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Kathleen Byron

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Distinguished British actress Kathleen Byron was known to cinemagoers for her stunning portrayal of the eye-rolling, jealous nun Sister Ruth in Powell and Pressburger’s classic Black Narcissus (1947).

Her film and television career spanned 60 years and in her later years she made guest appearances in films such as The Elephant Man (1980) and Emma (1996). Steven Spielberg was a fan of her work and in 1998 cast her in the small but telling role as Private Ryan’s wife in the opening scenes of Private Ryan.

Byron was born Kathleen Elizabeth Fell in London on January 11, 1921, the daughter of a railway clerk. She studied drama at the Old Vic Theatre School, then under the auspices of Michel Saint Denis.

She broke into films in the late thirties and in 1943 starred in Powell and Pressburger’s flag-waver The Silver Fleet. Three years later she worked for Powell and Pressburger again, cast as an angel in A Matter of Life and Death, in which she co-starred with David Niven.

After the success of Black Narcissus, she went on to star in The Small Back Room (1949), Madness of the Heart (1949) and many other dramas.

She had a prolific television career, often appearing as a guest star, notably in Edward the Seventh (1975) as Queen Louise of Denmark, and series such as Minder, The Professionals, Casualty, Midsomer Murders, The Bill and Heartbeat. In 1998 she starred opposite Liam Neeson in the US TV version of Les Miserables.

She died on January 18, aged 88. Her husband predeceased her. She is survived by two children and a stepdaughter.

Patrick Newley

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