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Neagle, Anna (1904-1986)

Actor, Producer

Main image of Neagle, Anna (1904-1986)

Anna Neagle (born Marjorie Robertson) made her stage debut as a dancer in 1917, later appearing in the chorus of André Charlot's and C.B. Cochran's revues.

Jack Buchanan encouraged her to take on a featured role in Stand Up and Sing (1931), and her film career developed after forming an alliance, from Goodnight Vienna (1932) onwards, with producer-director Herbert Wilcox. He produced and directed most of her subsequent films and they married in 1943.

She appeared in other British musical films in the early 1930s including Bitter Sweet, The Little Damozel (both d. Wilcox, 1933) and Limelight (d. Wilcox, 1935), but it was her performance as Queen Victoria in the phenomenally successful historical pageant Victoria the Great (d. Wilcox, 1937) and its sequel Sixty Glorious Years (d. Wilcox, 1938) which cemented her prestige.

These films were also popular internationally, and led to Hollywood, where she starred in Nurse Edith Cavell (1939) and the musicals Irene and No No Nanette (1940), and Sunny (1941), all produced by Wilcox for RKO.

Back in England, there followed a series of high society films with Michael Wilding, starting with Piccadilly Incident (d. Wilcox, 1946), the most successful, critically and commercially, being Spring in Park Lane (d. Wilcox, 1948).

After these films offering audiences escape from postwar austerity, Neagle then appeared as the tortured agent in World War II-occupied France, code-named Odette (d. Wilcox, 1950).

Over the years, she was particularly associated with playing strong heroines, others including Nell Gwyn (d. Wilcox, 1934), Peg Woffington, the Irish actress in Peg of Old Drury (d. Wilcox, 1936), Nurse Cavell, Amy Johnson in They Flew Alone (d. Wilcox, 1942), and Florence Nightingale in The Lady with a Lamp (d. Wilcox, 1951).

Music and glamour returned in the two films she made with Errol Flynn, Lilacs in the Spring (d. Wilcox, 1954) and King's Rhapsody (d. Wilcox, 1955), middle-aged romances nourished by Ivor Novello scores, but her box-office appeal faded in the mid 1950s.

With her husband, she produced films starring Frankie Vaughan, but these were out of touch with changing tastes, and lost money. To clear her husband's debts, she returned to the stage, and her legendary status created a core audience for a five-year run of Charlie Girl (1965-70).

A leading star in British films for over 25 years from 1932, she won several awards as Britain's favourite actress and biggest female box-office draw. She was awarded a CBE in 1952 and created DBE in 1969.

Autobiography: There's Always Tomorrow (1974).

Roger Phillip Mellor, Encyclopedia of British Cinema

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From the BFI's filmographic database

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of I Live in Grosvenor Square (1945)I Live in Grosvenor Square (1945)

Wartime love triangle with Anna Neagle and Rex Harrison

Thumbnail image of Maytime in Mayfair (1949)Maytime in Mayfair (1949)

Light Anna Neagle comedy set in the world of haute couture - in Technicolor

Thumbnail image of Nell Gwyn (1934)Nell Gwyn (1934)

Early role for Anna Neagle as Charles II's famous mistress

Thumbnail image of Piccadilly Incident (1946)Piccadilly Incident (1946)

Stirring Anna Neagle melodrama about a couple separated by WWII

Thumbnail image of Sixty Glorious Years (1938)Sixty Glorious Years (1938)

Colourful historical pageant of Queen Victoria's 60-year reign

Thumbnail image of Spring in Park Lane (1948)Spring in Park Lane (1948)

Hugely successful postwar light comedy with Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Musical Comedy in the 1930sMusical Comedy in the 1930s

A closer look at the golden age of British musical comedy

Thumbnail image of MusicalsMusicals

Song and dance on the big screen

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Wilcox, Herbert (1890-1977)Wilcox, Herbert (1890-1977)

Director, Producer, Writer