|Dame Janet Suzman
9 February 1939 |
Johannesburg, South Africa
Dame Janet Suzman, DBE (born 9 February 1939) is a South African/British actress who enjoyed a successful early career in the Royal Shakespeare Company, later replaying many Shakespearean roles, among others, on TV. In her first film, Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), her performance as Empress Alexandra earned her several honours, including a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Suzman later starred in a wide range of classical and modern drama as well as directing many productions, both in Britain and South Africa. She is a niece of Helen Suzman, South African politician and anti-apartheid campaigner. Suzman herself appeared in a film that looked closely at the apartheid issue, A Dry White Season (1989).
Her grandfather, Max Sonnenberg, was a member of the South African parliament, and she is a niece of the late civil rights/anti-apartheid campaigner, Helen Suzman. Suzman was educated at the independent school Kingsmead College, Johannesburg, and at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she studied English and French. She moved to London in 1959.
After training for the stage at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art Suzman made her debut as Liz in Billy Liar at the Tower Theatre, Ipswich, in 1962. She became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1963 and started her career there as Joan of Arc in The Wars of The Roses (1962–64). The RSC gave her the opportunity to play many of the Shakespearean heroines, including Rosaline in Love's Labour's Lost, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Ophelia in Hamlet, Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Celia and Rosalind in As You Like It, Lavinia in Titus Andronicus and her Cleopatra, magisterial, ardent and seductive, in 1973, about which critics raved, and which is said to be a definitive performance. Her Cleopatra was captured on film. Although her stage appearances tended to run naturally towards Shakespeare and the classics, including Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, Chekhov's The Three Sisters, Marlowe, Racine, Gorky and Brecht, she also appeared in plays by Genet, Pinter, Ronald Harwood, Nicholson, Albee and others.
Films and TV
She appeared in many British television drama productions in the 1960s and early 1970s, including Saint Joan (1968), The Three Sisters (1970), Macbeth (1970), Hedda Gabler (1972), Twelfth Night (1973), as Hilda Lessways in Clayhanger (1976), as Lady Mountbatten in Lord Mountbatten - The Last Viceroy (1985) and Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective (1986). Her first film role was in Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), and she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, the BAFTA and the Golden Globe for her portrayal of the Empress Alexandra. This was followed by A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1972) opposite Alan Bates. There is also a television version of her Cleopatra in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (1974) with Richard Johnson as Antony. She also appeared as "Frosine" in the BBC's Theatre Night 1988 production of The Miser opposite Nigel Hawthorne as "Harpagon" and Jim Broadbent as "Maitre Jacques". Another role was that of Frieda Lawrence in Priest of Love (1981).
She has made few films since, the best-known being Don Siegel's The Black Windmill (1974), Nijinsky (1980), Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract (1982), Federico Fellini's E la Nave Va (And the Ship Sails On 1983), A Dry White Season (1989) with Marlon Brando and Nuns on the Run (1990; a rare comedic role).
In her native South Africa she directed Othello, which was also televised, and Brecht's The Good Woman of Setzuan (renamed The Good Woman of Sharpeville) both at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg. She also toured her modern adaptation of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard - a South African response entitled The Free State. She wrote, starred in and directed this piece with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Other productions with Suzman as director included A Dream of People at the RSC, The Cruel Grasp at the Edinburgh Festival, Feydeau's No Flies on Mr Hunter (Chelsea Centre, 1992), Death of a Salesman (Theatr Clywd, 1993), and Pam Gems's The Snow Palace (Tour and Tricycle Theatre, 1998).
In 2002 she returned to the RSC to perform in a new version of The Hollow Crown with Sir Donald Sinden, Ian Richardson and Sir Derek Jacobi. In 2005 she appeared in the West End in a revival of Brian Clark's 1978 play Whose Life Is It Anyway? starring Kim Cattrall. In 2006 she directed Hamlet and in 2007 she played Volumnia in Coriolanus in Stratford-upon-Avon, for which she received excellent notices. In 2010 she appeared in Dream of the Dog, a new South African play, at the Finborough Theatre, London, which subsequently transferred to the West End. Suzman wrote Acting With Shakespeare: Three Comedies, a book based on a series of acting master classes.
Her marriage (1969–86) to director Trevor Nunn ended in divorce; they have one son, Joshua.
Suzman was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2011 Birthday Honours for services to drama. Her aunt, Helen Suzman, was appointed Honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1989 for her anti-apartheid activism.
