Pumpkin Eater, The (1964): Jack Clayton’s Screen Adaptation, Starring Anne Bancroft in Oscar Nominated Performance, Peter Finch, James Mason, Maggie Smith

In Jack Clayton’s The Pumpkin Eater, adapted to the screen by playwright Harold Pinter from Penelope Mortimer’s novel, the great Anne Bancroft plays a mother of multiple children, who is stuck with domestic boredom.

The Pumpkin Eater
The Pumpkin Eater .jpeg

Theatrical poster

She leaves her second husband (played by Richard Johnson) for a successful screenwriter (Peter Finch), only to realize that he’s incredibly and incurably unfaithful to her.

Shot in black-and-white, the British-made film is grim and downbeat, which may explain its commercial failure, but it is extremely well-acted by all around, including the always reliable James Mason, Cedric Hardwicke, Maggie Smith, and Eric Porter.

British critics marveled at the time at Bancroft’s skill at etching a memorable portrait of a British housewife, with a flawless British accent.

Bancroft received her second Best Actress Oscar nomination, and shared the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Fest.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Actress: Anne Bancroft

Oscar awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the 1964 Best Actress Oscar was Julie Andrews for “Mary Poppins,” in a race that also included Sophia Loren in the Italian comedy, “Marriage Italian Style,” Debbie Reynolds in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” and Kim Stanley in “Séance on a west afternoon.”


Anne Bancroft – Jo Armitage
Peter Finch – Jake Armitage
James Mason – Bob Conway
Cedric Hardwicke – Mr James, Jo’s father
Richard Johnson – Giles
Eric Porter – Psychiatrist
Rosalind Atkinson – Mrs. James, Jo’s mother
Frances White – Older Dinah
Alan Webb – Mr Armitage, Jake’s father
Cyril Luckham – Doctor
Janine Gray – Beth Conway
Yootha Joyce – Woman at hairdresser’s
Frank Singuineau – King of Israel
Maggie Smith – Philpot


Directed by Jack Clayton
Written by Harold Pinter, based on The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer
Produced by James Woolf
Cinematography Oswald Morris (b/w)
Edited by Jim Clark
Music by Georges Delerue
Production company: Romulus-Jack Clayton

Distributed by Royal Films International (UK); Columbia Pictures (USA)

Release dates: July 14, 1964 (UK); November 9, 1964 (NYC)

Running time: 118 minutes; also 110 minutes
Box office $1,200,000 (US/Canada rentals)

Anne Bancroft

Bancroft began her professional career on TV in 1950, using the name Anne Marno and made her motion picture debut in “Don’t Bother to Knock” (1952).

Hollywood did not know what to do with her and kept casting her in “B” films until she returned to New York and appeared in “Two for the Seesaw” (1958) opposite Henry Fonda, for which she received a Tony Award.

The following year, she won the New York Drama Critics Award as well as another Tony for her performance in “The Miracle Worker.” She repeated her performance with resounding success in the film version, winning the 1962 Best Actress Academy Award.

She played memorable roles in the British film The Pumpkin Eater, and gave  astounding performances in The Graduate (1967) and The Turning Point (1977). She was Oscar-nominated for the latter, as well as for Agnes of God (1985).

She was named best actress by the British Film Academy for her performance in 84 Charing Cross Road (1987).

Bancroft also tried her hand at directing. After attending the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women, she first tried her hand at directing in 1976 with a film titled “The August August,” but it was never released.

The product of her next directorial effort, “Fatso,” was released in 1980 but met with only modest success. In the same year, she appeared as an actress in David Lynch’s Oscar-nominated British-made film, “The Elephant Man.”