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Roberts, Rachel (1927-1980)


Main image of Roberts, Rachel (1927-1980)

An actress of fervour and passion, Rachel Roberts gave forthright performances in two key films of the '60s. After a Baptist upbringing (which she rebelled against), followed by the University of Wales and RADA, she was on stage from 1951. She made her film debut in the Welsh-set comedy Valley of Song (d. Gilbert Gunn, 1953), but was too direct and intense to fit comfortably into leading roles in '50s British films.

However, these qualities led to her breakthrough BAFTA-winning portrayal of Brenda in Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960). Lindsay Anderson saw that she would be perfect as the suffering Mrs Hammond in This Sporting Life (1963, another BAFTA and an Oscar nomination).

In theatre, she played at the Royal Court and was the life-enhancing tart Maggie May in Lionel Bart's musical (1964). In films she continued to play women with lusty appetites (as in Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man! (1973), although the haunting Australian-made Picnic at Hanging Rock (d. Peter Weir, 1975) provided her with a different kind of role.

She appeared in supporting roles in several US films after relocating to Los Angeles in the early '70s, her final British film being Yanks (d. John Schlesinger, 1979, a supporting actress BAFTA). Impulsive, insecure, with self-destructive tendencies, she died from an overdose of barbiturates.. She married firstly Alan Dobie (1955-61), then Rex Harrison (1962-71).

Autobiography, ed. Alexander Walker, No Bells on Sunday, 1984.

Roger Philip Mellor, Encyclopedia of British Film

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