Jenny Agutter (20 December 1952 -)
In the early Seventies, Jenny Agutter shot to stardom on the back of two completely different movies, the children’s classic The Railway Children (1970), and the stark survival movie Walkabout (1971). But where she might have capitalised on this success, Agutter instead worked in television and theatre instead, only returning to movies in the latter half of the Seventies. She’s an actress who has worked steadily over the years, mixing TV appearances with the theatre and occasional roles in movies, and with a grace and intelligence that always shines through, even in the direst of efforts, such as Number One, Longing. Number Two, Regret (2004). Recently she’s landed a recurring role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a member of the World Security Council, and has a lead role in the BBC series Call the Midwife, all signs that she’s not prepared to retire anytime soon. Which is good as she’d be sorely missed. But if she did, we’d still have the following five performances to savour as testaments to her significant abilities as an actress.
Child’s Play 2 (1990) – Character: Joanne Simpson
An unexpected choice for Agutter sees her as the foster mother of young Alex Barclay (played by the returning Alex Vincent), and reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that Chucky the malevolent doll is still trying to claim Alex’s soul for his own. Agutter is good in a role that could have been stereotypical, and she enters into the absurd spirit of things where some actresses would have made it clear they felt they were slumming it.
The Riddle of the Sands (1979) – Character: Clara Dollmann
Erskine Childers’ romantic spy thriller is given the low-key treatment as Agutter plays the daughter of a man (played by Alan Badel) suspected of espionage in the early years of the 20th Century, and who finds herself the object of attention from two young Englishmen (Michael York, Simon MacCorkindale). Agutter’s beauty complements the natural beauty of the Frisian Islands, where the movie is set, and she gives a quietly authoritative performance as a young woman torn between duty and love.
Equus (1977) – Character: Jill Mason
It may be a supporting role, but Agutter’s involvement in Sidney Lumet’s adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s play, landed her a BAFTA. It’s also a pivotal role in that her character’s relationship with the troubled Alan Strang (played by Peter Firth) leads to the movie’s tragic and shocking denouement. The role shows as well how good Agutter can be when dealing with darker, more unconventional material.
Secret Places (1984) – Character: Miss Lowrie
Agutter has another supporting role in this tale of two girls from different cultural backgrounds who form a bond at boarding school, and which threatens the stability of the entire establishment. As one of the younger teachers, Agutter is sympathetic to the young girls’ plight, and although she’s not on screen for long, she adds a much needed layer of understanding to a situation that seems likely to spiral out of control. A movie full of fine performances, even if it isn’t entirely compelling.
Act of God (2009) – Character: Catherine Cisco
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This odd little thriller hasn’t had much exposure since its release, but it’s well worth seeking out, and features Agutter as the wife of a surgeon (played by David Suchet) who finds himself the target of a man who is angry his girlfriend wasn’t the recipient of a heart transplant. It’s short (75 mins) and with a deliberate pace that accentuates the tension, and Agutter is on form (as usual) as the wife whose comfortable life begins to fall apart.