Freddie Francis
Historical photo of Francis
Born(1917-12-22)22 December 1917
Islington, London, England
Died17 March 2007(2007-03-17) (aged 89)
Isleworth, London, England
Resting placeMortlake Crematorium, Kew, London, England
Occupation(s)Cinematographer, film director
Years active1937–1999
Gladys Dorrell
(m. 1940; div. 1961)
Pamela Mann
(m. 1963)
AwardsAcademy Award for Best Cinematography
1960 Sons and Lovers
1989 Glory

Frederick William Francis (22 December 1917 – 17 March 2007) was an English cinematographer and film director.[1]

Francis started his film career as a cameraman for John Huston and for the directing team of Powell and Pressburger before becoming a cinematographer for British films such as Jack Cardiff's Sons and Lovers (1960), Jack Clayton's drama Room at the Top (1959) and psychological horror film The Innocents (1961). He became known for his collaborations with David Lynch with The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984), and The Straight Story (1999). He also earned acclaim for his work on The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981) starring Meryl Streep, and Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear (1991).[2] As a director, he was associated with the British production companies Amicus and Hammer in the 1960s and 1970s.

Francis earned many accolades, including two Academy Awards for Sons and Lovers (1960) and Glory (1989).[3] He also earned five British Academy Film Award nominations, as well as an international achievement award from the American Society of Cinematographers in 1997 and BAFTA's special achievement award in 2004.

Early life

Born in Islington in London, England, Francis originally planned to become an engineer. At school, a piece he wrote about films of the future won him a scholarship to the North West London Polytechnic in Kentish Town. He left school at age 16, becoming an apprentice to photographer Louis Prothero. Francis stayed with Prothero for six months. In this time they photographed stills for a Stanley Lupino picture made at Associated Talking Pictures (later Ealing Studios). This led to his successively becoming a clapper boy, camera loader and focus puller. He began his career in films at British International Pictures, then moved to British and Dominions. His first film as a clapper boy was The Prisoner of Corbal (1936).

War service

In 1939, Francis joined the Army, where he would spend the next seven years. Eventually, he was assigned as cameraman and director to the Army Kinematograph Service at Wembley Studios, where he worked on many training films. About this, Francis said, "Most of the time I was with various film units within the service, so I got quite a bit of experience in all sorts of jobs, including being a cameraman and editing and generally being a jack of all trades."


1950–56: Early work

Following his return to civilian life, Francis spent the next ten years working as a camera operator. He quickly became the regular cameraman of The Archers and their cinematographer, Christopher Challis. Francis served as a cameraman on six of The Archers' productions: The Small Back Room, The Elusive Pimpernel (1950), Gone to Earth, The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), Twice Upon a Time, and The Sorcerer's Apprentice. He served as Challis' cameraman on two other films as well: Angels One Five and Affair in Monte Carlo.

Francis was also the regular cameraman of Oswald Morris. His first feature with Morris was Golden Salamander (1950). The two also worked together on Knave of Hearts and three films directed by John Huston: Moulin Rouge, Beat the Devil, and Moby Dick. Francis was given a chance to lead the second unit of Moby Dick and shortly after became a full director of photography on A Hill in Korea (1956), which was shot in Portugal.

1959–68 : British films

He subsequently worked on such prestige British dramas such as Room at the Top (1959), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Sons and Lovers (1960), and The Innocents (1961), which he regarded as one of the best films he shot.

Cinematographer Freddie Francis painted the edges of the lenses for interior night scenes to allow for a more closed-in, claustrophobic sensibility

For his work on Jack Cardiff's Sons and Lovers he received his first Academy Award for Best Cinematography. The film depicts societal repression in a small coal-mining town during the early 1900s. In the 1961 article of American Cinematographer, the magazine praised his work by stating that the film has "unusual visual beauty and is marked by photographic ingenuity throughout that easily makes it one of the finest monochrome photographic achievements to come along in some time." Cinematographer John Bailey also praised his work saying, "Then I saw Sons and Lovers, and I was knocked out by the poetry and visual beauty of the film. The camerawork was unlike anything I had seen before in an English-language movie."[4]

He next collaborated with director Jack Clayton for the psychological drama film The Innocents starring Deborah Kerr. Francis worked with the CinemaScope aspect ratio. He used colour filters and used the lighting rig to create darkness consuming everything at the edge of the frame. Francis used deep focus and narrowly aimed the lighting towards the centre of the screen.[5] Francis and Clayton framed the film in an unusually bold style, with characters prominent at the edge of the frame and their faces at the centre in profile in some sequences, which, again, created both a sense of intimacy and unease, based on the lack of balance in the image. For many of the interior night scenes, Francis painted the sides of the lenses with black paint to allow for a more intense, "elegiac" focus,[6] and used candles custom-made with four to five wicks twined together to produce more light.

