Freda Jackson was made for the classic characters of Shakespeare and Dickens. She honed her craft on the British stage until she became theatre royalty. She appeared in 62 major stage productions, but it seems her 26 film roles were never large enough for Jackson’s talents. It was film critic David Quinlan who said it best…
"She created some memorably grim portraits ... fewer than one would have liked, but she was really too ferocious for supporting roles”
-David Quinlan, film critic
Jackson was a woman and an actress of immense power and presence. That makes the rumors of Errol Flynn’s romantic fascination with her totally believable. The two young actors met in the early 1930s while learning their trade at Northampton Repertory Theatre. However, Freda Jackson’s own words make any romantic relationship with Flynn seem one-sided.
"He was not an intellectual man, but he was very shrewd. He knew that his supreme good looks were not enough to get him where he wanted to go, so he came to Northampton to learn his job. He did learn a lot from us, including how to walk across the stage without looking like something out of a zoo. When he left, he did so in a cloud of unpleasantness after hitting the stage manager, who was a woman."
-Freda Jackson, 1984 interview
Although her film roles were often limited, she made tremendous use of her time on the screen. When she stepped into a scene, you knew she was there. Her characterizations and well-crafted technic could easily overpower the lead roles, even if those roles were played by the likes of Lawrence Olivier or Alec Guinness. She was unforgettable on screen, but rarely had the chance to carry a film.
In 1945, Freda Jackson beguiled London theatre audiences with her performance as Mrs. Voray in No Room at the Inn. Voray was one of those grim character Freda Jackson would become known for playing. Mrs. Voray is a crude, selfish, respectable phony housing children evacuated from London during World War II. The money she receives to care for the children is used instead to keep Mrs. Voray suppled with alcohol and gaudy knickknacks. When No Room at the Inn was made into a film in 1948, Freda Jackson did more than beguile the critics.
"No Room at the Inn gives Miss Freda Jackson ample scope to be as savagely nasty as she pleases, and I must say she is alarmingly successful. Miss [Hermione] Baddeley blowsily supports her, and Miss Joan Dowling is admirable as a pert, blackmailing adolescent.”
- Virginia Graham in The Spectator
"A brutal citation of sordidness and cruelty which has no parallel on British screens."
When Women of Twilight, another hit on the London stage was turned into a film in 1952, Freda Jackson stepped into the lead role which was very similar to her cruel character in No Room at the Inn. This time, her character Helen Allistair ruthlessly exploits the residents of a home for unwed mothers. The film was so brutal and the subject matter so sordid for the times, it became the first British film to receive an 'X' certificate from the censor.
"Miss Jackson is an old hand at the silky sinister, the velvet vile, and as usual is admirably alarming. Her wickedness seeps through her mask of virtue like dampness through a newly painted wall; her every sweetness is threaded with a shiver ... This film has all the ingredients of a Grand Guignol, but being underplayed in the true English fashion, and quietly directed by Mr Gordon Parry, it has turned out to be a seemingly plausible record of man's inhumanity to woman and a woman's attempt to cash in on it. “
Freda Jackson’s sinister characters continued afterWomen of Twilight, only in supporting roles.The Crowded Day (1954),The Last Man to Hang (1956),The Flesh is Weak (1957),and A Tale of Two Cities(1958) were the start of Freda Jackson’s film career as supporting, but pivotal characters.
Not even a handsome young vampire and his sexy lovers could upstage Freda Jackson. In The Brides of Dracula (1950), she steals ever scene she is in. Even when she has no lines and is standing in the background as Greta, the servant to a baroness, Jackson’s presence dominates the screen. When the son of the baroness is revealed to be a vampire and mistakenly set free upon the world, Freda Jackson’s acting ferociousness kicks into high gear in a bone-chilling performance.
Following The Brides of Dracula, as studios will often do, Freda Jackson was quickly cast in another horror film and another servant role in Shadow of the Cat (1961). This time her role was not open to much ferociousness and Freda Jackson began receiving smaller and smaller parts in films such as Tom Jones (1963) and The Third Secret (1964).
However, it would be another horror film which would bring her back to prominence. Die, Monster, Die! (1965) teamed Freda Jackson with Boris Karloff, and gave Jackson the supporting yet pivotal role of the radioactive, insane, mutated wife of Karloff’s mad scientist character. It wasn’t Henry V, but it was ferocious.
She began to refocus her career on the stage in the late 1960s, but did make three more film appearance. They were, like so many of her film roles, small but unforgettable performances. First, there was the Oliver Reed/Michael Crawford comedy The Jokers (1967), then it was back to monsters.
She was the one-eye gypsy warning cowboys about Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion dinosaur in the Old West.
The Valley of Gwangi (1969) is an outrageous Western fantasy, and Freda Jackson was the perfect pivotal character actress choice to help pull it off.
Jackson spent the 1970s working on stage or in television, but Ray Harryhausen summoned her unique talents again at the start of the 1980s.
In her typical untypical style, Freda Jackson summoned spells as one of the three Stygian Witches in Clash of the Titans (1981). It was her last film role and like Jackson, it was a classic.
Freda Jackson was the daughter of a railway porter. She grew up and became a teacher, then chased and captured her first love, the stage. The film industry chased her, but it could never quite capture her ferocious talent in just supporting roles. That could be considered one of the great missed opportunities in the history of cinema.
Seriously though, dear public, you must please believe that I was not always so depraved a character.”
-Freda Jackson, 1954
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