Obituary: Faith Brook, Actress who made a striking impression, bringing class and style to stage and screen

Faith Brook: Made a striking impression on stage and on screen
Faith Brook: Made a striking impression on stage and on screen
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Born: 16 February, 1922, in York. Died: 11 March, 2012, in London, aged 90

Faith Brook, with her handsome features and bright eyes, made a striking impression on stage and on screen. Her films encompassed an early appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion, To Sir With Love with Sidney Poitier, The 39 Steps with Kenneth More and Eye of the Needle with Donald Sutherland. On television she was in the BBC’s acclaimed version of War and Peace in the Seventies and Channel 4’s popular drama series Irish RM in the Eighties. Brook, an actress of much guile and charm, brought class, style, much vocal clarity and a bright elegance to everything she did.

Brook’s reputation in the acting profession is admirably reflected in the quality of shows she appeared in at the Edinburgh Festival. In 1981, she did a poetry reading in St Cecilia’s Hall devoted to the works of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova with a particularly poignant rendering of Requiem – the poet’s account of the years of terror under Josef Stalin. Significantly, the programme was introduced by John Drummond, the Festival director.

In 1982, Brook joined a production of Gogol’s The Marriage directed, starring and adapted by Sir Peter Ustinov. Although popular with audiences, one critic called the piece “an expensive failure”.

Three years later, the Theatre of Comedy gave an adaptation of Feydeau’s Turkey Trot starring Eileen Atkins and John Gordon Sinclair with Brook playing a grand Helen. The play was directed by Adrian Noble and Allen Wright in The Scotsman welcomed the production although he labelled it “somewhat eccentric”.

Brook also came to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow in a prestigious production of Hamlet, with Ian McKellen in the title role. The acclaimed production originated from the Nottingham Playhouse, toured throughout Europe and did a season in London’s West End. Brook gave a magnificent Gertrude dressed throughout in a sombre long black dress purveying a brooding and sinister (sometimes slightly tipsy) presence. The BBC filmed an abridged version of the production, which was shown in 1970.

Faith Brook was born into a family of actors, but at age one the family left for Los Angeles as her father had been offered a contract at Paramount Studios. He had a good career appearing in such films as Shanghai Express with Marlene Dietrich. Brook was educated in California, but in 1932 – at the height of the Lindberg kidnap crisis – she returned to the UK, where she attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and served with the ATS during the war.

After filming Suspicion, Brook concentrated on theatre work and spent several seasons at the Bristol Old Vic and then with the Old Vic in London. Alec Guinness directed her in Twelfth Night, in which Brook gave a memorable performance as Olivia and was also in The Cherry Orchard which Edith Evans.

Brook had retained her contacts with the profession in America and for some years appeared both on Broadway and the West End. In 1949 she had married, Charles Moffett, a doctor attached to the US navy, and they took up residence in New York, where she was much seen on television and on stage in Dial M for Murder. But the marriage did not last and she returned to Britain. Another marriage, to Michael Horowitz, a Harley Street doctor, was also short-lived.

Brook was Dalila opposite Michael Redgrave’s imposing Samson in Milton’s Samson Agonistes that toured in 1965 and after Hamlet she scored a considerable personal success opposite Guinness in 1975 in Alan Bennett’s The Old Country, about a public-school Marxist.

She was also seen in London in Coriolanus opposite Steven Berkoff; and in 1999 was Charles Dance’s mother suffering from senile dementia in Glasgow-born writer CP Taylor’s Good, for which she received a Best Supporting Actress award.

Her film appearances were mostly in significant cameo roles. She played the Nanny in the 1959 version of The 39 Steps and in the Eye of the Needle Brook appeared in the gripping yarn about a ruthless German spy, trying to get out of Britain with vital information about D-Day. The movie was shot on Mull and in various locations in the West Highlands. In 1997, Brook was in Eileen Atkins’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, which starred Vanessa Redgrave and Michael Kitchen.

Brook enjoyed a remarkable success as recently as 2004. In the tiny London fringe theatre, the Jermyn Street, she appeared in a one-woman play, The Colour of Poppies, which dealt with a love affair in old age. One critic summed up her performance as “masterly”.

Faith Brook was a long-time member of the British Humanist Society. Both her marriages were dissolved and she is survived by a son from of the second marriage.

ALASDAIR STEVEN