The Seventh Veil

UK 1945, 94 mins
Director: Muriel Baker

Muriel Box was the first woman to win the Oscar™ for Best Original Screenplay (shared with her husband Sydney), for this story inspired by her fascination with new methods of therapy. When a young pianist attempts suicide, her treatment by hypnosis reveals what is behind the ‘seventh veil’ of her subconscious and helps her choose between the four men who are in love with her.

One of James Mason’s most indelible contributions to British cinema was the moment in which he smashed his cane down on concert pianist Ann Todd’s hands. Given the date (1945) and the motive (obsessive jealousy), it sounds as though it came from one of the many Gainsborough costume melodramas that helped establish Mason as the era’s biggest British star, but The Seventh Veil was in fact made independently by producer Sydney Box, its glossy sheen belying the relatively low budget (under £100,000) and rapid shooting schedule

However, the film largely adopted the Gainsborough formula of a strongly female-centred narrative revolving around a troubled and complex relationship with a brooding, aloof and faintly sadistic man, and emphasised the debt by casting Mason in a familiar role. Here, though, the setting is the present day, and the story is largely told in flashback, with psychiatrist Dr Larson (Herbert Lom) gently but persistently probing the traumatic events in the life of pianist Francesca Cunningham (Todd) in an attempt to help her come to terms with her past, to break through the ‘seventh veil’ which he believes conceals the secret of her various neuroses.

Although the explicitly Freudian explanation of Francesca’s neuroses would probably be dismissed today, this scenario makes for compelling melodrama, the flashback structure serving to present her life as a series of emotional peaks and troughs, her triumphs in the concert hall invariably dashed by romantic disappointment, the resurfacing of unpleasant memories, or her constant paranoia about the sanctity of her hands. In the concert scenes, the latter were doubled by the pianist Eileen Joyce, who generously waived her credit when she saw how convincing the illusion was.

Despite the similarities to its Gainsborough contemporaries, The Seventh Veil was a notably bigger critical success: the Spectator announced it as ‘an event in the development of the British film industry’ and even the notoriously acerbic C.A. Lejeune (The Observer) was unusually complimentary. A huge domestic box-office hit (nearly sixty years later, the BFI calculated that it was still the tenth most successful UK box-office hit in terms of ticket numbers), it also made an impact in the US, where its screenplay won an Oscar. The following year, Sydney Box was appointed head of Gainsborough Pictures, on the assumption that he would work similar magic on the ailing studio – but The Seventh Veil turned out to be an unrepeatable one-off.
Michael Brooke, BFI Screenonline,

Contemporary review
Francesca Cunningham is a celebrated pianist whose hands have been burned in a car accident and who is suffering from acute depression. She attempts suicide, and afterwards becomes silent and lifeless. A psychiatrist, Dr Lassen, places her under narco-hypnosis, during which she reveals the truth of her past life, episode by episode. Each stage in her life has led to her depression: the headmistress who canes her on the hands the day before an important music examination, the guardian who tyrannises over her in order to force the pace of her training and career, the collapse of her adolescent and mature love affairs.

James Mason plays his usual role, sardonic, brooding, the man to whom wealth and a mysterious past permit a romantic licence for ill-manners and egocentric behaviour. Yet the film has distinct virtues and distinct cinematic power; the opening is beautifully and brilliantly handled, haunting and tense. The music is a delight to hear (Chopin, Mozart, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven). The psychological theme, the neurosis of a talented girl whose thwarted emotional life culminates in an acute regard for her hands, which she wrongly believes injured beyond healing, seems correctly conceived, and the psychiatrist is well played by Herbert Lorn.

James Mason is an excellent actor with a fine face for screen-work. Why must he always play a Victorian maidservant’s conception of a rich, romantically overbearing lord? Ann Todd’s performance is sensitive and true to the character. She performs the difficult task of being completely satisfying and convincing in her portrayal of a great artist in another sphere of art. One went through the artist’s agony of initial public appearance at concerts which demand the highest standards of discipline and execution.
Monthly Film Bulletin, 31 October, 1945

Director: Muriel Baker
Production Company: Verity Films
Producer: James Carr
Script: Thomas Burke, Max Munden
Photography: James Rogers, Reg Wyer
Editor: John Durst
Music: William Alwyn
Studio: Merton Park

