Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Simmons, Jean (1929-2010)


Main image of Simmons, Jean (1929-2010)

One of the imperishable images of 1940s British cinema - and one that now resonates with period nostalgia - is that of Jean Simmons singing "Let him go, let him tarry" in an aircraft hangar in The Way to the Stars (d. Anthony Asquith, 1945).

Lost to Hollywood by the early 1950s, and it must be said that she acquired there a genuine star's gloss, she had by then left a legacy of new-minted freshness, with occasional forays into darker territories.

She made her debut as "a hard-boiled child of eleven" in the inane Give Us the Moon (d. Val Guest, 1944), was a dusky harpist in Caesar and Cleopatra (d. Gabriel Pascal, 1945), and an Indian temptress in Black Narcissus (d. Powell & Pressburger, 1947), but it is probably as the wonderfully vivacious young Estella in Great Expectations (d. David Lean, 1946) that she really came to public notice. The contrast with Valerie Hobson's chilled adult Estella was brilliantly apt.

Olivier made her a touching Ophelia in Hamlet (1948), her very inexperience with Shakespeare seeming to work in favour of her performance; she was a romantic heroine in The Blue Lagoon (d. Frank Launder, 1949) and showed a charming lightness of touch in the romantic comedy, Adam and Evelyne (d. Harold French, 1949), opposite Stewart Granger, whom she married (1950-60).

She is a very fetching frightened heroine in Uncle Silas (d. Charles Frank, 1947), So Long at the Fair (d. Terence Fisher, 1950) and The Clouded Yellow (d. Ralph Thomas, 1950), and brings a gratifying complexity to the melodrama of Cage of Gold (d. Basil Dearden, 1950).

In Hollywood, she made a good deal of rubbish, but there were also the real achievements of such films as The Actress (US, d. George Cukor, 1953), Guys and Dolls (US, d. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1955) and Elmer Gantry (US, 1960), the latter for her second husband, director Richard Brooks (1960 to 1977).

She returned to film in Britain in 1955, as a scheming housemaid in the enjoyable Victorian melodrama, Footsteps in the Fog (d. Arthur Lubin, 1955), opposite Granger, and was Susan Brown, grown bitchy with the years, in Life at the Top (d. Ted Kotcheff, 1965), but most of her work since 1951 has been in the US and/or for TV.

In 1989, she played Miss Havisham in the miniseries Great Expectations (BBC); the poignancy she evoked was not wholly to do with the role.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Cinema

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Black Narcissus (1947)Black Narcissus (1947)

Remarkably passionate melodrama set in a Himalayan convent

Thumbnail image of Great Expectations (1946)Great Expectations (1946)

David Lean's definitive Dickens adaptation

Thumbnail image of Hamlet (1948)Hamlet (1948)

Laurence Olivier's multi-Oscar-winning Shakespeare adaptation

Thumbnail image of Way to the Stars, The (1945)Way to the Stars, The (1945)

Deceptively low-key drama about RAF pilots in World War II

Related collections

Related people and organisations