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Obituary: Freda Dowie – actor who portrayed the long-suffering mother in Distant Voices, Still Lives

Freda Dowie

Freda Dowie will be best remembered as the abused, long-suffering mother in Terence Davies’ autobiographical film Distant Voices, Still Lives, a role that earned her a European Film Award nomination in 1988.

She was equally stoic as the mother caught between the feuding husband and son of Peter Vaughan and Christopher Eccleston in Peter Flannery’s compelling, generation-spanning portrait of a changing Britain, Our Friends in the North (1996).

Born in Carlisle, Dowie went on to study at the University of Cambridge, where she performed with the student mummers’ group and the Marlowe Society, with whom she was heard in several of the pioneering Argo Shakespeare LP recordings, including as Joan of Arc in Henry VI, Part 1.

Remastered: the legendary Argo Shakespeare recordings

She made her Royal Shakespeare Company debut in 1962 in Boris Vian’s The Empire Builders at the Arts Theatre and was part of the experimental Theatre of Cruelty project led by Peter Brook and Charles Marowitz in 1964.

A notable run of well-received Greek leading ladies included Iphigenia in Tauris with Stage Sixty at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1964 and, in the early 1970s, Electra (Traverse, Edinburgh) and both Medea and Antigone at the Greenwich Theatre.

Later theatre included Mrs Clandon in George Bernard Shaw’s You Never Can Tell and Irina in Chekhov’s The Seagull (Sherman, Cardiff, 1986), Gillian Redmond’s Within the Fortress (Wolsey, Ipswich, 1991) and Klaus Pohl’s Waiting Room Germany, a striking verbatim-based exploration of the country’s recent reunification at the Royal Court in 1995.

Early television included the titular Antigone (1962), Princess Marie (War and Peace, 1963), Ariel alongside Michael Hordern’s Prospero (1968) and Mother Superior to Patricia Hayes’ Edna, the Inebriate Woman (1971).

She was seen in several classic small-screen adaptations including I, Claudius (1976), The Old Curiosity Shop (1979), The Pickwick Papers (1985) and Middlemarch (1994). Among more contemporary pieces were Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1990), William Ivory’s refuse collectors comedy Common as Muck (1994-97) and ITV police serial The Bill (1999).

Her few cinema appearances included The Omen (1976), The Monk (1990) and two films for director Michael Winterbottom: Butterfly Kiss (1995) and Jude (1996).

Freda Dowie was born on July 22, 1928 and died on August 10, aged 91.

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