and then retreated to the stage. Marriage in 1959 (to Andre Morell) and children meant that she worked less though she did manage to appear in The Mysterious Island battling against giant crabs and wasps. She also got another good role in Tom Jones.
Her career petered out in small roles in bad films. She turned up on TV in the sea-going soap Triangle as the passenger who never got off the ferry. Triangle was a low point in many people's careers but she was watchable. She was the mad landlady in the sitcom Girls on Top and looked set for a long career playing old bats, but she died after a fall at home. Before she died she left one great performance as Mrs Clennam in the two-part version of Little Dorrit.
With glowing skin and cheek-bones to die for, she photographed beautifully. Unlike many beautiful actresses, she could deliver wonderful performances. She was mannered, but that never seemed to matter since she chose roles for which her style was appropriate. On the rare occasions she chose a realistic role (The October Man) she showed that she could cope well with its demands.
|1940||John Smith Wakes Up|
|1940||He Found a Star|
|1942||The Gentle Sex|
|1944||They Knew Mr Knight|
|1945||A Girl in a Million|
|1946||The Man Within|
|1947||The October Man|
|1947||The White Unicorn|
|1948||Saraband for Dead Lovers|
|1948||The Bad Lord Byron|
|1949||Kind Hearts and Coronets|
|1950||Flesh and Blood|
|1950||The Man in the White Suit|
|1951||Young Wives' Tale|
|1952||The Importance of Being Earnest|
|1954||Knave of Hearts|
|1957||Stage Struck (U.S.)|
|1962||The Amorous Prawn|
|1964||The Moon Spinners|
|1971||Girl Stroke Boy|
|1978||The Hound of the Baskervilles|
|1978||The Water Babies|
Joan Greenwood at Amazon UK
Joan Greenwood at Amazon US