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50th anniversary re-release of Peeping Tom - Anna Massey profile

'Peeping Tom wasn’t cosy; it was very ugly'

50th anniversary re-release of Peeping Tom - Anna Massey profile

Anna Massey

11 August 1937, Thakeham, West Sussex

In the second volume of his autobiography A Life in Movies, the great British filmmaker Michael Powell recalled why he wanted the then inexperienced and unknown (in film) actress Anna Massey to be the leading lady in his 1960 serial killer thriller Peeping Tom: ‘She was 21, a good actress, and Raymond Massey’s daughter,’ Powell wrote. ‘Anna had brought theatrical London to its feet, and to her feet, in … The Reluctant Debutante.’ Producer Nat Cohen was against casting Massey (because he thought she looked like a boy), but stubborn Powell stuck to his guns and the elfin daughter of the cadaverous Canadian actor (and Powell regular player) made her screen debut and launched an impressive career that’s spanned six decades in theatre, film and television and which was, in 2005, recognised with a CBE. For the screen, Massey’s eclectic roles include Bunny Lake is Missing, Hitchcock’s Frenzy, Rebecca (with her first husband Jeremy Brett), Five Days One Summer, Another Country, The Slab Boys, The Importance of Being Earnest (released the same year as she won an Olivier for the stage version) and The Machinist.

What she’s up to now?
Promoting the 50th anniversary re-release of Peeping Tom.

On Michael Powell and Peeping Tom
‘He was the most elegant man; he looked the country gentleman. But he was a demon director; he got exactly what he wanted and he never accepted anything that was false. He was intimidating, but he was very observant. That was good, because the more observant the director the better the performance you give. That was a particularly marked learning experience. Peeping Tom was panned beyond belief when it opened, but it’s now become this cult movie. When it was released it wasn’t that long after the Ealing comedies, which were very cosy. Well, Peeping Tom wasn’t cosy; it was very ugly, although it was very well made and had great psychological depth. The film hasn’t changed; it’s people’s perception of it that has changed.’

Interesting fact
American filmmaker John Ford was her godfather.

Peeping Tom, Cameo, Edinburgh Fri 3–Thu 9 Dec (matinees only); Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Tue 4–Thu 6 Jan.

Peeping Tom

  • 5 stars
  • 1960
  • UK
  • 18
  • Directed by: Michael Powell
  • Cast: Karl Boehm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey

A movie studio focus puller equips his camera with a spike and sets out to murder young women while filming the fear on their faces. Utterly reviled upon its initial release, Powell's daring examination of voyeurism as a metaphor for the cinema itself is now regarded as one of the most intelligent British films ever made.


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