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Sarah Miles Biography

Home > Actresses > M > Miles, Sarah > Biography

Birth Name: Sarah Miles
Born: 12/31/1941
Birth Place: Essex, England, GB

Sarah Miles was born on Dec. 31, 1941 in the town of Ingatestone, Essex, England to mother, Vanessa Miles, and father, John Miles, a prominent engineer and architectural designer. As a child, Miles attended the nearby private girls school of Roedean for a time, before eventually being expelled for her disruptive behavior. Calling in favors and lying about her exceedingly precocious daughter's age, Miles' mother managed to enroll her at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at the age of 15. Five years later, the 20-year-old actress made her London stage debut in a 1961 mounting of "Dazzling Prospect," in addition to making her first television appearance in an episode of the British newspaper drama "Deadline Midnight" (ITV, 1960-61). Miles grabbed the attention of audiences with her feature film debut in Peter Glenville's "Term of Trial" (1962), as a sexually-awakening student who becomes infatuated with her kindly instructor (Laurence Olivier), only to destroy his reputation with claims of impropriety after he declines her coquettish advances. Behind the scenes, her poorly-concealed affair with Olivier - who was at the time married to actress Joan Plowright and was 35 years her senior - gained her as much tabloid ink as did her impressive performance. It would not be the last time that Miles' personal affairs would threaten to overshadow her professional work in the press.

After being nominated for a Best Newcomer award by the British Academy of Film and Television for her work in "Term of Trial," Miles followed with another young seductress role in "The Servant" (1963), a psychological role-reversal drama based on the Robin Maugham novel of the same name. Adapted to the screen by playwright Harold Pinter, the film starred James Fox as a wealthy young Londoner and Dirk Bogarde as his Machiavellian manservant who turns the tables on his susceptible employer. She played a similar character, as the unfaithful girlfriend of unjustly convicted prisoner Laurence Harvey, in the exploitation movie "The Ceremony" (1963). In an attempt to distance herself from the "bad girl" roles for which she was becoming known, Miles took part in the madcap aeronautical comedy "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" (1965), followed by her lead role in the romantic drama "I Was Happy Here" (1966). By now considered a part of the London's hip British New Wave movement, she appeared only peripherally in Michelangelo Antonioni's hugely influential art film "Blow-Up" (1966), prior to committing herself to a string of stage roles, most notably that of Mary of Scotland in a 1967 production of "Vivat! Vivat Regina!," written by her new husband, Robert Bolt.

After her film sabbatical, Miles returned to the screen as the bored and promiscuous wife of cuckolded Irish schoolteacher Robert Mitchum in David Lean's "Ryan's Daughter" (1970), a loose adaptation of Madame Bovary written by Bolt, who was a frequent collaborator of Lean's. Although not initially well-received in the U.S. upon release, the film - which played well with European audiences - won two Oscars and earned a nomination for Miles. It also introduced Miles to Mitchum, who she would have an affair with years later, after her divorce from Bolt. Shortly thereafter, Bolt made his directorial debut with the disappointing "Lady Caroline Lamb" (1972), a historical biopic that cast Miles as the eponymous serial adulteress, openly carrying on affairs with the likes of Lord Byron (Richard Chamberlain) and the Duke of Wellington (Laurence Olivier). The film met with scathing reviews, leading to - as some speculated - Bolt's abandoning of future directorial plans, and possibly, the collapse of his marriage to his creative muse. The actress followed with director Alan Bridges' "The Hireling" (1973), cast as an aristocratic woman who engages in a brief, doomed romance with her chauffeur (Robert Shaw).

