She was typecast as the Iron Maiden of British cinema. Always perfectly groomed, nicely spoken, and with the sort of toughness that built the Empire. You can imagine her surviving The Black Hole of Calcutta without a hair out of place. You can't imagine her enjoying a "knock-knock" joke. As a type it's gone out of fashion, but Valerie Hobson was cinema's best exponent of it at a time when the type was in demand, and therefore got to appear in some of the best films this country has ever produced.
After leaving RADA and getting some stage work, she made a few undistinguished B pictures before getting the call to go to Hollywood. She made a few interesting films there - mostly Universal horrors and some more Bs - but the really interesting roles escaped her (though she did play what is arguably the title role in The Bride of Frankenstein). She was promised the part of Estella in Great Expectations but lost it and had to make do with Helena Landless in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
When she came back to Britain she began to get decent parts, particularly after the huge success of This Man is News which was made on a deferred profit basis. She was at her best in two spy pictures with Conrad Veight (The Spy in Black and Contraband), where her steely charm helped make him more sympathetic.
In 1946 she finally got to play Estella in Lean's Great Expectations. She was perfect.
She then played the lead in Blanche Fury giving a great performance as the Victorian heroine willing to do virtually anything to drag herself out of genteel poverty. It was an expensive film but let down by a trashy script. Still, she soon got to play in the greatest of the Ealing comedies Kind Hearts and Coronets. It was another wonderful performance as the lady so gracious, so understanding, so perfect that you could easily see why Dennis Price fell for her but still couldn't stand her for too long.
By the mid-fifties she had had enough. She had a new husband (the first was producer Anthony Havelock-Allen (1939-1952)) and decided to retire in obscurity to be an MP's wife. Unfortunately, the MP was John Profumo, and by the early sixties he was in the middle of Britain's biggest sex scandal and she was providing the template for all wronged Tory wives to follow.
Many of the qualities that made her the archetypal Tory wife (loyal, graceful, and strung so tight you could hear her nerves twang) are the ones that made her so memorable on screen. It's a shame that she got so few full-blooded roles like Blanche Fury but she filled the roles she did get with a rare elegance and poise.
|1933||Eyes of Fate|
|1934||Two Hearts in Waltztime|
|1934||The Path to Glory|
|1935||Strange Wives (U.S.)|
|1935||Oh What a Night|
|1935||Rendezvous at Midnight (U.S.)|
|1935||The Mystery of Edwin Drood (U.S.)|
|1935||The Bride of Frankenstein (U.S.)|
|1935||The Werewolf of London (U.S.)|
|1935||Chinatown Squad (U.S.)|
|1935||The Great Impersonation (U.S.)|
|1936||August Weekend (U.S.)|
|1936||Tugboat Princess (U.S.)|
|1936||Secret of Stamboul|
|1937||Jump for Glory|
|1938||This Man is News|
|1939||This Man in Paris|
|1939||The Spy in Black|
|1943||The Adventure of Tartu|
|1946||The Years Between|
|1948||The Small Voice|
|1949||Kind Hearts and Coronets|
|1949||Train of Events|
|1949||The Interrupted Journey|
|1949||The Rocking Horse Winner|
|1952||Who Goes There?|
|1952||Meet Me Tonight|
|1952||The Voice of Merrill|
|1954||Knave of Hearts|
Valerie Hobson at Amazon UK
Valerie Hobson at Amazon US