Peggy Ashcroft

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Dame Peggy Ashcroft
DBE
Peggy Ashcroft 1962.jpg
Peggy Ashcroft in 1962
Born Edith Margaret Emily Ashcroft
(1907-12-22)22 December 1907
Croydon, Surrey, England
Died 14 June 1991(1991-06-14) (aged 83)
London
Occupation Actress
Years active 1929–1991
Spouse(s) Rupert Hart-Davis (m. 1929–33)
Theodore Komisarjevsky (m. 1934)
Jeremy Hutchinson (m. 1940–65)

Dame Peggy Ashcroft, DBE (22 December 1907 – 14 June 1991)[1] was an English actress whose career spanned 48 years.

Early years[edit]

Born as Edith Margaret Emily Ashcroft in Croydon, Surrey, Ashcroft attended the Woodford School, East Croydon and the Central School of Speech and Drama.[2] A prolific stage actress from a young age, she first gained notoriety playing Naemi in Jew Suss in 1929, and Desdemona opposite Paul Robeson's Othello two years later, during which time the two had a two year long affair.[3]

Career[edit]

Stardom came in 1934 when she played Juliet in a legendary production of Romeo and Juliet, at the New Theatre, in which Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud alternated in the roles of Romeo and Mercutio. She and Gielgud would later be acclaimed as Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, which they played together a number of times, including a London engagement and European tour for the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1955 (she also played Cordelia to his King Lear during that tour). When she first played Beatrice with him in 1950, Gielgud found her performance "a revelation – an impish, rather tactless girl with a curious resemblance to Bea Lillie," while a teenage Peter Hall observed in her "English containment and decency, contrasted with a wild passion." She stayed at the top of the British theatrical profession throughout her career, with some of the highlights Three Sisters (1937) in which she played Irina, The Heiress (1949), Antony and Cleopatra (1953), As You Like It and Cymbeline (as Imogen) (1957), The Taming of the Shrew (1960), and The Wars of the Roses, the Royal Shakespeare Company's massive landmark compendium of the three Henry VI plays and Richard III, directed by Peter Hall for the RSC in 1963. Her last appearances for the RSC were as the Countess of Rousillon in Trevor Nunn's 1981 All's Well That Ends Well, a "perfect…performance" according to Financial Times critic Bertram Young,[4] and in a revival of The Hollow Crown for a gala performance at The Swan on 22 June 1986.

Ashcroft's film and television appearances were rare but memorable. One of her earliest film roles was the minor part of the crofter's wife in the Robert Donat version of The Thirty-Nine Steps, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

In 1937, she appeared in a 30-minute excerpt of Twelfth Night on the BBC Television Service, alongside Greer Garson, the first known instance of a Shakespeare play being performed on television.

She had minor supporting roles in The Nun's Story (1959) opposite Audrey Hepburn; Joseph Losey's Secret Ceremony (1968) starring Elizabeth Taylor and Mia Farrow; and Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) featuring Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson.

Peggy Ashcroft in 1962

In the 1970s, she starred in Der Fußgänger (English title: The Pedestrian), the Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe-winning film, which won the Best Foreign Language Foreign Film of 1974. The film was directed by Austrian actor-director Maximilian Schell, and starred former international early screen peers Käthe Haack, Lil Dagover and Françoise Rosay.

Possibly her best known celluloid role was that of Mrs. Moore in David Lean's 1984 film A Passage to India — a role for which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress among many other awards, including a BAFTA Award and a Golden Globe Award. Ashcroft did not appear in person at the telecast to accept the Oscar, so Angela Lansbury accepted it on her behalf.

Ashcroft's final theatrical film role was in John Schlesinger's Madame Sousatzka (1988) starring Shirley MacLaine.

On television, Ashcroft played Barbie Batchelor in the internationally acclaimed British miniseries The Jewel in the Crown (1984), for which she won a BAFTA Best Television Actress award and an Emmy Award nomination. Other memorable television roles include the miniseries Edward & Mrs. Simpson, Stephen Poliakoff's drama specials Caught on a Train and She's Been Away (both directed by Peter Hall), and a miniseries version of John le Carré's A Perfect Spy, for which she received her second Emmy nomination.

