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Anton Walbrook

A Life of Masks and Mirrors


James Downs

Viennese-born actor Adolf Wohlbrück enjoyed huge success on both stage and screen in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s, becoming one of the first truly international stars. After leaving Nazi Germany for Hollywood in 1936, he changed his name to Anton Walbrook and then settled in Britain, where he won filmgoers’ hearts with his portrayal of Prince Albert in two lavish biopics of Queen Victoria. Further film success followed with Dangerous Moonlight and Gaslight, several collaborations with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger – including his striking performance as Lermontov in The Red Shoes – and later work with Max Ophuls and Otto Preminger.

Despite great popularity and a prolifi c career of some forty films, alongside theatre, radio and television work, Walbrook was an intensely private individual who kept much of his personal life hidden from view. His reticence created an aura of mystery and «otherness» about him, which coloured both his acting performances and the way he was perceived by the public – an image that was reinforced in Britain by his continental background.

Remarkably, this is the first full-length biography of Walbrook, drawing on over a decade of extensive archival research to document his life and acting career.

«James Downs presents a fascinating and meticulously researched biography of a charming and darkly beguiling star who deserves our attention. It is enriched by archival evidence and images that illuminate Walbrook’s work as well as his equally intriguing, but carefully sequestered, private life; all refracted through his experience of exile.» (Professor Michael Williams, University of Southampton)

«It is often difficult to separate the elements of personal life and dramatic performance that create the star persona, but that of the stage and screen actor Anton Walbrook presents a unique and fascinating challenge. In his richly researched biography, James Downs brings a scholar’s authority and a fan’s enthusiasm to his subject, illuminating not only the career of one of British cinema’s most reserved stars, but the political and production background of his stage, screen and television performances in the UK and Germany.» (Mandy Merck, author of Cinema’s Melodramatic Celebrity: Film, Fame and Personal Worth (BFI 2020))