Renée Asherson

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Renée Asherson
Born Dorothy Renée Ascherson
(1915-05-19) 19 May 1915 (age 99)
Kensington, London, England, UK
Years active 1939–2001
Spouse(s) Robert Donat (1953–1958; his death)

Renée Asherson (born 19 May 1915) is an English actress of stage, film and television. Much of Asherson's theatrical career was spent in Shakespearean plays, appearing at such venues as the Old Vic, the Liverpool Playhouse and the Westminster Theatre. Her first stage appearance was on 17 October 1935, aged 20, and her first major film appearance was in the 1944 film The Way Ahead. Her most recent film appearance was in 2001's The Others, directed by Alejandro Amenábar.

Early life and education[edit]

She was born in Kensington, London in 1915 as Dorothy Renée Ascherson[1] to Jewish parents, Charles Stephen Ascherson and Dorothy Lilian Ascherson (née Wiseman[1]). She was brought up in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, as well as Switzerland and Anjou. She later trained for the stage at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.[2]


Asherson was married to fellow actor Robert Donat from 1953 until his death in 1958. Although Donat had three children from his previous marriage, they had no children together. They had appeared together in the 1951 film The Magic Box.[3]



Asherson made her first stage appearance on 17 October 1935, as a walk-on in John Gielgud's production of Romeo and Juliet, though she was also the second understudy for Juliet Capulet.[2] For eighteen months from 1937 through 1938, Asherson was a member of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre company. She first appeared at the Old Vic theatre in May 1940 as Iris in The Tempest. Asherson toured with the Old Vic company from 1940 through 1941 in the roles of Kate Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer, Maria in Twelfth Night, Nerissa in The Merchant of Venice, and Blanche in The Life and Death of King John. Asherson appeared at the New Theatre as Blanche in July 1941 before resuming her tour with the Old Vic company.[2]

In 1942, Asherson continued her work in Shakespearean plays at three theatres: the New Theatre, the Liverpool Playhouse and the Westminster Theatre. The following year, she appeared in two non-Shakespearean roles: Henriette Duquesnoy in The Mask of Virtue at the Mercury Theatre and Rose in Lottie Dundass at the Vaudeville Theatre. She returned to the New Theatre for the 1947–1948 season, appearing in such roles as Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew, The Queen in Richard II, and Marya Antonovna in Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector. Other venues at which Asherson has appeared include the Aldwych Theatre where she played Stella in the first London production of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1949, the Apollo Theatre in 1956, the Criterion Theatre also in 1956, St Martin's Theatre in 1962, the Savoy Theatre in 1963 and 1977 and the Theatre Royal, York in 1973 and 1976.[2]


Asherson's first major film appearance was in the 1944 World War II film The Way Ahead as Marjorie Gillingham. In her second film appearance, she drew from her experience as a Shakespearean actress as she played Princess Katherine in Laurence Olivier's film adaption of Henry V. Also, in 1945, Asherson played Iris in The Way to the Stars (starring John Mills).[4] In 1951, Asherson appeared in the British Academy Award-nominated film The Magic Box[5] alongside Robert Donat, whom she would later marry.[6] In 1973, Asherson appeared in the Douglas Hickox horror film Theatre of Blood. Asherson made an appearance in the 1999 film Grey Owl. Asherson's last-known film appearance came two years later in the role of the "Old Lady" in Alejandro Amenábar's 2001 film The Others.[7]


Asherson has had an extensive career in television. Her first television appearance was in the role of Sybil in Smiling at Grief in 1939. In 1952, Asherson portrayed Queen Victoria in the BBC drama series Happy and Glorious. From 1953 through 1956, she appeared in five episodes of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Presents. In 1969, she played the role of a witch in an episode of Strange Report.

In 1978, she portrayed Mother Ancilla in the Quiet as a Nun series of Armchair Thriller. Asherson was interviewed in the series The British Greats in 1980. In 1981, Asherson played the role of Sylvia Ashburton in the first season and for eight episodes of Tenko.[8][9] She played Lady Margaret, opposite Alec Guinness' Sir Fennimore, Truscott, in the full-length, 1984 television play, Edwin, by John Mortimer, which also starred Paul Rogers. In 1985, she played the slow-witted Dora Bunner “Bunny” in the Miss Marple mystery A Murder is Announced starring Joan Hickson and Ursula Howells.[10] In 1989, she played Mrs Bartholomew in the BBC children's series, Tom's Midnight Garden, from novel for children by Philippa Pearce. In 1996, she played Emily Simpson in 'The Killings at Badger's Drift', the pilot episode (approximately 20 minutes longer than the other episodes) in the longrunning Midsomer Murders series; the original airdate of the pilot is 1997.[11]

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 3 November 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d Ian Herbert, ed. (1981). "ASHERSON, Renée". Who's Who in the Theatre 1. Gale Research Company. pp. 26–27. ISSN 0083-9833. 
  3. ^ Barrow, Kenneth. Mr Chips: The Life of Robert Donat. London: Methuen (1985)
  4. ^ The Way to the Stars at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ Release date for The Magic Box, in IMDb.
  6. ^ The Magic Box at the Internet Movie Database
  7. ^ The Others at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ Renée Asherson Filmography BFI Database
  9. ^ Full cast and crew of Tenko, in IMDb.
  10. ^ Full credits of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: A Murder Is Announced (1985), in IMDb.
  11. ^ "Midsomer Murders": The Killings at Badger's Drift, in IMDb.

External links[edit]