9 May 1932
Old Windsor, Berkshire, England
|Died||30 January 2015
Hammersmith, London, England
|Cause of death||Stroke|
|Spouse(s)||Hugh Cruttwell (1953–2002, his death)|
Geraldine McEwan (born Geraldine McKeown; 9 May 1932 – 30 January 2015) was an English actress who had a long career in theatre, television and film. Michael Coveney described her, in a tribute article, as "a great comic stylist, with a syrupy, seductive voice and a forthright, sparkling manner".
On stage, McEwan was a five-time Olivier Award nominee, and twice won the Evening Standard Award for Best Actress; for The Rivals (1983) and The Way of the World (1995). She was also nominated for the 1998 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for The Chairs. She won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress for the 1990 television serial Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, and from 2004 to 2009, she starred as the Agatha Christie sleuth Miss Marple, in the ITV series Marple.
She was born Geraldine McKeown on 9 May 1932 in Old Windsor, Berkshire, England, to Donald and Norah (née Burns) McKeown. She had Irish antecedents; her maternal grandfather came from Kilkenny while her paternal grandfather came from Belfast. Her father, a printers' compositor, ran the Labour Party branch in Old Windsor, a safe Conservative seat.
McEwan won a scholarship to attend Windsor County Girls' School, then a private school where she felt completely out of place, and took elocution lessons. In an interview with Cassandra Jardine of The Daily Telegraph in 2004, she said of herself around this time: "I was very shy, very private," but after reading a poem (apparently Lady Macbeth's speech "Glamis thou art and Cawdor...") at a Brownie concert: "I realised it was going to be a way in which I could manage the world. I could protect myself by losing myself in other people."
As a teenager, McEwan became interested in theatre and her theatrical career began at 14 as assistant stage manager at the Theatre Royal, Windsor. She made her first appearance on the Windsor stage in October 1946 as an attendant of Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night's Dream and played many parts with the Windsor Repertory Company from March 1949 to March 1951, including a role in the Ruth Gordon bio play Years Ago opposite guest player John Clark.
From 1951 to 1971
McEwan made her first West End appearance at the Vaudeville Theatre on 4 April 1951 as Christina Deed in Who Goes There! McEwan first appeared on television in a BBC series, Crime on Our Hands (1954), with Jack Watling, Dennis Price and Sonia Dresdel.
McEwan appeared at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon during the late 1950s and early 1960s, during the period when it was evolving into the Stratford venue for the new Royal Shakespeare Company formed in 1960, and at The Aldwych, the RSC's original London home.
During the 1958 season in Stratford, she played Olivia in Twelfth Night in a production directed by Peter Hall. After McEwan died, The Guardian's Michael Billington wrote of this performance: "At the time Olivia tended to be played as a figure of mature grief: McEwan was young, sparky, witty and clearly brimming with desire for Dorothy Tutin's pageboy Viola." McEwan's performance, according to Dominic Shellard, split contemporary critical opinion between those observers who considered it "heretical" and others who thought it "revolutionary".
In the same season at Stratford, McEwan portrayed Marina in Pericles and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing. She returned to the theatre in 1961 to portray Ophelia in Hamlet, opposite Ian Bannen as the Prince, and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing with Christopher Plummer as Benedict.
In a production of Sheridan's The School for Scandal directed by Sir John Gielgud in 1962, McEwan replaced Anna Massey as Mrs Teazle during the run at the Haymarket Theatre, London; her husband was played by Sir Ralph Richardson. After an American tour, this production was staged at the Majestic in New York in early 1963, and was McEwan's debut on Broadway. Back in England, she appeared with Kenneth Williams in the original unsuccessful 1965 production of Loot by Joe Orton, which closed at the Wimbledon Theatre before reaching London.
After this debacle, she joined the National Theatre Company, then based at the Old Vic, following the suggestion of Sir Laurence Olivier, then its artistic director, and performed in 11 productions over the next 5 years. She appeared with Olivier in Dance of Death, staged by Glen Byam Shaw and first performed in February 1967.
A portrayal of a marriage, Olivier asserted, according to his biographer Philip Ziegler, that he had chosen August Strindberg's play partly because it had a good part for McEwan: "I didn't give a damn if I made a success, I really didn't; it was her success I was after". The notices though concentrated on his role as the Captain rather than McEwan's as Alice, the Captain's wife. A film version, with the same two leads, was released in 1969.