Janet Suzman holds Honorary D.Litt. degrees from the Universities of Warwick, Leicester, London (QMW), Southampton, Middlesex, Kingston, Cape Town University Edge Hill University and Buckingham University. She is an Honorary Fellow of the Shakespeare Institute, and was awarded the Pragnell Award for lifetime services to Shakespeare in 2012.
|1964||Festival (TV series)||Luciana||episode: The Comedy of Errors|
|1965||The Wars of the Roses (TV miniseries)||Lady Anne/Joan la Pucelle||chapter: Richard III
chapter: Henry VI
|1966||Lord Raingo (TV series)||Delphine||episode: Fear
episode: The Offer
|1966||Theatre 625 (TV series)||Edith Swan-Neck/Mary||episode: The Family Reunion
episode: Conquest: The Leopard and the Dragon
episode: Conquest: The Encounter
|1970||Solo (TV series)||Charlotte Brontë||episode: Janet Suzman as Charlotte Brontë|
|1971||Nicholas and Alexandra||Alexandra||Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year - Actress
|1972||A Day in the Death of Joe Egg||Sheila||Nominated—National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress (4th place)
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (3rd place)
|1968–1972||BBC Play of the Month (TV series)||Hedda Gabler
Joan of Arc
|Nominated—British Academy Television Award for Best Actress
episode: Hedda Gabler
episode: The Three Sisters
episode: St. Joan
|1974||The Black Windmill||Alex Tarrant|
|1974||Antony and Cleopatra (TV film)||Cleopatra||Nominated—British Academy Television Award for Best Actress|
|1976||Clayhanger (TV series)||Hilda Lessways/Hilda Clayhanger|
|1976||Voyage of the Damned||Leni Strauss|
|1979||The House on Garibaldi Street (TV film)||Hedda|
|1980||Escape (TV series)||Wendy Woods||episode: Banned|
|1981||Priest of Love||Frieda Lawrence|
|1982||The Draughtsman's Contract||Virginia Herbert|
|1983||And the Ship Sails On||Edmea Tetua|
|1984||The Midsummer Marriage (TV film)||Sosostris|
|1984||The Zany Adventures of Robin Hood (TV film)||Eleanor of Aquitaine|
|1985||Bright Smiler (TV film)||Avon Eve|
|1986||Masterpiece Theatre: Lord Mountbatten - The Last Viceroy||Lady Edwina Mountbatten|
|1986||The Singing Detective (TV miniseries)||Nicola|
|1988||Theatre Night (TV series)||Frosine||episode: The Miser|
|1989||Revolutionary Witness (TV short)||Theroign de Mericourt||segment: The Woman|
|1989||A Dry White Season||Susan du Toit|
|1989||4 Play (TV series)||Judith||episode: Nobody Here But Us Chickens|
|1990||Nuns on the Run||Sister Superior|
|1992||Horizon (TV series)||Narrator||episode: Taking the Credit|
|1992||Leon the Pig Farmer||Judith Geller|
|1992||The Secret Agent (TV series)||Margaret, Duchess of Chester|
|1993||Inspector Morse (TV series)||Dr Claire Brewster||episode: Deadly Slumber|
|1997||Ruth Rendell Mysteries (TV series)||Cecily Branksome||episode: Front Seat|
|2002||The Windsors - A Royal Family (Documentary)||Narrator||Originally released in 1994 by PBS, updated and re-released in 2002|
|2005||Hiroshima (TV film)||voice|
|2006–2007||Trial & Retribution (TV series)||Winifred Morgan QC||episode: Sins of the Father|
|2008||The Color of Magic (TV film)||Ninereeds|
|2010||Midsomer Murders (TV series)||Lady Matilda William||episode: The Sword of Guillaume|
|2011||Tinga Tinga Tales (TV series)||Ostrich|
|2012||Sinbad (TV series)||Grandmother/Safia||episode: Homecoming
episode: Queen of the Water-Thieves
episode: The Siren
|2012||Labyrinth (TV series)||Esclarmonde||episode: Episode No. 1.2
episode: Episode No. 1.1
|2012||Moominland Tales: The Life of Tove Jansson (TV film)||Readings|
Reference: "Janet Suzman". IMDB. Retrieved 25 September 2013.
- Janet Suzman profile at Film Reference.com
- "It's difficult to describe the grief", Times Online
- "Courage and wit that faced down apartheid", Herald Scotland
- The London Gazette: . 11 June 2011.
- BBC News - Bruce Forsyth knighthood heads Queen's Birthday Honours