Star Archive

Kathleen Byron (1923 - 2009)

Kathleen Byron's film career consisted mainly of nicely-judged cameos as slightly snotty upper-middle-class women. She ploughed the same furrow as the likes of Ambrosine Phillpotts and Everley Gregg and would have much the same comfy place in film history but for one role: the iconic Sister Ruth in Black Narcissus

She was born in London to a working-class family and was trained at the Old Vic. She's possibly to be seen as an extra in Climbing High but her official role was a bit in The Young Mr Pitt. During the war, acting came second to a job in the censor's office but once that was over she was free to concentrate on her career. After her memorable role in A Matter of Life and Death as a heavenly guide, Powell and Pressburger cast her in Black Narcissus. As the nun who goes mad with desire for David Farrar she was unforgettable. There can't be many histories of British film that don't include the image of her wild-eyed, her mouth smeared with scarlet lipstick as the Himalayan wind whips her hair about.

Her next was also for Powell & Pressburger. In The Small Back Room she played Farrar's girlfriend trying to keep him off the bottle. It was a more conventional role but she fleshed it out. She tried to fight against being cast as variants of Sister Ruth and ended up with blander roles instead. A trip to Hollywood to film Young Bess was shortened due to pregnancy and on her return she settled into family life and the role of a jobbing character actress - and it's one of the crimes of 50s British cinema that it let her.

Poster of Black NarcissusKathleen Byron in Prelude to Fame


1938 Climbing High
1942 The Young Mr Pitt
1943 The Silver Fleet
1946 A Matter of Life and Death
1947 Black Narcissus
1949 The Small Back Room
1949 Madness of the Heart
1951 Scarlet Thread
1951 Life in Her Hands
1951 Hell is Sold Out
1951 Four Days
1951 Tom Brown's Schooldays
1951 The House in the Square
1952 My Death is a Mockery
1952 The Gambler and the Lady
1953 Young Bess (US)
1954 Night of the Full Moon
1954 Star of My Night
1954 Profile
1955 Handcuffs, London
1955 Secret Venture
1960 Hand in Hand
1962 Night of the Eagle
1968 Hammerhead
1969 The Legend of Robin Hood
1971 Private Road
1971 Twins of Evil
1973 Nothing But the Night
1974 Craze
1974 The Abduction
1975 One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing
1980 The Elephant Man
1981 From a Far Country
1996 Emma
1989 Diary
1998 Les Miserables
1998 Saving Private Ryan

DVDs starring Kathleen Byron available at Amazon UK

DVDs starring Kathleen Byron available at Amazon US