During her first period at the National, she also portrayed Angelica in William Congreve's Love for Love, Raymonde Chandebise in Georges Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear, Millamant in The Way of the World and Vittoria Corombona in John Webster's The White Devil. Until her roles in the plays by Strindberg and Webster, McEwan was viewed mainly as a comedian, but these parts were thought to have extended her range.
In the 1970s and 1980s
McEwan took the lead role in an adaptation for Scottish Television of Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1978). She was Spark's favourite in the role and came the closest to the character as Spark had imagined it; Brodie has also been portrayed on stage and screen by Vanessa Redgrave and Maggie Smith. Her other work for television in this period included roles in The Barchester Chronicles (1982) and Mapp and Lucia (1985-86) with Prunella Scales as Mapp and McEwan as Lucia.
In 1983, McEwan played Mrs Malaprop in a production of Sheridan's The Rivals at the National Theatre in a production by Peter Wood which also featured Michael Hordern as Sir Anthony Absolute. Michael Billington wrote of this performance in 2015: "It is easy to play the word-mangling Mrs Malaprop as a comic buffoon. But the whole point of McEwan’s performance was that she took language with fastidious seriousness, fractionally pausing before each misplaced epithet as if ransacking her private lexicography. As I said at the time, it was like watching a demolition expert trying to construct a cathedral." For this role, McEwan won the Evening Standard Award for Best Actress.
She made her directing debut, in 1988, with the Renaissance Theatre Company's touring season, Renaissance Shakespeare on the Road, co-produced with the Birmingham Rep, and ending with a three-month repertory programme at the Phoenix Theatre in London. McEwan's contribution was a light romantic staging of As You Like It, with Kenneth Branagh playing Touchstone as an Edwardian music hall comedian.
McEwan won another Evening Standard Best Actress Award in 1995 for her role as Lady Wishfort in a revival of Congreve's The Way of the World, again at the National Theatre. Sheridan Morley, then theatre critic of The Spectator, wrote, "Geraldine McEwan (in the performance of the night and her career) comes on looking like an ostrich which has mysteriously been crammed into a tambourine lined with fresh flowers."
With Richard Briers, she starred from November 1997 in a revival of Eugène Ionesco's absurdist play The Chairs in a co-production between Simon McBurney's Theatre de Complicite and London's Royal Court Theatre (then temporarily based at the Duke of York's) who had staged the British premiere 40 years earlier. This production had a brief run on Broadway between April and June 1998; McEwan was nominated for a Tony Award.
Her later television credits include Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1990), for which she won the British Academy Television Award as Best Actress in 1991, and Mulberry (1992-93). She was also in the Cassandra episode of Red Dwarf (1999), playing a prescient computer. McEwan played the demented witch Mortianna in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). In Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters, (2002), she played the role of Sister Bridget.
McEwan was selected by Granada Television for Marple (2004-7), a new series featuring the Agatha Christie sleuth Miss Marple. She told The New York Times in a 2005 interview when the series was first being screened by PBS, "I do enjoy playing very original and slightly eccentric characters. It is very amusing that Agatha Christie should have created this older woman who lives a very conventional life in a little country village and yet spends all her time solving violent crimes." She announced her retirement from the role in 2008 after appearing in 12 films. She was succeeded as Miss Marple in the series by Julia McKenzie.
In 1953 McEwan married Hugh Cruttwell, whom she had first met when she was aged 14 while working at the Theatre Royal, Windsor. Cruttwell was the Principal of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1965 to 1984. They had a son Greg, who is an actor and screenwriter, and a daughter, Claudia. Cruttwell died in 2002.
McEwan was reported to have declined an OBE, and later, a DBE (in 2002), but she did not respond to these claims. "I will never speak of that", she said of the matter to Cassandra Jardine in 2004.