Influential The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael praised Francis for his work writing, "I don’t know where this cinematographer Freddie Francis sprang from. You may recall that in the last year just about every time a British movie is something to look at, it turns out to be his".[7]

1963–70: Work as a director

Following his Academy Award win for Sons and Lovers, Francis began his career as director of feature films. His first feature as director was Two and Two Make Six (1962). For the next 20-plus years, Francis worked continuously as a director of low-budget films, most of them in the genres of horror or psycho-thriller. Beginning with Paranoiac (1963), Francis made numerous films for Hammer throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These films included thrillers like Nightmare (1964) and Hysteria (1965), as well as monster films such as The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968). On his apparent typecasting as a director of these types of film, Francis said "Horror films have liked me more than I have liked horror films".

Also in the mid-1960s, Francis began an association with Amicus Productions, another studio like Hammer which specialised in horror pictures. Most of the films Francis made for Amicus were anthologies such as Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), Torture Garden (1968) and Tales from the Crypt (1972). He also did two films for the short-lived company Tyburn films. These were The Ghoul (1975) and Legend of the Werewolf (1975). As a director, Francis was more than competent, and his horror films possessed an undeniable visual flair. He regretted that he was seldom able to move beyond genre material as a director. Francis directed the little-seen Son of Dracula (1974), starring Harry Nilsson in the title role and Ringo Starr as Merlin the Magician. Of the films Francis directed, one of his favorites was Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny, and Girly (1970). Mumsy... was a black comedy about an isolated, upper-class family whose relationships and behaviors came equipped with deadly consequences. The film was not very well received by mainstream critics but has gone on to become a minor cult favorite among fans. In 1985, Francis directed The Doctor and the Devils, based on the crimes of Burke and Hare.

1980–91: Return to cinematography

In 1980 he returned to work as a director of photography this time for David Lynch in the British drama The Elephant Man (1980). The Elephant Man was principally shot at Wembley Studios in Panavision, utilizing Kodak's Plus X stock — the only monochrome emulsion that met Francis’ standards and was available in sufficient quantities. He earned great acclaim for his gorgeous black-and-white cinematography earning a British Academy Film Award nomination. Ben Kenigsberg of The New York Times dissected Francis' work on the film writing, "Francis takes advantage of opportunities for high contrast, but note how more subtle elements of Francis’s shading affect the storytelling. Lynch defers a full look at the deformed title character, John Merrick (John Hurt), to milk it for maximum impact. So Francis shows Merrick in varying degrees of shadow for the first half-hour — until a nurse stumbles upon him, at last fully illuminated by a skylight, and screams."[8]

Francis gained a new-found industry and critical respect as a cinematographer. During the 1980s, collaborated with Lynch two more times with the science fiction film Dune (1984) and the drama The Straight Story (1999), which was shot on location in Iowa in 23 days. One of his favorite camera operators was Gordon Hayman.

He worked on films such as The Executioner's Song (1982), Clara's Heart (1988). Francis's last film as director was 1987's Dark Tower (no relation to the 2004 book of the same name by Stephen King). Francis thought it was a bad picture owing to poor special effects and had his name taken off it. His name was substituted with the name Ken Barnett.

With his work on the Civil War drama Glory (1989) directed by Edward Zwick he earned his second Academy Award. David E. Williams of American Cinematographer wrote, "Francis and director Zwick studied period stills by famed photographer Matthew Brady and others. The stark black-and-white images suggested a realistic approach devoid of filtration or sepia tones, relying instead on the credibility of the locations and production design to simulate the era. Photographically, Francis rendered Glory simply and honestly, with much of the intimate drama revealed in the light and shadow playing upon soldiers’ faces".[9] Francis said of the experience "I’m a great believer in the futility of war and I believe we captured that idea quite well in several parts of Glory. That was always in the back of my mind."

