Jenny Agutter

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Jenny Agutter Pencil Portrait
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Perhaps more thought provoking than ever, Walkabout premiered at the Cannes film festival in 1971 but performed poorly at the local box office, drawing a mixed response from critics. Noted for its cinematography and interspersed with numerous images of Australian plant and animal life, along with its varied landscapes, the movie is now widely considered a cult classic.

Fresh from her success in “The Railway Children,” it marked Jenny Agutter’s cinematic move into adulthood, in addition to providing a stark reminder to many actresses of what distinguishes ‘appropriate nudity’ from ‘salicious tittilation.’

In the film, and under the pretense of having a picnic, a geologist (John Meillon) takes his teenage daughter (Jenny Agutter) and 6-year-old son (Lucien John) into the Australian outback and attempts to shoot them. When he fails, he turns the gun on himself, and the two city-bred children must contend with harsh wilderness alone. They are saved by a chance encounter with an Aborigine boy (David Gulpilil) who shows them how to survive, and in the process underscores the disharmony between nature and modern life. Suitably enhanced by a wonderful score from John Barry, Nicholas Roeg’s directorial masterpiece deservedly endures.

A subsequent move to Hollywood would follow, in addition to a string of box office hits. At one point, she could have descended into recreational drug use – cocaine in 70’s Tinseltown was the preferred ‘line of choice’ – but fate woud happily upset her self absorption.

“It was a very self-centred, selfish life,” she says today. “I had the blinkers on and I thought about scripts, film roles and locations. I know exactly what successful single actresses are going through. On the outside all seems well, with the money coming in and decent roles. The sun is shining in Los Angeles, there is real glamour and the living is easy when you’re in work. But insecurity niggles away. ‘Is this all there is? What is the point? How will I perform?’ I never turned to drugs or drink or one-night stands but there is always a danger.”

Then, at the age of 36 during a visit back home to an arts festival in Bath, Agutter met and fell in love with Swedish hotelier Johan Tham. He went out to visit her in Los Angeles, and hated the place. So after 17 years of Hollywood life, she moved back to Britain and they began a relationship. Pregnancy would quickly follow, the couple marrying hastily in August 1990 before having a son Jonathan on Christmas Day. Her life had changed completely in less than a year.

“It saved me,” the actress now insists. “I had got stuck in my ways, ran my life the way I wanted, took holidays when I wished and went where I wanted. I did have long relationships but they all ended.I was thinking: ‘Maybe I will just remain single.’ And, more worryingly: ‘What does the future hold?’ Then all this came at once with Johan. It came as a shock but it was the best thing that happened.” The marriage endures to this day.

Recommended listening

The Railway Children (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1970)

Perhaps Johnny Douglas’s most widely known work, “The Railway Children” original soundtrack is an evocative and consistently satisfying musical backdrop to this iconic childrens’ film. Director Lionel Jeffries was convinced he had his man whilst listening to Douglas’s score for the 1967 crime thriller Run like a thief,” which starred Keiron Moore, an actor who never quite fulfilled his potential.

If the underlying purpose of any soundtrack is to evoke mental images of key scenes in a film, whilst providing a wholly satisfying and independent listening experience, then Douglas succeeds here on both levels.

1 Overture
2 Roberta’s Theme
3 Mother’s Theme
4 The Robbers
5 More Than Ever Now Vocals [Sung By] – Vince Hill
6 The Paper Chase
7 A Kindly Old Gentleman
8 Perks Must Be About It
9 The Birthday Waltz
10 Finale

Recommended viewing

The Railway Children (1968) (1970) (2000)

Agutter would come full circle over a thirty two year period playing the role of eldest daughter Roberta twice, before tackling the role of the mother in an ITV commissioned ninety minute drama.

The film was the ninth most successful British release at the box office in 1971. I caught the movie six months into its extensive run, and like millions was enchanted by the experience; a slice of Edwardian innocence transported to the idyllic Yorkshire countryside. The 1970 film, directed by the late Lionel Jeffries – a stalwart of British cinema and perhaps best remembered as the the dotty grandpa in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – was based on E Nesbit’s much-loved children’s novel.

Like Enid Blyton, Edith Nesbit was an indifferent mother yet would publish an idealised celebration of Victorian family life. Writing in The Guardian, Lyn Gardner provides insights into the author’s mind.

The Snow Goose (1971)

Walkabout (1971)

Logan's Run (1976)

The Eagle has landed (1976)

And The Beat Goes On (BBC Tv Series) 1996

Call the Midwife (BBC Tv Series) 2013-


Jenny Agutter's official Website