A spinster dominated by her mother in Now Voyager (1942), a strong-willed Southern belle in Jezebel (1938) which won her an Academy award for best actress, a Broadway star in All About Eve (1950): just some of the 100 film roles played Bette Davis during a career which ran from the 1930s to the late 1980s. As the British Film Institute puts on a season of films throughout August, including a re-mastered version of Now Voyager, Matthew Sweet is joined by Sarah Churchwell, Lucy Bolton and Anna Bogutskaya to talk about Bette Davis failing her first screen test because she didn't "look like an actress", her legal fight with the studios, working for the war effort and the appeal of Bette Davis eyes.
Sarah Churchwell is professorial fellow in American literature and chair of public understanding of the humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London and the author of Behold, America: A History of America First and the American Dream, Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and The Invention of The Great Gatsby, and The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe.
Anna Bogutskaya is a film programmer, broadcaster, writer and creative producer. She is the co-founder of the horror film collective The Final Girls and Festival Director of Underwire Festival.
Lucy Bolton is Reader in Film Studies at Queen Mary, University of London. She is the author of Contemporary Cinema and the Philosophy of Iris Murdoch and co-editor of Lasting Screen Stars: Images that Fade and Personas that Endure.
Now Voyager, directed by Irving Rapper opens at the BFI and selected cinemas around the UK from August 6th 2021. The BFI is screening 20 films and staging a series of events to celebrate the work of Bette Davis as part of a major season this August.
You can find other discussions about "landmark" films and Hollywood stars in the Landmarks playlist on the Free Thinking programme website https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01jwn44
Episode includes discussions about Marlene Dietrich, Glenda Jackson on Filming Sunday Bloody Sunday, Jacques Tati's Trafic, Jaws and Solaris.
Still from Now, Voyager (1942) Warner Bros. 2021. All Rights Reserved
Producer: Ruth Watts