Iconic film star's love for Norfolk

Richard ParrWhen the legendary British actress and Hollywood star Jean Simmons was coaxed out of retirement in California to star in a low-budget film shot on location in Norfolk no one could have known it was to be her last movie.Richard Parr

When the legendary British actress and Hollywood star Jean Simmons was coaxed out of retirement in California to star in a low-budget film shot on location in Norfolk no one could have known it was to be her last movie.

But that is exactly what it has become after the 80-year-old, who starred in a string of Hollywood films including with Marlon Brando in Guys and Dolls and as Ophelia to Laurence Olivier's Hamlet, died on Friday at her Santa Monica home.

Today, the Evening News can reveal how Miss Simmons, who was suffering from lung cancer, fell deeply in love with Norfolk while shooting the film Shadows In The Sun here two years ago and said it had put a joy back into her life she believed had been lost.

Meanwhile, as tributes were paid by leading actors all over the world, a Norfolk film lover has told of his once in a lifetime experience being invited to afternoon tea at the star's luxury US home.

You may also want to watch:

And to their complete surprise, when Miss Simmons served the tea it was brought into the room by her daughter, Tracy Granger, the child from her first marriage to film idol, Stewart Granger.

'She was charming and so kind to us and even got her daughter to take photographs of us with film posters we had taken along, which she also signed. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one we will never forget,' said Michael Armstrong, chairman of the Wymondham-based Regal Experience group.

Most Read

The group, which arranges screenings of classical films at the old Regal Cinema in Wymondham, had written to Miss Simmons when they heard she would be filming in Norfolk.

She was unable to meet them in Norfolk but sent an invitation for the group to visit her at her Santa Monica home.

Mr Armstrong said the group had been very upset by the news of the death of the twice-married actress.

'It is like losing a member of the family and she took such a keen interest in our aim of keeping alive screenings of the classic films,' he said.

They are now organising a special one-off screening of Shadows in the Sun at the Regal cinema on March 28. The film's director, the Marquess of Cholmondeley, otherwise known as film maker David Rocksavage, has agreed to attend and talk about the making of the film and Miss Simmons.

Miss Simmons, who for many silver screen lovers will forever be Estella in Great Expectations or Varinia the slave girl to Kirk Douglas' Spartacus, agreed to play what was to be her last role after reading the script by the Marquess of Cholmondeley, owner of Houghton Hall, near Fakenham.

The film, Shadows in the Sun, is set in the 1960s and is the poignant story of how a mysterious young loner changes the lives of one family and helps them rediscover their roots and deep affection for each other.

Miss Simmons played Hannah, an elderly, terminally ill poet, who lives alone in a large remote house on the north Norfolk coast where little has changed for half a century - the marshes, the sand dunes, the pine forests and wide empty beaches and solitary houses under wide open skies.

It is clear that during filming in such places as Walsingham, Holkham and Brancaster, Miss Simmons fell in love with the Norfolk countryside.

'Oh, it's the most beautiful place and so healthy with the country air and sea air,' she said in an interview about the 2008 film.

'We were all health nuts, drinking green tea all the time. I hadn't worked for such a long time and it brought a joy back to my life that I thought I had lost.'

Anyone wanting more information about the special Wymondham screening or the group's programme can contact Mr Armstrong on 01953 603246.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter