Penny Woolcock

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Penny Woolcock (born 1 January 1950) is a British filmmaker, opera director, and screenwriter.[1][2][3]

Penny Woolcock
Penny Woolcock.JPG
Born (1950-01-01) 1 January 1950 (age 69)
OccupationScreenwriter, film director, opera director, screenwriter
Years active1980s–present

Early life[edit]

Penny Woolcock was born in Argentina and raised in Montevideo and Buenos Aires. In 1967, she founded a radical theatre group and was briefly arrested.[citation needed] Her parents wanted to send her to Europe for safety; instead she fled to Spain with a man from the theatre group and had a baby in Barcelona.[citation needed]

In 1970 she moved to England as a single mother.[citation needed] She did factory work and other jobs.[citation needed] In her thirties she enrolled in a filmmakers' workshop, borrowed some film-making equipment and sold the resulting feature to the BBC.[citation needed] She was then hired as a director and editor of a current affairs program in Newcastle and subsequently went on to feature making.[citation needed]


Her first feature as a writer and director was Women in Tropical Places in 1989. Since then she has directed and written numerous documentary and feature films, for television and screen. She adapted and directed Macbeth on the Estate in 1997. As with her earlier film Shakespeare on the Estate (made with Michael Bogdanov), African-Caribbean people living in tower blocks in Ladywood, Birmingham were revealed to have a natural affinity with Shakespearean language and great skill at making Shakespeare relevant to present day inner city life.

Her breakthrough film was Tina Goes Shopping which was a collaborative piece with the real residents of the Gipton estates in Leeds, and which forms part one of what is now known as the Tina Trilogy (along with Tina takes a Break and the feature film Mischief Night). As well as starring in the Tina Trilogy, people from the estate (including Kelli Hollis) went on to appear in other TV and feature films, a social action feature of much of Woolcock's work. She has provided informal support to many people she has encountered whilst making documentaries and has tried to have social impacts over and above the making of her films. In Birmingham she was involved in helping to bring about a gangland truce after the making of the movie 1 Day[4] and the documentary One Mile Away (both of which illustrated gangland "postcode wars").[5] She is part of a social enterprise with Dylan Duffus, Shabba Thompson and other ex-gang members trying to bring about change in parts of Birmingham affected by gang violence.[6]

In 2013, Woolcock released a new documentary, Storyville: From the Sea to the Land Beyond - Britain's Coast on Film, which was broadcast on the BBC. Based on archive movie footage from early cinematography to recent times it illustrated working-class life in the 20th century.

In 2014, she directed a documentary for Channel 4 called Going to the Dogs, investigating inner city dog fighting in the UK.[7] She is currently the executive director of Ackley Bridge, a television series broadcast on Channel 4.


Woolcock's operas include a production of John Adams' Doctor Atomic which she directed for the Metropolitan Opera's 2008–2009 season. She had previously filmed Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer as a feature film. In 2014, she staged Bizet's The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera in London (English translation version), then recreated it in a highly acclaimed French version at The Metropolitan Opera in January 2016.[8]

In 2016, she was invited by Streetwise Opera to direct a production of the Bach St Matthew Passion, performed predominantly by homeless people. Sir James MacMillan composed a new finale for the occasion, which was broadcast on BBC4 on Sunday 27 March 2016.[9]


  1. ^ "Film Network - Features - Case Study: Penny Woolcock". BBC. Retrieved 2013-09-02.
  2. ^ Berwick, Isabel (2013-03-15). "Gang of one: Penny Woolcock's new documentary". Retrieved 2013-09-02.
  3. ^ British Film Institute (2013-03-29). "Penny Woolcock talks to gangsters | British Film Institute". Retrieved 2013-09-02.
  4. ^ "1 Day the movie - an interview with Penny Woolcock". BBC. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
  5. ^ Clark, Ashly. "Penny Woolcock talks to gangsters". BFI.
  6. ^ Sally Williams (21 March 2013). "One Mile Away:Birmingham gangs give peace a chance". The Telegraph. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  7. ^ "Going to the Dogs – Channel 4". Channel 4. June 2014. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  8. ^ Tommasini, Anthony (2016-01-01). "A Precious Harvest in The Pearl Fishers at the Met". New York Times.
  9. ^ "The Marxist at the Met". The Times. Retrieved 2016-03-23.


  • Katrina Ames, "The Surprising Career of Penny Woolcock," Opera News, October 2008, pp 38–39

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