Born: May 6, 1921;

Died: December 30, 2019.

ELIZABETH Sellars, who has died aged 98, was a Scottish actress who had a long career on stage, alternating between classical roles and popular West End fare, and a productive one in films, including a 1950’s spell in Hollywood. She is particularly cherished by aficionados of homegrown post-war thrillers, representing a particularly British type of film noir.

Despite a striking mane of red hair, she was perfectly suited to emoting in monochrome. Possessing a fine set of cheekbones, and at times suggesting the grace of a swan, she nonetheless conveyed anguish on screen, playing a succession of unfaithful wives forced to keep secrets, often revealed in flashback. Her large eyes could flicker suspiciously, and fix an unforgettably accusing glare at other actors, even if her character was the guilty party.

Born and educated in Glasgow, she exchanged her legal studies for training at RADA, and made her stage debut in her home town, at the Alhambra in 1940. She continued in repertory there and at the Lyceum, Edinburgh, until 1943. The title role in Jeannie, a sort of Scottish Cinderella, was her favourite played there.

Her London debut was as Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov (Lyric, Hammersmith, 1946), adapted by and starring Alec Guinness, and directed by Peter Brook. After more repertory at the Bristol Old Vic (1947-48), she made her film debut in a supporting role in Floodtide (1949), a tale of the Scottish shipyards, with some location shooting in Glasgow. Her co-stars Gordon Jackson and Rona Anderson later married.

Her run of starring roles commenced: Guilt Is My Shadow (1950), accidentally killing her no-good husband and burying him on her lover’s farm; Night Was Our Friend (1951), starting with her acquittal of the murder of Michael Gough, but harbouring her own doubts; The Golden Horseshoe (1953), in which her character claimed to be helping Polish refugees, but actually trafficked drugs; and The Long Memory (1953), framing John Mills for murder, marrying a superintendent on the case, and being rescued at the last minute from jumping in front of a train.

Remaining in that genre, but on the small screen, Sellars played the wife marked for murder in the first production of Dial ‘M’ For Murder (BBC, 1952), then a new play for television; its stage and film versions came later. She again took a role played in Hollywood by Grace Kelly, that of socialite Tracy Lord, in The Philadelphia Story (BBC, 1959), 'musicalized' three years earlier as High Society.

For Hollywood itself, she was Humphrey Bogart’s script-girl wife in The Barefoot Contessa (1954), relishing Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s sardonic dialogue. Then she donned period costume to play sisters - Jean Simmons’s in Désirée (1954, with Marlon Brando as Napoleon), and Richard Burton’s in Prince Of Players (1955).

Back in Britain, one of her most regularly shown films was the portmanteau Three Cases Of Murder (1955), in the unfortunate title role of the second story, “You Killed Elizabeth”. With Orson Welles in the third story, the superb Alan Badel in all three, and linked by Eamonn Andrews, this is well remembered from screenings on Channel 4 in the 1980’s.

Sellars took over from Vivien Leigh, as a colonial governor’s wife, in Noel Coward’s South Sea Bubble (Lyric, 1956), and did the same for Anna Massey in the title role of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie (Wyndham’s, 1967). In the West End version of the then controversial Tea And Sympathy (Comedy, 1957), she was a housemaster’s wife with an unusual approach to a pupil suffering homophobic bullying.

Twice she played Helen of Troy, in Paris Not So Gay (Oxford Playhouse, 1958), an original comedy by Peter Ustinov, and making her debut at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford (later the RSC), in Troilus and Cressida (1960). Under the aegis of Peter Hall, the season also saw Sellars as Bianca in The Taming Of The Shrew, with Peggy Ashcroft and fellow debutant Peter O’Toole. Her other Stratford roles included Gertrude to Ian Bannen’s Hamlet (1961), and Queen Elizabeth, when Christopher Plummer played Richard III (1961).

She added Laurence Olivier to her collection of leading actors, as his patient wife and guide, in John Mortimer’s A Voyage Round My Father (Thames, 1982), with Alan Bates as Mortimer; earlier, she had been in another single play by Mortimer, Too Late For The Mashed Potato (BBC, 1963). Two single plays found her facing up to the realities of old age: Last Love (BBC, 1983), forming a relationship with ex-military man Dave King, and for BBC Scotland, The Dunroamin’ Rising (1988), aiding a fellow care home resident and rebellious former union official, played by Russell Hunter.

She died in France, where she had lived after her retirement. Her husband, Francis Henley, predeceased her in 2009. A stepson survives her.