Max Munden

UK 1941 11 mins

A BFI National Archive print

Director: Compton Bennett
Production Company: Ortus Films, Theatrecraft
Producer: Sydney Box
Production Executive: A.R. Shipman *
Production Manager: Knox Laing
1st Assistant Director: Herbert Dorsett
Continuity: M. Norton
Original Story and Screenplay by: Sydney Box, Muriel Box
Director of Photography: Reginald Wyer
Cameraman: Bert Mason
Focus Puller: Kenneth Smith
Camera Assistant: Herbert Knifton
1st Camera Operator: Terry Turtle
Stills Photography: Frank Otley, Arthur Armour
Editor: Gordon Hales
Assistant Editor (1st): Helga Cranston
Art Director: James Carter
Portrait of Miss Todd painted by: Frank O. Salisbury
[Senior] Draughtsperson: Ivan King
Draughtsperson: Noel Waterfield
Dresses: Dorothy Sinclair
Make-up: Nell Taylor
Hair: Frieda Steiger
Lab Work: George Humphries & Co., Kay Films
Music: Benjamin Frankel
Pianist: Eileen Joyce *
Conductor: Muir Mathieson
Sound Direction: George Burgess
Sound Recording: L. Clarke
Sound Camera Operator: Arthur F. Kelly
Dubbing Crew: George Burgess, Norman Hemsley, William Sanger, Thomas Goghan
Boom Operator: Gordon Hay
Boom Assistant: Peter McManus
Studio: Riverside Studios

James Mason (Nicholas)
Ann Todd (Francesca Cunningham)
Herbert Lom (Dr Larson)
Hugh McDermott (Peter Gay)
Albert Lieven (Maxwell Leyden)
Yvonne Owen (Susan Brook)
David Horne (Dr Kendal)
Manning Whiley (Dr Irving)
John Slater (James)
Grace Allardyce (nurse)
Ernest Davies (Parker)
Arnold Goldsborough (conductor)
Muir Mathieson (conductor)
London Symphony Orchestra (music played by)

UK 1945
94 mins

* Uncredited

A BFI National Archive print

The Seventh Veil + The English Inn
Mon 1 May 13:00; Thu 11 May 18:10 (+ intro by Lucy Bolton, Reader in Film Studies at Queen Mary)
Good-Time Girl
Mon 1 May 15:40; Fri 12 May 18:10 (+ intro by Television Producer and Director, Rebecca Towers)
Muriel Box: The Odd Woman Out
Tue 2 May 18:15
The Passionate Stranger (aka A Novel Affair)
Tue 2 May 20:30 (+ intro by filmmaker Carol Morley); Thu 18 May 18:20; Tue 30 May 20:30
Easy Money
Wed 3 May 18:20; Mon 8 May 16:00
Holiday Camp
Sat 6 May 15:30; Wed 17 May 20:30
The Lost People (aka Cockpit)
Sat 6 May 18:30; Sun 21 May 13:40
The Happy Family (aka Mr Lord Says No/Live and Let Live)
Sun 7 May 18:10; Sat 20 May 15:15
Street Corner (aka Both Sides of the Law/Gentle Arm/The Policewoman)
Mon 8 May 13:30; Tue 30 May 18:20 (+ intro by season curator Josephine Botting)
Simon and Laura
Mon 8 May 18:10; Sun 28 May 16:00
Philosophical Screens: The Seventh Veil
Thu 11 May 20:15 Blue Room
Rattle of a Simple Man
Wed 17 May 18:10; Tue 23 May 20:30
The Truth about Women
Thu 18 May 20:40; Sun 28 May 18:10
Eyewitness (aka Point of Crisis) + A Ride with Uncle Joe
Sun 21 May 18:20; Fri 26 May 18:10
This Other Eden
Thu 25 May 18:20; Sat 27 May 13:45

With thanks to
StudioCanal for their new 4K restorations from the best available original materials, scanned and restored to produce three brand new HD masters

Three restored Muriel Box titles (The Passionate Stranger, The Truth about Women and Rattle of a Simple Man) are being released on Blu-ray and DVD by StudioCanal in May and will be available from the BFI Shop.

Never miss an issue with Sight and Sound, the BFI’s internationally renowned film magazine. Subscribe from just £25*
*Price based on a 6-month print subscription (UK only). More info:

Welcome to the home of great film and TV, with three cinemas and a studio, a world-class library, regular exhibitions and a pioneering Mediatheque with 1000s of free titles for you to explore. Browse special-edition merchandise in the BFI Shop.We're also pleased to offer you a unique new space, the BFI Riverfront – with unrivalled riverside views of Waterloo Bridge and beyond, a delicious seasonal menu, plus a stylish balcony bar for cocktails or special events. Come and enjoy a pre-cinema dinner or a drink on the balcony as the sun goes down.

Enjoy a great package of film benefits including priority booking at BFI Southbank and BFI Festivals. Join today at

We are always open online on BFI Player where you can watch the best new, cult & classic cinema on demand. Showcasing hand-picked landmark British and independent titles, films are available to watch in three distinct ways: Subscription, Rentals & Free to view.

See something different today on

Join the BFI mailing list for regular programme updates. Not yet registered? Create a new account at

Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email