|Born||Penelope Alice Wilton
3 June 1946
Scarborough, North Riding of Yorkshire, England, UK
|Spouse(s)||Daniel Massey (m. 1975; div. 1984)
Ian Holm (m. 1991; div. 2001)
Penelope Alice Wilton, OBE (born 3 June 1946) is an English actress. She is known for starring opposite Richard Briers in the BBC sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles (1984–89); playing Homily in The Borrowers (1992) and The Return of the Borrowers (1993); and for her role as Lady Crawley in the ITV drama Downton Abbey (2010–15). She also played the recurring part of Harriet Jones in Doctor Who (2005–08).
Wilton has had an extensive career on stage, receiving six Olivier Award nominations. She was nominated for Man and Superman (1981), The Secret Rapture (1988), The Deep Blue Sea (1994), John Gabriel Borkman (2008) and The Chalk Garden (2009), before winning the 2015 Olivier Award for Best Actress for Taken at Midnight. Her film appearances include Clockwise (1986), Calendar Girls (2003), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Match Point (2005), Pride & Prejudice (2005), The Girl (2012), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012) and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015).
Life and career
Wilton was born in Scarborough, North Riding of Yorkshire, the daughter of Alice Travers, a tap dancer and former actress, and Clifford William Wilton, a businessman. She is a niece of actors Bill Travers and Linden Travers and a cousin of the actor Richard Morant. Her maternal grandparents owned theatres. She and her sisters, Rosemary and Linda, attended the convent school in Newcastle upon Tyne, at which their mother had previously taught. She attended the Drama Centre London.
Wilton had a successful stage career before transitioning into television acting, and her West End debut was opposite Sir Ralph Richardson. She played Ruth in the original 1974 London stage production of Alan Ayckbourn's Norman Conquests trilogy. Her television acting career began in 1972, playing Vivie Warren in Mrs. Warren's Profession opposite Robert Powell. She then had several major TV roles, including two of the BBC Television Shakespeare productions (as Desdemona in Othello and Regan in King Lear ).
Wilton's film career includes roles in The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), Cry Freedom (1987), Iris (2001), Calendar Girls (2003) and Shaun of the Dead (2004), Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (2005), Woody Allen's Match Point (2005), and in The History Boys (2006).
However she did not become a household name until she appeared with Richard Briers in the 1984 BBC situation comedy, Ever Decreasing Circles, which ran for five years. She played Ann, long suffering wife of Martin (Briers), an obsessive and pedantic "do-gooder". Throughout the run, Ann seeks a more adventurous lifestyle than that offered as a pillar of the community, and mildly flirts with their considerably more charismatic neighbour Paul (Peter Egan) but she remains faithful to Martin.
In 2005, Wilton guest starred as Harriet Jones for two episodes in the BBC's revival of the popular TV science-fiction series Doctor Who. This guest role was written especially for her by the programme's chief writer and executive producer Russell T. Davies, with whom she had worked on Bob and Rose (ITV, 2001). The character of Jones returned as Prime Minister in the Doctor Who 2005 Christmas special "The Christmas Invasion". In the first part of the 2008 series finale, "The Stolen Earth", she made a final appearance, now as the former Prime Minister who sacrifices herself for extermination by the Daleks so that the Doctor's companions can contact him. She appeared in four episodes.
Wilton has also appeared on television as Barbara Poole, the mother of a missing woman, in the BBC television drama series Five Days in 2005; and in ITV's drama Half Broken Things (October 2007) and the BBC production of The Passion (Easter 2008). Since 2010, she has appeared as Isobel Crawley in the hit period drama Downton Abbey. She was the castaway on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs in April 2008.
In December 2012 and February 2013, she was the narrator in Lin Coghlan's dramatisation of The Cazalets (Elizabeth Jane Howard) broadcast on BBC Radio.
Awards and recognition
In 2001, she was nominated for the London Evening Standard Theatre Award for her performance in The Little Foxes at the Donmar Warehouse. In 2004, she was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) for her services to drama. In 2012, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Hull's Scarborough Campus.
