Family & Companions
Mai Zetterling came to feminism gradually. In her autobiography, "All Those Tomorrows," she notes, "When the reviews of my first full-length feature movie came out, I was horrified to read that 'Mai Zetterling directs like a man.' What did that mean?" As an actress she was considered no threat. But when she decided to become a film director, she was "not the same any more in the eyes of men." It took years to realize "the change I had made was positive and, in the end, the only way."
As a teenager, Zetterling joined a children's theater club and at 16 played the lead in a play by Par Lagerkvist. At 17, she joined the Swedish National Theater, where Alf Sjoberg became her mentor and directed her in her first major film, "Frenzy/Torment" (1944), written by Ingmar Bergman.
For British film director Basil Dearden she played the title role in "Frieda" (1947), which led to a successful British film career with Rank. Back in Sweden, she also made one film under Ingmar Bergman, "Music in the Dark" (1948).
In the early 1950s, she accepted an offer to be Danny Kaye's leading lady in "Knock on Wood" (1954). It was to be her only film in Hollywood, a place she hated. She returned to England and starred on the stage in a production of "A Doll's House."
After she married British writer David Hughes, Zetterling made plans toward becoming a film director. She and Hughes collaborated for BBC-TV on a series of documentaries: "The Polite Invasion" (1960), about the problems of the Lapps and the Swedes; "Little Lords of Egypt" (1961), concerning the plight of Gypsies; and "The War Game" (1961), an anti-war short about two boys playing a game that turns nasty. The latter film won the Golden Lion Prize at the 1963 Venice Film Festival.
Her directing career went into high gear with her feature, "Loving Couples" (1964). Its poster won a prize in Vienna but it was banned in Cannes as obscene. "Night Games" (1966), based on her own novel, was even more of a cause celebre. Banned from the Venice Festival, it was censured by critics for scenes of sexuality, childbirth, and vomiting in detailing the story of a 35-year-old man's attempts to deal with childhood memories marked by depravity and perversity. Three films later, her marriage with Hughes came to an end.
Most notable among her more recent films are "We Have Many Faces" (1975), which drew on "the pain and misery of the break-up of my marriage"; "Of Seals and Man" (1978), detailing the disappearing breed of Eskimo seal hunters; and "Scrubbers" (1982), which dealt with young female offenders sent to Britain's Borstal prison. Zetterling never entirely gave up her acting career, either; in one of her last roles she was especially memorable as the wise grandmother who warns her grandson about "The Witches" (1990).
Zetterling's work shows a fascination with outsiders, whether Eskimos, Gypsies or girl delinquents. "Perhaps I am a mad-hatter Swede," she says, "who got lost in the world ... I feel very far from the norm of just about everything."
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Editing (Feature Film)
Debut as stage and screen performer at aged 16 (date approximate)
Performed with Royal Dramatic Theater, Stockholm
First leading film role in "Hets/Torment"; directed by Alf Sjoberg, written by Ingmar Bergman
Signed contract with Rank; British film acting debut in "Frieda"
Directed first short fiction film, "The War Game" (also producer, co-writer)
Feature film directing debut, "Alskande Par/Loving Couples" (also co-writer)
Filmed own novel "Night Games"
Last British feature, "Scrubbers"
Final feature as director "Amarosa"
Final screen appearance in Nicholas Roeg's "The Witches"