FORGOTTEN: ZELAH CLARKE LOVED STARRING WITH TIMOTHY DALTON, BUT STILL CAN'T UNDERSTAND WHY 'JANE EYRE' MADE HIM A STAR, BUT ENDED HER ACTING CAREER
One would imagine that the series would assure her a glittering future. Costume drama blockbusters can often be the springboard that launches young actresses to fame and fortune, but they can also be a one-way ticket to professional oblivion. Here, three forgotten heroines, Jenny Tomasin, who played scullery maid Rubyin "Upstairs Downstairs", Jessica Benton who was Elizabeth in "The Onedin Line", and Zelah Clarke, Jane Eyre to Timothy Dalton's Mr. Rochester, tell Jane Slade how it all went wrong when their series ended...
Zelah Clarke starred in the 1983 BBC series opposite Timothy Dalton. He went on to become James Bond - and Zelah, now 45, disappeared without trace. She is married to Francis Ash, an executive BBC producer, and has a four-year old daughter, Lamorna. They live in West London. She says: Jane Eyre is the ultimate poisoned chalice. Everyone remembers the Mr. Rochesters but no one recalls the Janes. I hoped the role might be a springboard - I got great reviews - but I never thought it would force me to retire. I had trained as a ballet dancer with Jenny Agutter and Fiona Fullerton, but I discovered I enjoyed acting more. Before Jane Eyre, I had done lots of TV costume dramas, but no lead roles. My first TV role was in the first episode of "Poldark". I spoke the first line - the only one I had! I had also been in the West End musicals, including "Godspell" with Jeremy Irons, and lots of theatre. I was thrilled when I got the part of Jane. Tim Dalton was not a superstar then - in fact, I had more TV experience. Tim was lovely - extremely sexy and great fun. He even brought his fishing rod when we filmed in Derbyshire. He wasn't the type to lose his temper, but he got close to it during our marriage scene. The poor actor who rushed in to protest kept fluffing his line. After the seventh take, Tim became cross and started squeezing my hand harder and harder. Eventually, the actor got it right - and Tim fluffed his line. I just fell on the floor laughing.
It was depressing when things suddenly stopped after "Jane Eyre", especially as I couldn't work out why. But then I got married and my life changed. There is something rather undignified about old actors scraping around for work. I would never go back into the theatre. It ruins your social life and breaks up families. When I was younger, it was exciting. I didn't mind going on the road, but not now. I wouldn't mind a part in a TV comedy - I have a secret desire to dress up like Suzi Quatro and sing rock'n'roll - but I am happy being out of it all. If I had not done "Jane Eyre" perhaps I would not have felt I had proved myself. But I did and I have. I saw the series again on video about seven years ago. It seemed curiously old-fashioned but I was pleased with my performance. I still keep an agent for voice work and do some things for radio, which fits in well with taking care of my daughter. During my resting periods I became really interested in art. I was in the middle of a course when I fell pregnant, so perhaps I didn't have such a desire to be a famous actress after all.
"I think why it worked so well was because, in truth, it's such a good part. What a blow to the image! Rochester is tough and hard, short-tempered and curt on the one hand, and concealing a soul that's been hurt and made sensitive. So you have a lot of the qualities that really appeal to women in Rochester, and I was simply lucky enough to be playing him.
"When I play another kind of character that is not so pleasant I get just a trickle of letters. Some women who've seen several things I've done write in to tell me when I've done something right, and when I've done something wrong, along the lines of 'I wish you wouldn't do this kind of thing. I much preferred you as Heathcliff. Why don't you do more things like that?'
"The fact is, we've all got to work; we have all got to do the parts that are offered to us, whether they turn out ultimately to be good or bad. In America they would largely agree with my correspondents: if you find an image that works, then stick with it. So there's some sense in that; maybe I should play Rochester for the rest of my life!
"There's got to be a bit of yourself in it. I don't think you can be a good actor unless you reveal something of yourself. You're revealing a character through the knowledge you have of yourself and the life around you. Yes, I can see certain elements of myself in Rochester... Of course, Rochester was no fisherman, while fishing is my obsession. I remember my first-ever fishing line, which I made from a whole bunch of string and a bent pin; I was about four. My granddad took me down to the pier at Colwyn Bay." (Timothy Dalton, 1984) READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE