Jean Marsh, a name that resonates with many, is an actress whose career has spanned over six decades. Best known for her role as the wicked Mombi in the 1985 film “Return to Oz” and Queen Bavmorda from "Willow." Marsh has left an indelible mark on the world of cinema. But what ever happened to this talented actress? Let’s delve into her life, career, and find out what she’s up to now.
Background and Early Roles
Born in Stoke Newington, London, in 1934, Jean Lyndsey Torren Marsh showed an interest in acting from a young age.
Marsh began her acting career in the late 1940s with an uncredited role as a sewing girl in “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” (1947). She continued to take on minor roles in the 1950s, including a dancer in “Will Any Gentleman…?” (1953) and “The Love Lottery” (1954), and the landlady’s daughter in “The Limping Man” (1953). Marsh’s television career took off in the late 1950s and early 1960s with roles in popular series such as “ITV Television Playhouse” (1956), “Omnibus” (1958), “The Third Man” (1959), “The Moon and Sixpence” (1959), “The Twilight Zone” (1959), and “Danger Man” (1960).
However, it was her co-creation of the television series “Upstairs, Downstairs,” in which she also starred, that earned her an Emmy Award in 1975.
Return to Oz
In 1985, Marsh took on the role that would become one of her most memorable – the wicked Nurse Wilson / Mombi in “Return to Oz.”
“Return to Oz” is a film that serves as a sequel to the classic “The Wizard of Oz.” The movie follows Dorothy, who, six months after her first visit to Oz, is taken to a psychiatric hospital for electrotherapy because of her talks about a magical land. However, during the treatment, she is transported back to Oz, which she finds in ruins and her friends turned to stone. Dorothy, along with new companions, embarks on a quest to save her friends and restore the magic of Oz.
Her portrayal of the character was both chilling and captivating, contributing significantly to the film’s cult status.
Marsh’s portrayal of Princess Mombi in “Return to Oz” was particularly unsettling, making her a character that viewers found genuinely scary. Marsh brought a chilling elegance to the role, embodying Mombi’s cold and cruel personality with a disturbingly calm demeanor.
Her ability to switch between different heads, each with its own distinct personality, was executed with a disconcerting ease that added to the character’s eerie presence. The threat she posed to Dorothy, coupled with her head collection, was brought to life by Marsh’s convincing performance. Her portrayal of Mombi’s delight in the prospect of adding Dorothy’s head to her collection was particularly unnerving. Marsh’s nuanced performance, balancing regal poise with a menacing undertone, made Mombi a character that left a lasting, and frightening, impression on viewers.
Three years after her role in Return To Oz, Jean Marsh would leave another lasting impression on audiences in her roles as Queen Bavmorda in the movie “Willow,” which was released in 1988. The film is a fantasy adventure directed by Ron Howard and written by George Lucas and Bob Dolman. The story revolves around a young farmer named Willow, who is chosen to undertake a perilous journey to protect a special baby from an evil queen. The baby is prophesied to bring the end of the queen’s reign.
Queen Bavmorda is the main antagonist of the film and is a wicked sorceress who seeks to prevent the prophecy by capturing and eliminating the baby.
Following her role as Queen Bavmorda in “Willow” in 1988, Jean Marsh continued to demonstrate her acting prowess in a variety of roles. In 1991, she appeared in the TV movie “Bejewelled” as Barbara, and in 1992, she took on the role of Lisbeth Bede in the TV series “Screen One.” Marsh continued to diversify her roles, appearing in “Murder, She Wrote” as Glenda Highsmith in 1993, and in the TV movie “Fatherland” as Anna Von Hagen in 1994.
In the 2000s, Marsh’s career showed no signs of slowing down. She took on roles in “Sensitive Skin,” “Sense & Sensibility,” and “Crooked House.” In 2009, she appeared in “The Heavy” as Mrs. Mason. Marsh reprised her iconic role as Mrs. Rose Buck in the revival of “Upstairs Downstairs” from 2010 to 2012, a role that had earned her an Emmy in the 1970s.
Jean Marsh, the award-winning actress best known for her role in the popular TV series “Upstairs, Downstairs,” suffered a stroke and heart attack in 2011, three weeks after the first episode of the revived series had been filmed. Despite her health scare, Marsh was determined to return to work and was back on set within three weeks of her hospitalization. In a 2013 interview, she reflected on her recovery, attributing her resilience to her acting career.
In 2014, she would take on her last role and played the character of Daisy Livingstone in “Grantchester.”
What is Jean Marsh Doing Now?
Jean Marsh is still retired from acting and has largely stayed away from the spotlight.
In 2022, The Disney+ series “Willow” ingeniously brought back the original film’s villain, Queen Bavmorda, portrayed by Jean Marsh, using modern visual effects. Despite Marsh’s retirement from acting due to a stroke, the series found a tasteful way to incorporate scenes from the original film into the episode as free-floating, full-body, vaporous apparitions.
This method was also used to bring back other characters from the original film, such as General Kael. The return to Castle Nockmaar, the seat of Queen Bavmorda, was not just a nostalgic trip but also served to reveal the origin of the evil queen and how she became the feared tyrant.