Joan Plowright

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The Right Honourable
The Baroness Olivier
Joan Plowright 1960 (cropped).jpg
Joan Ann Plowright

(1929-10-28) 28 October 1929 (age 90)
Years active1948–2019
Roger Gage
(m. 1953; div. 1960)

Laurence Olivier
(m. 1961; died 1989)

Joan Ann Olivier, Baroness Olivier, DBE[1] (née Plowright; born 28 October 1929), commonly known as Dame Joan Plowright, is a retired English actress whose career has spanned over seven decades. She has won two Golden Globe Awards and a Tony Award and has been nominated for an Academy Award, an Emmy and two BAFTA Awards. She is also one of only four actresses to have won two Golden Globes in the same year.

Early life[edit]

Plowright was born in Brigg, Lincolnshire, the daughter of Daisy Margaret (née Burton) and William Ernest Plowright, who was a journalist and newspaper editor.[2][3] She attended Scunthorpe Grammar School[4] and trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in London.[5]


Plowright made her stage debut at Croydon in 1948[6] and her London debut in 1954. In 1956 she joined the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre and was cast as Margery Pinchwife in The Country Wife. She appeared with George Devine in the Eugène Ionesco play, The Chairs, Shaw's Major Barbara and Saint Joan.

Plowright as Jo with Angela Lansbury as Helen in the Broadway production of A Taste of Honey

In 1957, she co-starred with Sir Laurence Olivier in the original London production of John Osborne's The Entertainer, taking over the role of Jean Rice from Dorothy Tutin when the play transferred from the Royal Court to the Palace Theatre. She continued to appear on stage and in films such as The Entertainer (1960). In 1961, she received a Tony Award for her role in A Taste of Honey on Broadway.

Through her marriage to Laurence Olivier, she became closely associated with his work at the National Theatre from 1963 onwards. In the 1990s she began to appear more regularly in films, including Enchanted April (1992), for which she won a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination, Dennis the Menace (1993), a cameo in Last Action Hero (also 1993) and Tea With Mussolini (1999). She was also the Nanny in 101 Dalmatians (1996). Among her television roles, she won another Golden Globe Award and earned an Emmy Award nomination for the HBO film Stalin in 1992 as the Soviet dictator's mother-in-law. In 1994, she was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award.[7]

In 2003, Plowright performed in the stage production Absolutely! (Perhaps) in London. She was appointed honorary president of the English Stage Company in March 2009, succeeding John Mortimer, who died in January 2009. She was previously vice-president of the company.[8]

Plowright was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1970 New Year Honours[9] and was promoted to Dame Commander (DBE) in the 2004 New Year Honours.[10]

Plowright's eyesight declined steadily during the late 2000s and early 2010s due to macular degeneration. In 2014, she officially announced her retirement from acting because she had become completely blind.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Plowright was first married to Roger Gage, an actor, in September 1953. She divorced him and, in 1961, married Laurence Olivier after the ending of his 20-year marriage with the actress Vivien Leigh. The couple had three children, Richard Kerr (born December 1961), Tamsin Agnes Margaret (born January 1963) and Julie-Kate (born July 1966). Both daughters are actresses.[12] The couple remained married until Lord Olivier's death in 1989.

Her brother, David Plowright (1930–2006), was an executive at Granada Television.


The Plowright Theatre in Scunthorpe is named in Plowright's honour.


Upon her marriage to Sir Laurence Olivier, her formal title became Lady Olivier; however, she never used it in her professional career. Her husband was made a life peer in 1970 and so she became Baroness Olivier. Professionally, she is known as Dame Joan Plowright.

As of 2004 her full and official title, as the widow of a peer and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, is The Right Honourable The Baroness Olivier DBE.