Also on screens that year was Miles' fateful collaboration with rising Hollywood sex symbol Burt Reynolds in the Western romance "The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing" (1973). More notable than the film itself - which met with indifference in theaters - was what took place behind the scenes. In addition to her illicit affair with her co-star during filming, the tabloid press was enthralled by the sudden and mysterious death of Miles' manager, David Whiting, who was found dead in the bathroom of her hotel room. Reportedly, Whiting had become obsessed with Miles and was distraught over her romantic liaison with Reynolds, to the point of accosting the actress in her room just prior to his death. In an investigation that lasted weeks, Miles was considered a "person of interest," and despite Whiting's death ultimately being determined a suicide, the scandal would plague the actress for years to come. Attempting to put the sordid events of the past behind her and fearing that her career was on the verge of ruin, Miles made her U.S. television debut in a lavish adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" (NBC, 1974), surrounded by an impressive ensemble cast that included Michael York, James Mason, and Anthony Quayle.

Miles returned to the screen opposite Kris Kristofferson in the oedipal drama "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea" (1976). The attempt at adapting the revered novel by Japanese author Yukio Mishima to a screenplay set in England would be more remembered for its then-daring nude scenes between Miles and Kristofferson than for any artistic merit as a film. Not a particularly stellar period for Miles professionally, it was also a time of personal upheaval, when she divorced Bolt that same year. Free of any marital commitments, she reteamed with her "Ryan's Daughter" co-star Robert Mitchum - both on and off-screen - for a modern day remake of Raymond Chandler's "The Big Sleep" (1978). Later, Miles helped out her brother, director Christopher Miles, when she turned in a cameo as a film star in his "Priest of Love" (1981), a literate account of the last years of writer D.H. Lawrence (Ian McKellen), and that same year appeared with Klaus Kinski and Oliver Reed in the utterly forgettable killer-snake-on-the-loose thriller "Venom" (1981).

Miles turned in a more realistic performance alongside Vanessa Redgrave in the women's drama "Steaming" (1984), based on the critically-acclaimed play of the same name. However, she returned to genre fare with Donald Sutherland and Faye Dunaway in the Agatha Christie mystery "Ordeal by Innocence" (1985). Now embracing her more mature screen persona, she played two titled women (Lady Ashley and Lady Sybil, respectively) for the television miniseries "Harem" (ABC, 1986) and "Queenie" (ABC, 1987). Still, Miles was not quite done with playing sexually insatiable, morally ambiguous characters, as evidenced by her turn in Michael Radford's Kenyan-set murder mystery "White Mischief" (1987). The actress surprised many when she next delivered a highly effective change-of-pace performance as a harried mother in the blitz-torn London of John Boorman's semi-autobiographical wartime drama "Hope and Glory" (1987). On television, she played an aging courtesan-turned-countess in the romantic melodrama "A Ghost in Monte Carlo" (TNT, 1990), followed by a turn as a domineering wife (supposedly) poisoned by her husband (Michael Kitchen) in the "Masterpiece Theater" production of the crime docudrama "Dandelion Dead" (PBS, 1994).

Encouraged to write by her former paramour Olivier, Miles penned three memoirs - beginning with 1993's A Right Royal Bastard and concluding with Bolt from the Blue in 1996. Among the revelations presented was the minor bombshell that while having an affair with up-and-coming filmmaker Steven Spielberg in the early '70s, she became pregnant, only to have an abortion due to his perceived ambivalence. Another somewhat unsettling eccentricity of Miles' - one that had been leaked to the public years earlier - was the fact that she had for decades been a practitioner of urine therapy, ingesting the bodily fluid once to twice daily for its purported health benefits. Not surprisingly, this only further cemented her reputation as an unrepentant eccentric in the eyes of many. Other writing efforts included her debut work as a novelist with the publication of Beautiful Mourning in 1998. Although semi-retired, Miles returned to acting in the little-seen Italian WWII action drama "Days of Grace" (2001), followed by another Italian production, the art world thriller "The Accidental Detective" (2003). Remaining in England for her next production, she had a guest role in an installment of the long-running mystery movie series "Agatha Christie's Poirot" (A&E, 2004), starring David Suchet as the fastidious Belgian detective.

By Bryce Coleman