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Séance on a Wet Afternoon is a 1964 British film directed by Bryan Forbes, based on the novel by Mark McShane, in which an unstable medium convinces her husband to kidnap a child so she can help the police solve the crime and achieve renown for her abilities. The film stars Richard Attenborough (who was also the film's co-producer), Kim Stanley, Nanette Newman, Mark Eden and Patrick Magee.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon
"Seance on a Wet Afternoon" (1964 film).jpg
1964 lobby card
Directed byBryan Forbes
Produced byRichard Attenborough
Bryan Forbes
Written byBryan Forbes
from a novel by
Mark McShane
StarringKim Stanley
Richard Attenborough
Nanette Newman
Mark Eden
Patrick Magee
Music byJohn Barry
CinematographyGerry Turpin
Edited byDerek York
Distributed byRank Organisation (UK)
Artixo Productions (US)
Release date
20 June 1964 (UK)
5 November 1964 (US)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£195,688 (by 1971)[1]


Myra Savage (Stanley) is a medium who holds séances in her home. Her husband Billy (Attenborough), unable to work because of asthma and cowed by Myra's domineering personality, assists in her séances. Myra's life and psychic work are dominated by her relationship with the spirit of her son Arthur, who died at birth.

At Myra’s insistence, Billy kidnaps the young daughter (Donner) of a wealthy couple (Eden and Newman), confining her in a room in the Savage home dressed as a hospital ward. Myra impersonates a nurse to deceive the girl into believing she is hospitalised. Myra insists she is "borrowing" the girl to demonstrate her psychic abilities to the police in helping them find her. Although they ask for a £25,000 ransom, they plan to return the money with the girl after Myra has become famous for helping find her.

Myra's plan goes awry as her unsteady mental health begins to fray.[2][3] She tells Billy to kill the girl, and he takes her into the woods and leaves her body under a tree.

When the police ask Myra to conduct a séance to help them find the missing girl – as she had hoped they would – she breaks down during the séance and reveals, as if in a psychic trance, what she and Billy have done. Billy tells the police where he hid the ransom money and reveals that he did not kill the girl, but left her unconscious where she would be found by scouts who are camping nearby.


According to Jon Krampner's biography Female Brando: The Legend of Kim Stanley, Forbes and Attenborough initially had encountered difficulty in casting the role of Myra. Deborah Kerr and Simone Signoret originally were approached for the part, but both actresses turned down the role.

Forbes and Attenborough then contacted Kim Stanley, an American theatre and television actress whose previous film work was limited to starring in the 1958 feature The Goddess and providing the uncredited opening and closing narration for the 1962 adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. Attenborough later was quoted as stating that Stanley was the best choice, noting that the "complexity of dramatic impression vital to the credibility of Myra was hard to find. Also an intellectual ability to follow and understand the character. I didn’t believe Simone (Signoret) could convey, as Kim did, the otherworldliness which this woman inhabited in her private fantasies."[4]


Reception and awardsEdit

Critical reaction in the British and American media was overwhelmingly strong. London's Daily Express called the film "superbly atmospheric", and The Sunday Telegraph dubbed it "compassionate, intelligent and absorbing." The New York Herald Tribune called Séance on a Wet Afternoon "the perfect psychological suspense thriller and a flawless film to boot", and The New York Times stated "it isn’t often you see a melodrama that sends you forth with a lump in your throat, as well as a set of muscles weary from being tense for nigh two hours."[5]

Kim Stanley won the Best Actress Award from the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review. She was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Actress (she lost to Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins) and the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress (she lost to Anne Bancroft in The Pumpkin Eater). Richard Attenborough won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor, and Forbes’ screenplay and Gerry Turpin’s cinematography received nominations. Forbes' script won the Writers Guild of Great Britain Award and the 1965 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America.


Séance on a Wet Afternoon was remade in 2000 as the Japanese horror film Seance (Japanese: 降霊, Kōrei), directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. An opera of the same name based on the film, created by Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz, had its world premiere on 26 September 2009, at the Granada Theater at Opera Santa Barbara in California.[6]


  1. ^ a b Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p247
  2. ^ Review Archived 7 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Time Out, London
  3. ^ QNetwork review by James Kendrick
  4. ^ Krampner, Jon. Female Brando: The Legend of Kim Stanley. Watson-Guptill, p. 221. ISBN 0-8230-8847-2.
  5. ^ Krampner, Jon. Female Brando: The Legend of Kim Stanley. Watson-Guptill, pp. 226–227. ISBN 0-8230-8847-2.
  6. ^ Home page for the opera Séance on a Wet Afternoon

External linksEdit