|Year||Olivier Awards||Nominated work||Result|
|1981||Olivier Award for Actress of the Year in a Revival||Man and Superman||Nominated|
|1988||Olivier Award for Actress of the Year in a New Play||The Secret Rapture||Nominated|
|1994||Olivier Award for Best Actress||The Deep Blue Sea||Nominated|
|2008||Olivier Award for Best Actress||John Gabriel Borkman||Nominated|
|2009||Olivier Award for Best Actress||The Chalk Garden||Nominated|
|2015||Olivier Award for Best Actress||Taken at Midnight||Won|
|1981||Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Actress||Much Ado About Nothing||Won|
|1993||Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Actress||The Deep Blue Sea||Won|
|2012||Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series||Downton Abbey||Won|
Television and film
|1972||Thirty-Minute Theatre||TV series (1 episode: "An Affair of Honour")|
|1972||Country Matters||Rachel Sullens||TV series (1 episode: "The Sullens Sisters")|
|1972||Play of the Month:
Mrs. Warren's Profession (BBC)
|Vivie Warren||TV drama (G.B. Shaw)|
|1973||The Pearcross Girls||Anna Pearcross/Helen Charlesworth/Julia Pearcross/Lottie Merchant||TV series (4 episodes)|
|1973||The Song of Songs||Lilli Czepanek||TV drama|
|1975||Play of the Month:
|Regan||Shakespeare, d. Jonathan Miller|
|1976||The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd||TV drama|
|1977||Joseph Andrews||Mrs. Wilson|
|1977||The Norman Conquests: Living Together||Annie||TV drama|
|1977||The Norman Conquests: Round and Round the Garden||Annie||TV drama|
|1977||The Norman Conquests: Table Manners||Annie||TV drama|
|1980||Play for Today||Helen/Virginia Carlion||TV series (2 episodes: 1980–1981)|
|1981||The French Lieutenant's Woman||Sonia|
|1981||Othello||Desdemona||Shakespeare (d. Jonathan Miller)|
|1982||The Tale of Beatrix Potter||Beatrix Potter||TV drama|
|1982||King Lear||Regan||Shakespeare (d. Jonathan Miller)|
|1984||Ever Decreasing Circles||Ann Bryce||TV series (27 episodes: 1984–1989)|
|1986||C.A.T.S. Eyes||Angela Lane||TV series (1 episode: "Good as New")|
|1986||The Monocled Mutineer||Lady Angela Forbes||TV series (2 episodes)|
|1987||Cry Freedom||Wendy Woods|
|1990||4 Play||Julia||TV series (1 episode: "Madly in Love")|
|1992||Blame It on the Bellboy||Patricia Fulford|
|1992||The Borrowers||Homily||TV series|
|1993||The Secret Rapture||Marion French|
|1993||The Return of the Borrowers||Homily||TV series|
|1994||Performance: The Deep Blue Sea||Hester Collyer||TV series (2 episodes: 1994–1995)|
|1995||Carrington||Lady Ottoline Morrell|
|1998||This Could Be the Last Time||Marjorie||TV film|
|1998||Talking Heads 2||Rosemary||TV miniseries (1 episode: "Nights in the Gardens of Spain")|
|1998||Alice Through the Looking Glass||White Queen||TV film|
|1999||Gooseberries Don't Dance||Short|
|1999||Kavanagh QC||Barbara Watkins||TV series (1 episode: "Time of Need")|
|1999||Tom's Midnight Garden||Aunt Melbourne|
|1999||Wives and Daughters||Mrs. Hamley||TV miniseries (2 episodes)|
|2001||The Whistle-Blower||Heather Graham||TV film|
|2001||Victoria & Albert||Princess Victoria, Duchess of Kent||TV film|
|2001||Bob & Rose||Monica Gossage||TV series (3 episodes)|
|2003||Lucky Jim||Celia Welch||TV film|
|2004||Shaun of the Dead||Barbara|
|2005||Falling||Daisy Langrish||TV film|
|2005||Match Point||Eleanor Hewett|
|2005||Pride & Prejudice||Mrs. Gardiner|
|2005-2008||Doctor Who||Harriet Jones||TV series (4 episodes: 2005–2008)|
|2006||The History Boys||Mrs. Bibby|
|2007||Five Days||Barbara Poole||TV series (4 episodes)
Nominated – RTS Award – Best Actor
|2007||Half-Broken Things||Jean||TV film|
|2008||The Passion||Mary||TV miniseries|
|2009||Marple: They Do It with Mirrors||Carrie Louise Serrocold||TV film|
|2010||My Family||Rosemary Matthews||TV series (1 episode: "Wheelie Ben")|
|2010–2015||Downton Abbey||Isobel Crawley||TV series|
|2011||South Riding||Mrs. Beddows||TV series (3 episodes)|
|2012||The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel||Jean||Nominated - Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Nominated - Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cast
|2012||The Girl||Peggy Robertson||TV film|
|2013||Belle||Lady Mary Murray|
|2015||The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel||Jean|
|2016||The BFG||The Queen||Filming|
Penelope Wilton commenced her professional career at the Nottingham Playhouse, and appeared alongside Nicholas Clay in The Dandy Lion. She was Regan to Michael Hordern's King Lear at Nottingham Playhouse in 1970; Anna Calder-Marshall played Cordelia, and Thelma Ruby was the elder sister, Goneril.
