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Hall-Davis, Lilian (1897-1933)


Main image of Hall-Davis, Lilian (1897-1933)

The daughter of an East End cabbie, Lilian Hall Davis (the hyphen was added later) went from humble beginnings in Mile End to become one of the brightest female stars of 1920s British cinema, until a sharp career decline and health problems led her to a particularly tragic end.

A talented and mercurial performer, she matured quickly into a leading player. Significant among her early credits is her appearance as Maisie in Maisie's Marriage (d. Alexander Butler, 1923), a controversial adaptation of Marie Stopes' landmark sexual health manual Married Love and a key title in the establishment of film censorship in Britain.

She was for a time Alfred Hitchcock's favourite actress, and gave him two of her finest performances. In The Ring (1927) she convinces as the simple fairground girl corrupted by a taste of the high life when her good-hearted boyfriend (Carl Brisson) finds success in the boxing ring. As the housekeeper quietly pining for her widowed master (Jameson Thomas) in The Farmer's Wife (1928) she brought a rare warmth and natural presence to British screens. In other British features such as Tommy Atkins (d. Norman Walker, 1928), an elaborate love triangle drama partly set in Egypt, her on-screen charisma served her well in the face of rather turgid source material.

She did not restrict herself to the British film industry, appearing in a number of pictures in Germany, France and Italy. She landed a lead role in the lavish 1924 production of Quo Vadis (Italy, d. Gabriellino d'Annunzio/Georg Jacoby), playing the virtuous Christian Licia, who catches the eye of Nero himself.

Sadly, Hall-Davis's career never recovered from the transition to sound, and she was plagued by severe depression. On 25 October 1933 she committed suicide at home in Golders Green by turning on the gas oven and cutting her own throat.

Simon McCallum

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Blighty (1927)Blighty (1927)

Melodrama about the impact of WWI on a wealthy English family

Thumbnail image of Farmer's Wife, The (1928)Farmer's Wife, The (1928)

Uncharacteristically warm-hearted Hitchcock rural comedy

Thumbnail image of Passionate Adventure, The (1924)Passionate Adventure, The (1924)

Romantic melodrama, written by a young Alfred Hitchcock

Thumbnail image of Ring, The (1927)Ring, The (1927)

One of Hitchcock's best silents: a boxing melodrama with a twist

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The look of love, 1920s style

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Thumbnail image of Hitchcock, Alfred (1899-1980)Hitchcock, Alfred (1899-1980)

Director, Writer, Art Director, Actor