|There Was a Young Lady||1953||Irene|
|No Kidding||1960||Catherine Robinson||Beware of Children (U.S.)|
|Dance of Death||1969||Alice|
|The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones||1976||Lady Bellaston|
|Escape from the Dark||1976||Miss Coutt||The Littlest Horse Thieves (U.S.)|
|The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (TV series)||1978||Jean Brodie|
|Foreign Body||1986||Lady Ammanford|
|Mapp and Lucia||1985–1986||Emmeline Lucas (Lucia)|
|Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves||1991||Mortianna|
|Mulberry (TV Series)||1992–1993||Miss Farnaby|
|The Love Letter||1999||Constance Scattergoods|
|Red Dwarf (TV Series)||1999||Cassandra||Series 8, Episode 4, "Cassandra"|
|Love's Labour's Lost||2000||Holofernia|
|Food of Love||2002||Novotna|
|The Magdalene Sisters||2002||Sister Bridget|
|Vanity Fair||2004||Lady Southdown|
|The Lazarus Child||2004||Janet|
|Carrie's War||2004||Mrs. Gotobed|
|Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit||2005||Miss Thripp (voice)|
|A Matter of Loaf and Death||2008||Miss Thripp (voice)||Uncredited|
Miss Marple in Marple: 2004–2008
|Marple: The Body in the Library||2004|
|Marple: The Murder at the Vicarage||2004|
|Marple: 4.50 from Paddington||2004|
|Marple: A Murder Is Announced||2005|
|Marple: Sleeping Murder||2005|
|Marple: The Moving Finger||2006|
|Marple: By the Pricking of My Thumbs||2006|
|Marple: The Sittaford Mystery||2006|
|Marple: At Bertram's Hotel||2007|
|Marple: Ordeal by Innocence||2007|
|Marple: Towards Zero||2008|
Awards and nominations
|1976||Olivier Award for Best Comedy Performance||Oh Coward!||Nominated|
|Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Revival||On Approval||Nominated|
|1978||Olivier Award for Best Comedy Performance||Look After Lulu!||Nominated|
|1980||Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Revival||The Browning Version / Harlequinade||Nominated|
|1983||Evening Standard Award for Best Actress||The Rivals||Won|
|1991||BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress||Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit||Won|
|1995||Evening Standard Award for Best Actress||The Way of the World||Won|
|1996||Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role||The Way of the World||Nominated|
|1998||Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play||The Chairs||Nominated|
- Michael Coveney "Geraldine McEwan was a great comic stylist", whatsonstage.com, 2 February 2015
- Obituary:Geraldine McEwan, The Telegraph, 1 February 2015.
- Jardine, Cassandra (8 December 2004). "'Fishnets, tarty wigs – I love all that'". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
- Who's Who in the Theatre, 17th edition, Gale (1982)
- Janet Moat Profile, BFI screenonline; accessed 7 January 2016.
- Simon Farquhar "Geraldine McEwen: Actress whose decades of triumphs on the stage were topped off by her acclaimed Miss Marple on television", The Independent, 1 February 2015.
- Michael Billington "Geraldine McEwan: mischievously witty, from Mrs Malaprop to Miss Marple", The Guardian, 1 February 2015
- Dominic Shellard British Theatre Since the War, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1999 , p. 96
- See also Peter Hall's autobiography Making an Exhibition of Myself: the autobiography of Peter Hall, London: Oberon Books, 2000, p. 145. Originally published by Sinclair Stevenson (London) in 1993.
- Michael Coveney "Geraldine McEwan obituary, The Guardian, 31 January 2015
- "Geraldine McEwan ~ The Shakespeare Connection", geraldinemcewan.com
- Sheridan Morley Gielgud: The Authorised Biography, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002, p.339
- John Chapman "The School for Scandal is Memorable", Chicago Tribune (reprint of New York Daily News item), 26 January 1963, p.64
- John Lahr Prick Up Your Ears, Knopf, 1978
- Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 386. ISBN 1-84854-195-3.
- Simon Callow The National: The Theatre and Its Work 1963–1997, Nick Hern Books, 1997
- Philip Ziegler Olivier, London: MacLehose Press, 2013, p. 292
- George Russell The Old Vic Theatre: A History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 154
- Alasdair Steven "Obituary: Geraldine McEwan, actress", The Scotsman, 2 February 2015
- Sheridan Morley "Theatre: Love Has No Laws", The Spectator, 28 October 1995, p. 51
- Matt Wolf "Review: The Chairs", Variety, 13 December 1997
- Harry Haun "Briers and McEwan Dust Off The Chairs for Broadway", Playbill.com, 17 April 1998
- "Geraldine McEwan", Playbill Vault
- Marilyn Stasio "Make Way for TV's New Miss Marple, One With Some Romance in Her Past", New York Times, 15 April 2005.
- Conlan, Tara (2008-01-23). "McEwan retires from Marple role". Media Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 2008-01-23.
- Nicola Harley "Miss Marple actress Geraldine McEwan dies aged 82", The Telegraph, 31 January 2015
- "Geraldine McEwan, Actress Known for Miss Marple Role, Dies at 82", New York Times (AP), 2 February 2015
- Claire Armitstead Obituary: Hugh Cruttwell, The Guardian, 29 August 2002.
- "Actress Geraldine McEwan dies aged 82". BBC News Entertainment & Arts. 31 January 2015. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
- "'Miss Marple actor Geraldine McEwan dies aged 82'". The Guardian. 31 January 2015.