Mai Zetterling: Actor, film director (1925 - 1994)
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Mai Zetterling
Actor, film director

Mai Zetterling

Mai Zetterling
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Actor, film director
Was Actor Film director Screenwriter Writer
From Sweden
Field Film, TV, Stage & Radio Literature
Gender female
Birth 24 May 1925, Västerås
Death 17 March 1994, London (aged 68 years)
Spouse: Tutte Lemkow
The details (from wikipedia)


Mai Elisabeth Zetterling (Swedish pronunciation: [mâjː sɛ̂tːəɭɪ̂ŋ]; 24 May 1925 – 17 March 1994) was a Swedish actress and film director.

Early life

Zetterling was born in Västerås, Västmanland, Sweden to a working-class family. She started her career as an actress at the age of 17 at Dramaten, the Swedish national theater, appearing in war-era films.


Zetterling appeared in film and television productions spanning six decades from the 1940s to the 1990s. Her breakthrough came in the 1944 film Torment written by Ingmar Bergman, in which she played a controversial role as a tormented shopgirl. Shortly afterwards she moved to England and gained instant success there with her title role in Basil Dearden's Frieda (1947) playing opposite David Farrar. After a brief return to Sweden in which she worked with Bergman again in his film Music in Darkness (1948), she returned to England and starred in a number of English films, playing against such leading men as Tyrone Power, Dirk Bogarde, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey, Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, Richard Attenborough, Keenan Wynn, Stanley Baker, and Dennis Price.

Some of her notable films as an actress include Quartet (1948), a film based on some of W. Somerset Maugham's short stories, The Romantic Age (1949) directed by Edmond T. Gréville, Only Two Can Play (1962) co-starring Peter Sellers and directed by Sidney Gilliat, and The Witches (1990), an adaptation of Roald Dahl's book directed by Nicolas Roeg. Having gained a reputation as a sex symbol in dramas and thrillers, she was equally effective in comedies, and also was very active in British television in the 50s and 60s.

She began directing in the early 1960s, starting with political documentaries and a short film called The War Game (1962), which was nominated for a BAFTA award, and won a Silver Lion at Venice. Her first feature film Älskande par (1964, "Loving Couples"), based on the novels of Agnes von Krusenstjerna, was banned at the Cannes Film Festival for its sexual explicitness and nudity. Kenneth Tynan of The Observer later called it "one of the most ambitious debuts since Citizen Kane." It was not the only film she made that would stir up controversy for its frank sexuality.

When critics reviewing her debut feature said that "Mai Zetterling directs like a man," she began to explore feminist themes more explicitly in her work. The Girls, which had an all-star Swedish cast including Bibi Andersson and Harriet Andersson, discussed women's liberation (or lack thereof) in a society controlled by men, as the protagonists compare their lives to characters in the play Lysistrata, and find that things have not progressed very much for women since ancient times.

Personal life

Mai Zetterling in 1948

In her autobiography, All Those Tomorrows, published in 1985, Zetterling details love affairs with actor Herbert Lom and later Tyrone Power, with whom she lived from 1956 until early 1958. She was married to Norwegian actor Tutte Lemkow from 1944 to 1953. Lemkow and Zetterling had a daughter, Etienne and a son, Louis, who is professor of environmental sociology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. From 1958 to 1976 she was married to British author David Hughes, who collaborated with her on her first films as director.

She died in London, from cancer on 17 March 1994, at the age of 68, a year after her final role on television. Recently released documents at the National Archives in London show that she, a member of the Hollywood Left, was watched by British security agents as a suspected Communist. However, the UK never had a system along the lines of the American Hollywood Blacklist.


A partial filmography as director:

  • The War Game (1962)
  • Älskande par (1964, "Loving Couples") – banned at the Cannes Film Festival.
  • Nattlek (1966), Night Games) – banned at the Venice Film Festival.
  • Doctor Glas (1968)
  • Flickorna (1968, "The Girls") – a feminist rumination on Aristophanes' classical antiwar play Lysistrata, with Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson and Gunnel Lindblom
  • Visions of Eight (1973) – segment "The Strongest".
  • Månen är en grön ost (1977)
  • Love (1982) – segments "Love From the Market Place", "The Black Cat in the Black Mouse Socks", and "Julia".
  • Scrubbers (1983)
  • Amorosa (1986)
  • Sunday Pursuit (1990)


  • Prince Gustaf (1944)
  • Torment (1946)
  • Sunshine Follows Rain (1946)
  • Iris and the Lieutenant (1946)
  • Frieda (1947)
  • Life Starts Now (1948)
  • Music in Darkness (1948)
  • Portrait from Life (1948)
  • Quartet (1948)
  • Portrait from Life (1948)
  • The Romantic Age (1949)
  • The Bad Lord Byron (1949)
  • The Lost People (1949)
  • Blackmailed (1951)
  • Hell Is Sold Out (1951)
  • The Ringer (1952)
  • Desperate Moment (1953)
  • Knock on Wood (1954)
  • The Tall Headlines (1954)
  • Dance, Little Lady (1954)
  • A Prize of Gold (1955)
  • Ett Dockhem (1956)
  • Abandon Ship (1957)
  • The Truth About Women (1957)
  • Jet Storm (1959)
  • Faces in the Dark (1960)
  • Piccadilly Third Stop (1960)
  • Offbeat (1961)
  • The Devil Inside (1961)
  • Only Two Can Play (1962)
  • The Main Attraction (1962)
  • Operation Mermaid (1963)
  • The Man Who Finally Died (1963)
  • The Vine Bridge (1965)
  • Hidden Agenda (1990)
  • The Witches (1990)
  • Mofars Resa (1993)

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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