People, I am nothing if not a completionist. Of course we all know Barbara Leigh-Hunt for her legendary performance as Lady Catherine de Bourgh in the 1995/BBC Pride and Prejudice. She seems like such a grand dame, but I admit I didn’t actually know her from anything else… until I watched Henry VIII and His Six Wives and boom, there she was as Catherine Parr! Ever since, I’ve been meaning to look her up and find out more about her career. I finally got around to it and this post is the result!
Leigh-Hunt got her start in theater, and it looks like she started acting in her late teens/early 20s (in the 1950s). Her first film roles were in 1972, and she seems to be best known for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy from that year.
I had to do some real sleuthing to find images of Leigh-Hunt in her various historical roles, and even some (like 1983’s Wagner miniseries) I came up with nada, even after skimming through the entire series on YouTube! Here’s what I could find:
A TV version of the Shakespeare play. Leigh-Hunt plays Lady Macbeth.
The Search for the Nile (1971)
A British miniseries about European explorers’ search for the source of the Nile in the late 19th century. Leigh-Hunt plays English explorer Isabel Burton.
Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)
As a mostly-mute Catherine Parr in the feature film.
The Brontës of Haworth (1973)
A TV miniseries, in which the story of the Brontë sisters is narrated by later writer Elizabeth Gaskell (played by Leigh-Hunt).
The Nelson Affair (1973)
Aka Bequest to the Nation, a feature film about Admiral Lord Nelson and his mistress Lady Hamilton. I’d love to watch this if anyone has a source! Leigh-Hunt plays Catherine “Catty” Matcham, and I can’t tell if that’s a real or fictional character.
A Perfect Hero (1991)
An RAF pilot is shot down during World War II. Leigh-Hunt plays “Iris Fleming.”
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
The classic, the ultimate, the best ever — Leigh-Hunt as Lady Catherine de Bourgh!!
Wives and Daughters (1999)
Leigh-Hunt is Lady Cumnor, the local aristocrat whose daughter plays a key role in two young sisters’ lives in this 1830s-set Elizabeth Gaskell adaptation.
Bertie and Elizabeth (2002)
As Mabell Ogilvy, Countess of Airlie, who has some interactions with the future Queen Elizabeth (queen mother to Elizabeth II).
George Eliot: A Scandalous Life (2002)
Leigh-Hunt simply plays “Gossip” in this TV movie about Victorian writer George Eliot.
Vanity Fair (2004)
As Lady Bareacres, the aristocratic lady who is super snobby to Becky Sharp in this feature film adaptation of the Thackeray novel.
What’s your favorite of Barbara Leigh-Hunt’s frock flick roles, and why is it Lady Catherine de Bourgh? But really, have you seen any of these others? What’s your take?
She definetly is Lady Catherine de Burgh as I would imagine her out of the book. I love her acting and think that this was one of the best decisions in casting ever. It’s very interesting to see a photo of her from her earlier years. I thought that she played very well in “A bequest to the nation” as well although the role is very small and I would have hoped to see more from her. Great to see her portrayed here. :-)
God I love her as Lady Catherine. Obviously her confrontation with Lizzie, both of them absolutely spitting at each other and Lady C waving her massive muff around, is fantastic, but I also love the more subtle moment in the much earlier scene where they’ve met for the first time and Lizzie has dared to talk back a bit. She does some banal bragging as if to change the subject – “Lady Catherine, said she, you have given me a treasure” – and then just for a second her facade drops and she looks at Lizzie with absolute cold hatred. Lovely.
Fascinating. I must check out the flicks I haven’t seen.
And that IS a good gable hood! But it’s perched on top of her head. I thought no hair should show with a gable hood… what the cross-cross of fabric at the front is to hide.
‘Wives and Daughters’ wins for me. Love the adaptation of the book and love the way she plays Lady Cumnor.
My favourites are Lady Catherine de Bourg and Lady Cunmor. Her Lady Bareacres conveyed just the right amount of snobbery to Becky Sharp. I thought she was Lady Nelson in Bequest?
I found the entire movie on of The Nelson Affair on YouTube:
I remember “Search for the Nile!” Not in great detail, but I did watch it back when dinosaurs walked.
Me too! Nice to hear from another antediluvian! 😁
I’ve only seen Fiona Shaw as Lady Burton in Mountains of the Moon. But would enjoy this one too. Brittbox or Acorn to stream? From another Veggiesaurus
There’s a great moment in the British sitcom As Time Goes By (not a frock flick sadly, but very 90s) where THIS Lady Catherine officiates the marriage of ANOTHER Lady Catherine, Dame Judi Dench. It blows my mind and makes me grin to see them in the same universe. Like two Dr Who’s or two James Bonds….only cooler and with more sass. On my first tv job I got to work with Penelope Keith as Lady C in a ‘spin off’ Death Comes to Pemberly, I’d love to see her in P&P itself (there’s an essay on here from snark week about her frock in that one, so I’ll just say it wasn’t my fault, hold up my hands and quietly back away from the comments section now….).
The Nelson Affair is on Youtube complete under it’s alternative name Bequest for the nation, i’ve seen it already Glenda Jackson as Lady Hamilton is gloriously funny
Has she never played Queen Victoria or are there no pictures of it because if not, it’s a real shame. She looks just like her!