Year Title Role Notes
1951 Sara Crewe Winnie 4 episodes
1954 Sunday Night Theatre Adriana Episode: "The Comedy of Errors"
1955 Moby Dick—Rehearsed A Young Actress/Pip Uncompleted and lost Orson Welles film
1956 Moby Dick Starbuck's wife Uncredited
1957 Sword of Freedom Lisa Giocondo Episode: "The Woman in the Picture"
Time Without Pity Agnes Cole
1959 The School for Scandal Lady Teazle TV drama
1960 The Entertainer Jean Rice Nominated—BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles
1963 Uncle Vanya Sonya
1969 ITV Saturday Night Theatre: Twelfth Night Viola UK videotaped TV drama
1970 ITV Playhouse Lisa Episode: "The Plastic People"
Three Sisters Masha
1973 The Merchant of Venice Portia UK Videotaped TV drama
1977 Equus Dora Strang Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1978 Daphne Laureola Lady Pitts UK Videotaped TV drama
Saturday, Sunday, Monday Rosa UK Videotaped TV drama
1980 The Diary of Anne Frank Mrs. Frank US Television film
1982 Brimstone & Treacle Norma Bates
All for Love Edith Episode: "A Dedicated Man"
Britannia Hospital Phyllis Grimshaw
1983 Wagner Mrs. Taylor Episode: "1.2"
1985 Revolution Mrs. McConnahay
1986 The Importance of Being Earnest Lady Bracknell UK videotaped TV drama
1987 Theatre Night Meg Bowles Episode: "The Birthday Party"
1988 Drowning by Numbers Cissie Colpitts 1
The Dressmaker Nellie
1989 And a Nightingale Sang Mam Television film
1990 Avalon Eva Krichinsky Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
I Love You to Death Nadja
Sophie Sophie Television film
1991 The House of Bernarda Alba La Poncia Television film
1992 Stalin Olga Television film
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Driving Miss Daisy Daisy Werthan Television film
Enchanted April Mrs. Fisher Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1993 Dennis the Menace Mrs. Martha Wilson
Last Action Hero Teacher
Screen Two Mrs. Monro Episode: "The Clothes in the Wardrobe"
1994 The Return of the Native Mrs. Yeobright Television film
A Pin for the Butterfly Grandma
A Place for Annie Dorothy Television film
On Promised Land Mrs. Appletree Television film
Nominated—CableACE Award for Best Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Widows' Peak' Mrs. Doyle-Counihan
1995 The Scarlet Letter Harriet Hibbons
A Pyromaniac's Love Story Mrs. Linzer
Hotel Sorrento Marge Morrisey
1996 101 Dalmatians Nanny
Surviving Picasso Françoise's Grandmother
Mr. Wrong Mrs. Crawford
Jane Eyre Mrs. Fairfax
1997 The Assistant Mrs. Ida Bober
1998-1999 Encore! Encore! Marie Pinoni 12 episodes
1998 Aldrich Ames: Traitor Within Jeanne Vertefeuille Television film
This Could Be the Last Time Rosemary Television film
Dance with Me Bea Johnson Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
1999 Tom's Midnight Garden Mrs. Bartholomew
Tea with Mussolini Mary Wallace
2000 Frankie & Hazel Phoebe Harkness Television film
Dinosaur Baylene Voice
2001 Bailey's Mistake Aunt Angie Television film
Back to the Secret Garden Martha Sowerby
Scrooge and Marley Narrator Television film
2002 Global Heresy Lady Foxley
Callas Forever Sarah Keller
2003 Bringing Down the House Virginia Arness
I am David Sophie Monaco Film Festival Award for Best Actress
2004 George and the Dragon Mother Superior
2005 Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont Mrs. Palfrey Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
2006 Goose on the Loose Beatrice Fairfield
Curious George Ms. Plushbottom
2008 The Spiderwick Chronicles Aunt Lucinda Spiderwick
2009 Knife Edge Marjorie
2018 Nothing Like a Dame Herself


  1. ^ Herbert Kretzmer (28 August 2014). Snapshots: Encounters with Twentieth-Century Legends. ISBN 9781849547987. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  2. ^ "Joan Plowright Biography". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved 29 June 2007.
  3. ^ "Joan Plowright Biography (1929-)".
  4. ^ Star Pupils Revealed at Scunthorpe Telegraph Archived 1 November 2015 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 9 July 2016
  5. ^ MacKay, Andrew (23 April 2010). "Joan Plowright - interview transcript" (PDF). The British Library.
  6. ^ "Entertainment | Plowright steals the limelight". BBC News. 31 December 2003. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  7. ^ "Past Recipients: Crystal Award". Women In Film. Archived from the original on 30 June 2011. Retrieved 10 May 2011.
  8. ^ Smith, Alistair (5 March 2009). "Plowright becomes honorary president of English Stage Company". The Stage. The Stage Newspaper Limited. Retrieved 12 March 2009.
  9. ^ "Viewing Page 9 of Issue 44999". 30 December 1969. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  10. ^ "Viewing Page 7 of Issue 57155". 31 December 2003. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  11. ^ Walker, Tim (13 May 2014). "Joan Plowright bows out to a standing ovation". Telegraph. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  12. ^ "Joan Plowright Biography". Film Reference. Retrieved 29 June 2007.

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