Other[edit]

In May 1986 Ashcroft was awarded an honorary degree from the Open University as Doctor of the University.[citation needed]. She was Godmother to commercials director Patrick Cadell and Jennifer Caron Hall, and said to be the only honorary female member of the Garrick Club.

Honours[edit]

Ashcroft was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1951, and raised to Dame Commander (DBE) in 1956.

Personal life[edit]

She was married three times, firstly to Sir Rupert Hart-Davis (between 1929 and 1933), secondly to Theodore Komisarjevsky (in 1934) and thirdly to Jeremy Hutchinson, Baron Hutchinson of Lullington, whom she married in 1940 and divorced in 1965.[1] By her third husband, Peggy had two children, a son Nicholas, born 1946[1] and a daughter Eliza[1] born in 1941. One of her granddaughters is the French singer Emily Loizeau.[5]

Ashcroft was the inspiration for the character Julie Walters portrayed in the film Driving Lessons, written and directed by Jeremy Brock who had worked for Ashcroft decades earlier.

Peggy Ashcroft died of a stroke on 14 June 1991, aged 83.

Legacy[edit]

She was commemorated with memorial plaque in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey (just above the grave of fellow Central School of Speech and Drama pupil and friend Laurence Olivier and 18th-century actor David Garrick). The Ashcroft Theatre is a theatre located within the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, South London. The theatre was named after Croydon-born Dame Peggy Ashcroft and is a proscenium theatre with a stepped auditorium.

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1933 The Wandering Jew Olalla Quintana
1935 The 39 Steps Margaret, the crofter's wife
1941 Quiet Wedding
1959 The Nun's Story Mother Mathilde Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
1968 Secret Ceremony Hannah
1969 Three Into Two Won't Go Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1971 Sunday Bloody Sunday Mrs Greville
1973 The Pedestrian (German: Der Fußgänger) Lady Gray
1984 A Passage to India Mrs Moore Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress
National Board of Review Award for Best Actress
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Nominated – National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress
1986 When the Wind Blows Hilda Bloggs (voice)
1988 Madame Sousatzka Lady Emily Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1937 Twelfth Night
1967 The Wednesday Play: Days in the Trees
1971 Play of the Month: The Cherry Orchard
1978 Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures Nominated – British Academy Television Award for Best Actress (also for Edward & Mrs. Simpson)
1978 Edward & Mrs. Simpson Queen Mary Nominated – British Academy Television Award for Best Actress (also for Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures)
1980 Caught on a Train Frau Messner
Cream in My Coffee British Academy Television Award for Best Actress (also for BBC2 Playhouse)
BBC2 Playhouse British Academy Television Award for Best Actress (also for Cream in My Coffee)
Broadcasting Press Guild Award for Best Actress
1982 Play of the Month: Little Eyolf The Rat Wife
1984 The Jewel in the Crown Barbie Batchelor British Academy Television Award for Best Actress
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1987 A Perfect Spy Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1989 Screen One: She's Been Away Lillian Huckle Venice Film Festival – Golden Ciak Award for Best Actress
Venice Film Festival – Pasinetti Award for Best Actress
Volpi Cup Award for Best Actress
Nominated – British Academy Television Award for Best Actress
Nominated – Broadcasting Press Guild Award for Best Actress

Radio[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography" entry on Flickr, accessed 9 May 2010
  2. ^ Ian Herbert, ed. (1981). "ASHCROFT, Dame Peggy". Who's Who in the Theatre 1. Gale Research Company. pp. 24–26. ISSN 0083-9833. 
  3. ^ Duberman, Martin. Paul Robeson, 1989, pg 143.
  4. ^ Review, 6 July 1982
  5. ^ Hutcheon, David (26 April 2011). "Emily Loizeau: Pays Sauvage". The Sunday Times. 

External links[edit]