|1971||West of Suez||Mary||Royal Court Theatre, London|
|1971||The Philanthropist||Araminta||Royal Court Theatre, then Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City|
|1972||The Great Exhibition||Maud||Hampstead Theatre Club, London|
|1973||The Director of the Opera||Sophia||Royal Court Theatre, London|
|1973||The Seagull||Masha||Chichester Festival|
|1974||Something's Burning||Dikson||Mermaid Theatre, London|
|1974||The Norman Conquests||Ruth||Greenwich Theatre, London|
|1974||Bloomsbury||Dora Carrington||Phoenix Theatre, London|
|1975||Measure For Measure||Isabella||Greenwich Theatre, London|
|1976||"Play," Play and Others||Second woman||Royal Court Theatre|
|1978||Plunder||Prudence Malone||National Theatre Company, Lyttelton Theatre, London|
|1978||The Philanderer||Julia Craven||National Theatre Company, Lyttelton Theatre|
|1978||Betrayal||Emma||National Theatre Company, Lyttelton Theatre|
|1979||Tishoo||Barbara||Wyndham's Theatre, London|
|1981||Man and Superman||Ann Whitefield and Dona Ana||National Theatre Company, Olivier Theatre, London|
|1981||Much Ado about Nothing||Beatrice||National Theatre Company, Olivier Theatre|
|1982||Major Barbara||Barbara Undershaft||National Theatre Company, Lyttelton Theatre|
|1988||The Secret Rapture||Marion French||National Theatre Company, Lyttelton Theatre|
|1988||Andromache||Hermione||Old Vic Theatre, London|
|1990||Piano||Cottesloe Theatre, London|
|1993||The Deep Blue Sea||Hester Collyer||Almeida Theatre, London|
|1999||A Kind of Alaska, The Collection, and The Lover||Deborah||Donmar Warehouse, London|
|2000||The Seagull||Arkadina||Barbican Theatre, London|
|2001||Lillian Hellman's Little Foxes||Regina||Donmar Warehouse|
|2002||Afterplay||Sonya||Gielgud Theatre, London
Gate Theatre, Dublin
|2005||The House of Bernarda Alba||Bernada||National Theatre Company, Lyttelton Theatre|
|2006||Eh Joe||Female voice||Gate Theatre, Dublin
Duke of York's, Westminster, London
|2006||Women Beware Women||Livia||Swan Theatre, Stratford|
|2007||John Gabriel Borkman||Ella Rentheim||Donmar Warehouse, London|
|2008||The Chalk Garden||Miss Madrigal||Donmar Warehouse, London|
|2008||The Family Reunion||Agatha||Donmar Warehouse, London|
|2009||Hamlet||Gertrude||Wyndham's Theatre, London|
|2011||A Delicate Balance||Agnes||Almeida Theatre, London|
|2014–15||Taken At Midnight||Irmgard Litten||Minerva Theatre, Chichester/Theatre Royal Haymarket, London|
Between 1975 and 1984, Wilton was married to the actor Daniel Massey. They had a daughter, Alice, born in 1977. Before this, she had a stillborn son born very premature. She has remarked that this was one of the saddest things in her life. In 1991 Wilton married Sir Ian Holm (in 1998, after he was knighted, she became Lady Holm) and they appeared together as Pod and Homily in the BBC's 1993 adaptation of The Borrowers. They were divorced in 2001.
- "Penelope Wilton". BFI. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- "Penelope Wilton, the winner of discontent". The Times. 30 April 2011. Retrieved 2012-03-06.
- Andrew Billen (26 April 2000). "Time for Penelope to soar". Evening Standard. London. Retrieved 2012-03-06.
- "Former students - Central Saint Martins". Csm.arts.ac.uk. Retrieved 2012-03-06.
- "What'sOn: Wicked role for Penelope means it's Women Beware Wilton; Theatre.(Features)" Coventry Evening Telegraph (England) via HighBeam Research
- "Biography for Richard Morant" at IMDb
- Drama Centre: watch this face. Central Saint Martins, 22 March 2009. Accessed August 2013.
- "Institute of Directors - IoD". afterhoursmagazine.co.uk. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- Kellaway, Kate (30 September 2001). "A study in emotion". The Observer. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
- Olga Craig (15 November 2008). "Penelope Wilton: an actress who epitomises all things quintessentially English". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
- Penelope Wilton at the Internet Movie Database
- Penelope Wilton at the Internet Broadway Database
- Gareth McLean, Unspoken worlds, 25 October 2007, The Guardian
- Ancestry of Penelope Wilton
- Penelope Wilton interview on BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs, April 4, 2008