The Lady Gardiner
Violette Muriel Baker
22 September 1905
Tolworth, Surrey, England, UK
|Died||18 May 1991 (aged 85)|
Hendon, London, England, UK
|Occupation||Director, writer, screenwriter|
|Spouse(s)||Sydney Box (1935–1969; divorced)|
Gerald Gardiner, Baron Gardiner (1970–1990; his death)
Violette, Baroness Gardiner (22 September 1905 – 18 May 1991), known professionally as Muriel Box, was an English screenwriter and director, Britain's most prolific female director, having directed 12 feature films and one featurette. Her screenplay for The Seventh Veil (co-written with husband Sydney Box) won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Born Violette Muriel Baker in Tolworth, Surrey, in 1905, and educated at Surbiton High School. After her attempts at acting and dancing proved fruitless, she accepted work as a continuity girl for British International Pictures. In 1935, she met and married journalist Sydney Box, with whom she collaborated on nearly forty plays with mainly female roles for amateur theatre groups. Their production company, Verity Films, first released short wartime propaganda films, including The English Inn (1941), her first directing effort, after which it branched into fiction. The couple achieved their greatest joint success with The Seventh Veil (1945) for which they gained the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay in the following year.
After the war, the Rank Organisation hired her husband to head Gainsborough Pictures, where she was in charge of the scenario department, writing scripts for a number of light comedies, including two for child star Petula Clark, Easy Money and Here Come the Huggetts (both 1948). She occasionally assisted as a dialogue director, or re-shot scenes during post-production. Her extensive work on The Lost People (1949) gained her a credit as co-director, her first for a full-length feature. In 1951, her husband created London Independent Producers, allowing Box more opportunities to direct. Many of her early films were adaptations of plays, and as such felt stage-bound. They were noteworthy more for their strong performances than they were for a distinctive directorial style. She favoured scripts with topical and frequently controversial themes, including Irish politics, teenage sex, abortion, illegitimacy and syphilis consequently several of her films were banned by local authorities.
She pursued her favourite subject – the female experience – in a number of films, including Street Corner (1953) about women police officers, Somerset Maugham's The Beachcomber (1954), with Donald Sinden and Glynis Johns as a resourceful missionary, again working with Donald Sinden on Eyewitness (1956) and a series of comedies about the battle of the sexes, including The Passionate Stranger (1957), The Truth About Women (1958) and her final film, Rattle of a Simple Man (1964).
Box often experienced prejudice in a male-dominated industry, especially hurtful when perpetrated by another woman. Jean Simmons had her replaced on So Long at the Fair (1950), and Kay Kendall unsuccessfully attempted to do the same with Simon and Laura (1955). Many producers questioned her competence to direct large-scale feature films, and while the press was quick to note her position as one of very few women directors in the British film industry, their tone tended to be condescending rather than filled with praise.
Muriel Box left film-making to write novels and created a successful publishing house, Femina, which proved to be a rewarding outlet for her feminism.
She married Sydney Box in 1935 and gave birth to a daughter, Leonora the following year, they divorced in 1969. In 1970, she married Gerald Austin Gardiner, who had been Lord Chancellor, who died in 1990. She died in Hendon, Barnet, London, on 18 May 1991, aged 85.
Leonora went on to study at the Royal Academy from 30 September 1957 until December 1960, exhibiting at both the 1959 and 1960 Royal Academy of Arts Exhibitions, while living at Pond Cottage, Nan-Clark's Lane, Mill Hill NW7. She married in Hendon in 1965.