Celia Johnson is the Jane Austen of screen actors: at first glance she seems to have a limited range, but within that range there's a depth and a precision that few others can match.
She was born in Richmond Surrey, and her father was a Doctor. After her education at St Paul's Girls' School she went to RADA. There then came a brief period in rep at Huddersfield before she got to the West End. Despite appearing in several flops, Johnson got great notices. She worked steadily throughout the 30s, though few of the productions were memorable. In 1931 she made her only Broadway appearance as Ophelia opposite Raymond Massey's Hamlet. She got good notices but the production was panned.
The 40s were her golden period. She opened in a classic version of Rebecca (with Margaret Rutherford as Mrs Danvers). She also began her film career, mainly because the working hours suited a woman with a young family. She made an instant impact in her few scenes in the classic In Which We Serve.
The performance for which she will always be remembered is as Laura in Brief Encounter. As the middle-class housewife torn between an adulterous passion and her duty to her family, she gave a perfect study in English repression. The critics raved and she was the first actress to get an Oscar nomination for a non-American film.
Her career continued its steady pace. As the 50s wore on the film work dried up, but the theatre work continued. Unlike her contemporaries she never got involved with a long running television series. She did however give several memorable performances in one-off productions including The Dame of Sark and Staying On (which re-united her with Trevor Howard).
She was still working in the theatre when she died. She had a stroke during a game of bridge and died a few hours later. She was made a Dame earlier in the year.
|1941||A Letter from Home (short)|
|1942||In Which We Serve|
|1943||This Happy Breed|
|1949||The Astonished Heart|
|1951||I Believe in You|
|1952||The Holly and the Ivy|
|1953||The Captain's Paradise|
|1956||A Kid for Two Farthings|
|1957||The Good Companions|
|1968||The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie|
|1980||The Hostage Tower|
Celia Johnson at Amazon UK
Celia Johnson at Amazon US