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Francis, Freddie (1917-2007)

Director, Cinematographer, Producer

Main image of Francis, Freddie (1917-2007)

Freddie Francis was born in Islington, London, on 22 December 1917. He served as an apprentice stills photographer before joining Gaumont-British as a clapper-loader in 1936. After serving in the Royal Army Kinematographic Unit during the Second World War, he became a camera operator at British Lion Studios. Graduating to director of photography with A Hill in Korea (d. Julian Amyes, 1956), he soon became one of the major British cinematographers, working on films such as Room at the Top (d. Jack Clayton, 1959) and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (d. Karel Reisz, 1960), and winning an Oscar for Sons and Lovers (d. Jack Cardiff, 1960).

As a director Francis quickly became associated with the horror genre (though his debut was a romantic comedy, Two and Two Make Six (1962)). His first box-office success, Paranoiac(1962), began an association with Hammer Films, for whom he made two further psychological thrillers (Nightmare, 1963, and Hysteria, 1964), and contributions to the studio's Frankenstein and Dracula series. His prolific work-rate included directing television episodes of The Saint (ITV, 1962-1969) and Man in a Suitcase (ITV, 1967-68, and filming in both Britain and Germany. In the '60s it also took him to Amicus Pictures, where he made Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1965), three more titles built around the format of an anthology of stories, and other films ranging from the imaginative (The Skull (1965)) to the dire (They Came from Beyond Space (1967)).

In the '70s Francis made The Ghoul and Legend of the Werewolf (both 1975) for Tyburn Films, the company set up by his son, Kevin. He returned to cinematography and critical prestige in the '80s, working with Martin Scorsese, David Lynch on several occasions, and winning a second Oscar for Glory (US, d. Edward Zwick, 1989). Periodic returns to directing, which included filming the Dylan Thomas screenplay, The Doctor and the Devils (1985), failed to gain the praise given to his cinematography.

Francis is unique for having a career as both one of the world's top cameramen and the director of a substantial number of films, among them significant contributions to the British horror film such as The Creeping Flesh (1972), an intriguing essay in late Victorian gothic, and the eerily effective Nightmare. In interviews, he has expressed his unhappiness at being typed as a horror film director and insisted that he has no particular affinity for the genre. Some critics would agree: David Pirie, for example, condemns The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) as '"a thoroughly pedestrian and cardboard thriller' thriller" and compares him unfavourably with fellow Hammer director, Terence Fisher. Yet Francis's cinematographer's eye means that several of his films, notably his better work for Hammer and Amicus, have an undeniable visual power. His willingness to challenge generic conventions, as in his combination of horror and humour in the strange and perverse black comedy Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly (1969), suggest that the originality and adventurousness of his cinematography might, in a different context, have found greater expression in his directorial assignments.

Buscombe, Ed, Making 'Legend of the Werewolf' (London: BFI, 1976)
Dixon, Wheeler Wilson, The Films of Freddie Francis (Metuchen N.J. and London: Scarecrow Press, 1991)
Jackson, Kevin, 'Gothic Shadows', Sight and Sound, Nov. 1992, pp. 16-19
Pirie, David, A Heritage of Horror (London: Gordon Fraser, 1975)

Guy Barefoot, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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From the BFI's filmographic database

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Elephant Man, The (1980)Elephant Man, The (1980)

Moving drama starring John Hurt as a grotesquely deformed man

Thumbnail image of Innocents, The (1961)Innocents, The (1961)

Unnerving ghost story based on Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw'

Thumbnail image of Room at the Top (1958)Room at the Top (1958)

The first 'kitchen sink' drama kick-started a British film revolution

Thumbnail image of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

Classic slice of Northern gritty realism that made a star out of Albert Finney

Thumbnail image of Man in a Suitcase (1967-68)Man in a Suitcase (1967-68)

Memorably gritty ITC series about an ex-CIA private investigator

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Thumbnail image of Hammer Film ProductionsHammer Film Productions

Production Company

Thumbnail image of Amicus ProductionsAmicus Productions

Production Company