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Now and Then: Sylvia Syms (1967)


Main image of Now and Then: Sylvia Syms (1967)
29 November 1967
16mm, colour, 15 mins
Production CompanyAdanac Productions
ProducersBernard Braden
 Barbara Kelly
PhotographyRichard Bayley

Bernard Braden interviews the actress in the wake of some controversial political comments.

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Sylvia Syms' appearance in Ice Cold in Alex (d. J. Lee Thompson) in 1958 established her as one of Britain's best known female actors and her role as the wife of Dirk Bogarde's outed homosexual in Victim (d. Basil Dearden, 1961) further cemented her reputation. However, by 1967, when this interview took place, she was in her thirties and no longer getting such substantial films roles, her mainstay being television work. Syms was one of the first of a new breed of female actor in British cinema, more intelligent and outspoken than those who came before her were permitted to be; she paved the way for the likes of Julie Christie and Lynn Redgrave, whose careers took off in the 1960s and who wanted to be viewed as more than just glamour girls or dolly birds.

In this interview for his unbroadcast Now and Then series, Bernard Braden focuses largely on Syms' reputation for courting controversy. He quizzes her about her appearance at the International Film Festival in Acapulco, Mexico, where she caused a stir at a press conference with the political nature of some of her remarks. One American journalist apparently wrote a report of the conference which asserted that she had been indoctrinated by Marxist parents as a child (her father was a trade unionist). Quite why the press should be so bothered by the revelation is hard to fathom; despite a slight worry that the incident might affect her chances of traveling to the US, Syms herself was unconcerned by the uproar. She also alludes to another publicity trip to an unnamed South American country where her comments on the poverty she observed led to her being asked to leave.

At this time, most British films were financed by the European arms of the Hollywood studios, and Syms acknowledges the changes in the industry, including the influx of technicians from other countries. While this was clearly a positive and necessary development, it raised questions about the definition of a British film. However, in her view, 'Britishness' was still viewed as a selling point for movies and British talent such as herself was welcomed abroad. While Syms' maturity and intelligence seemingly made her a good ambassador for Britain, evidently her tendency to speak her mind could get her into trouble.

Josephine Botting

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Video Clips
Complete unedited interview (14:58)
Syms, Sylvia (1934-)
Now and Then (1967-68)