• 19 March 1919
  •  Wandsworth, London, England, UK

Patricia Laffan


A statuesque and striking actress with vaguely reptilian aspects, at once sinister and alluring; a smile never more than a whisker away from a sneer and a commanding, imperious presence suggesting innate superiority. Difficult to cast, Patricia Laffan seemed destined to portray the villainous or the eccentric. The daughter of Irish rubber planter Arthur Charles Laffan (d.1948) and London-born Elvira Alice Vitali (1896-1979), Patricia was schooled at the Institut français du Royaume-Uni in London and trained in dramatic arts at the prestigious Douglas-Webber School. She emerged on stage in 1937 and made her screen debut by 1945. In between a cluster of nondescript or uncredited roles, we remember her for two indelible cinematic performances: first, as that sumptuously decadent, scheming, malicious Empress Poppaea in MGM's epic blockbuster Quo Vadis (1951) -- sardonic and disdainful in her delivery, at times running close to overshadowing even the great Peter Ustinov in his most famous role as Nero. One of her lavish outfits included a 14 carat gold dress designed by Herschel McCoy. A contemporary BBC interview with Laffan also recounts an incident during the making of Quo Vadis. In this, the actress, while reclining on a divan next to a couple of cheetahs at the end of a love scene with Robert Taylor, was set upon by one of the not so tame cats but managed to escape with a torn dress (the gold one ?) -- "on the other hand, the lions in the arena scene were so bored that they went to sleep in the shade instead of looking hungrily at the Christians". Laffan's other fondly remembered showing on screen was in the campy Devil Girl from Mars (1954), a typically low-budget Danziger Brothers attempt at emulating the success of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Justifiably derided at the time (for such valid reasons as inane writing, lacklustre direction and props acutely reminiscent of kitchen appliances), it has become a surprising cult touchstone for sci-fi aficionados. Why? Certainly because of the picture's sole meritorious component: Patricia Laffan as the Martian invader Nyah, exotically made up, outfitted in PVC jumpsuit, miniskirt, Darth Vader-style cape and skullcap and making the most of her scenes, delivering her lines with practised cold, languid authority. Sadly underused, there were to be few other roles of note for this commanding actress in the wake of 'Devil Girl', except, perhaps, for an integral bit in the enjoyable psychological thriller 23 Paces to Baker Street (1956). Subsequent TV appearances saw her mostly confined to conventional aristocratic ladies in period or crime dramas. Patricia Laffan retired from the screen in 1965, apparently to a quiet life in Chelsea, London, where she may have pursued her passions for fast cars, story-writing and breeding bull terriers.


Movie Name Release Date
Κβο Βάντις – Quo Vadis (1951) December 25, 1951