Virginia McKenna OBE
(1931 - )

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Virginia McKenna was born in London in on the 7th June 1931. She trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and then went to the Dundee Rep. Her career quickly took off and, in 1952, she appearing both in the West End in plays including Charles Morgan’s 'The River Line' at the Strand Theatre and in a film 'The Second Mrs. Tanqueray' (1952). For the next couple of years, she successfully combined theatre, film and television work. In 1954, with short-cropped hair, she starred at the Aldwych as Cassandra in Dodie Smith’s 'I Capture the Castle'. Her performance was highly praised but the production survived for only four weeks. During the 1954/5 season, she was part of the Old Vic Company, playing parts including Rosaline in Love’s Labours Lost.

She really came to filmgoers' attention with her sensitive performance as the wren in ‘The Cruel Sea’ (1952), becoming perhaps the most popular British female star of the 50s. Along with Sylvia Syms she is, for me, one of the most beautiful screen actresses of at least that decade. She continued with two more major successes in physically arduous roles, ‘A Town Like Alice’ (1956) won her the BAFTA of that year as best actress. Two years later she was an Anglo-French spy Violette Szabo in ‘Carve Her Name With Pride’ (1958) - here she was nominated again for a BAFTA as best actress.

Both of these films confirmed her as one of Britain’s key exports. Seeming she could combine a tough resource charter – stretched to the point of breaking, and yet holding together. Somehow through both she continued to smoulder on screen – perhaps unwittening she (even in serious roles) could not help being every school boys dream girl. During this time she was heaped with awards including: the BBC Best Actress Award for Juliet in the TV production of 'Romeo and Juliet' (1955).

She was married to actor Denholm Elliot (whom she met on the filming of 'The Cruel Sea') but this was short lived. Virginia married again in 1957 to Bill Travers, who became her leading man onscreen as well as off in films like ‘The Smallest Show on Earth’ (1958) and ‘Ring of Bright Water’ (1969).




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