Francis provided the cinematography for the critical favorite The Man in the Moon as well as Martin Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear (both 1991). Francis' suggested that he earned the job working with Scorsese was a recommendation that came from director Michael Powell. Francis again sought to utilize deep focus in order to keep the audience anxiously searching the frame for the psychopathic Max Cady played by Robert De Niro. Francis spoke fondly of his working relationship with Scorsese saying,

"Scorsese is another director who has shot the film in his head before you’ve exposed a single frame of film. You can sometimes talk him into something, though. There was one scene with Bob De Niro where he’s talking on the phone, hanging upside-down from a bar strung across a doorway. I suggested that we start the shot upside down, tight on his face, and then rotate the camera as we tracked backwards so the room would become upside-down. We did that shot with a Panatate remote head, and Marty just fell madly in love with the thing."[9]

Francis' final feature film as a director of photography was a reunion with David Lynch the small intimate drama The Straight Story (1999).

2004–12: Recognition and final years

Francis received many industry awards, including, in 1997, an international achievement award from the American Society of Cinematographers, and in 2004, BAFTA's special achievement award. Francis is featured in the book Conversations with Cinematographers (2012) by David A Ellis and published by American publisher Scarecrow Press.

Personal life

Francis married Gladys Dorrell in 1940, with whom he had a son; in 1963 he married Pamela Mann-Francis, with whom he had a daughter and a second son.

Francis died at age 89 as the result of the lingering effects of a stroke.


As cinematographer


Year Title Director Notes
1956 A Hill in Korea Julian Amyes
1957 Time Without Pity Joseph Losey
The Scamp Wolf Rilla
1958 Next to No Time Henry Cornelius
Virgin Island Pat Jackson
1959 Room at the Top Jack Clayton
1960 Saturday Night and Sunday Morning Karel Reisz
Sons and Lovers Jack Cardiff
Never Take Sweets from a Stranger Cyril Frankel
1961 The Innocents Jack Clayton
1980 The Elephant Man David Lynch
1981 The French Lieutenant's Woman Karel Reisz
1983 The Jigsaw Man Terence Young
1984 Memed, My Hawk Peter Ustinov
Dune David Lynch
1985 Return to Oz Walter Murch Uncredited
Code Name: Emerald Jonathan Sanger
1988 Clara's Heart Robert Mulligan
1989 Her Alibi Bruce Beresford
Brenda Starr Robert Ellis Miller With Peter Stein
Glory Edward Zwick
1991 Cape Fear Martin Scorsese
The Man in the Moon Robert Mulligan
1992 School Ties Robert Mandel
1996 Rainbow Bob Hoskins
1999 The Straight Story David Lynch Final film


Year Title Director Notes
1961 The Magical World of Disney William Fairfield Episodes: The Horsemasters
1982 The Executioner's Song Lawrence Schiller TV movie
1989 Peter Cushing: One Way Ticket to Hollywood Alan J.W. Bell TV documentary
1990 The Plot to Kill Hitler Lawrence Schriller TV movie
1993 A Life in the Theatre Gregory Mosher TV movie

As director

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Work Result
1960 Academy Awards Best Cinematography Sons and Lovers Won
1989 Glory Won
1980 British Academy Film Awards Best Cinematography The Elephant Man Nominated
1981 The French Lieutenant's Woman Nominated
1990 Glory Nominated
1991 Cape Fear Nominated


  1. ^ "Francis, Frederick William [Freddie] (1917–2007), cinematographer and film director". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/98649. Retrieved 31 October 2020. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ "Freddie Francis: 10 essential films". British Film Institute. Retrieved 29 December 2021.
  3. ^ "Freddie Francis | British cinematographer and director". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  4. ^ "Cinematic Glory". American Cinematographer. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  5. ^ Landis 2011, p. 110.
  6. ^ Hogan 2016, p. 87.
  7. ^ "Freddie Francis on The Innocents". Criterion Collection. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  8. ^ Kenigsberg, Ben (16 July 2020). "Do Cinematographers Have a Signature? Let's Try a Test". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  9. ^ a b "Cinematic Glory: Freddie Francis, BSC". American Cinematographer. 30 December 2021.