Phyllida Law

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Phyllida Law

Colour photograph of Phyllida Law at the 'Nanny McPhee London film premiere in 2005
Law at the Nanny McPhee London premiere in 2005
Phyllida Ann Law

(1932-05-08) 8 May 1932 (age 90)
Glasgow, Scotland
Years active1958–present
(m. 1957; died 1982)
ChildrenEmma Thompson
Sophie Thompson
HonoursHonorary degree, Glasgow Caledonian University

Phyllida Ann Law OBE (born 8 May 1932) is a British actress, known for her numerous roles in film and television.

Early life[edit]

Law was born in Glasgow, the daughter of Meg "Mego" and William Law, a journalist.[1][2] Prior to the Second World War, her father was a journalist with the Glasgow Herald who "kept odd hours"; when the war broke out, he went into the air force and separated from his wife, later divorcing. Law would not see her father again until she was 18.[3] Law's mother Meg worked in a dress shop in Glasgow during the war.[4] The family also included Law's brother, James, her elder by five years, and their maternal grandmother, the wife of a Presbyterian minister, and "a fierce Presbyterian" herself whom Law "did not like as a child but can now admire."[3][4]

After attending Glasgow Girls High up to age seven, the war began in September 1939 and Law and her brother were evacuated to family friends outside Glasgow in Lenzie, East Dunbartonshire, and attended a local school there, before Law transferred to Skelmorlie, Ayrshire, and then a school near the Clyde.[5][4] At 13 she passed an entrance exam for Badminton School in Bristol, and became a boarder there. Leaving the school at 17, she initially accepted a place at university to read French and Literature, but disliked the experience and left. She then auditioned for the Bristol Old Vic School, intending to train as a stage designer, and discovered – by "happy mistake" – that she wanted to act instead.[6][7][8] [4][9]

She was married to actor Eric Thompson from 1957 until his death in 1982. Their daughters, Emma and Sophie Thompson, are both actresses.


Law has worked extensively in television, including appearances in Dixon of Dock Green, Rumpole of the Bailey and the 1972 adaptation of the Lord Peter Wimsey tale The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. She appeared in films such as Peter's Friends (1992), Much Ado About Nothing (1993) (playing Ursula, alongside daughter Emma as Beatrice) and The Winter Guest (1997) (playing Elspeth, alongside daughter Emma as Frances).

She was in the original London cast of La Cage aux Folles at the London Palladium in 1986, playing the role of Jacqueline.[10]

In 2004, she guest-starred in the Rosemary & Thyme episode entitled "Orpheus in the Undergrowth" as May Beauchamp. In 2007 she guest-starred in two Doctor Who spin-off adventures: as Bea Nelson-Stanley in The Sarah Jane Adventures story "Eye of the Gorgon" and as Beldonia in the audio drama Doctor Who: The Bride of Peladon. In 1963 Law had auditioned for one of the original four regular leads in Doctor Who, "Miss McGovern". She did not win the part, the name of which was subsequently changed to Barbara Wright.[11]

Also in 2007 she played Aunt Auriel in the drama Kingdom starring Stephen Fry. In 2008 she appeared as a guest star in Foyle's War.

In November 2009, Law published her first book.[12] Notes to my Mother-In-Law concerns the 17 years Law's mother-in-law lived with the family from the mid-1960s until her death. In January 2010 she appeared with Tony Slattery on Ready Steady Cook. She starred alongside John Hurt in a short film entitled Love at First Sight which was shortlisted for an Oscar in 2012.[13]

Phyllida Law (centre) flanked by her daughters Sophie Thompson and Emma Thompson on receiving her OBE at Buckingham Palace.
Phyllida Law receives the honorary doctorate from the hands of Muhammad Yunus, chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University (July 4th 2013).


In 2013 Law received an Honorary Doctorate from Glasgow Caledonian University and an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.[14]


Law was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2014 Birthday Honours by The Queen for services to drama and for charitable services.[15]



Year Title Role(s) Notes
1968 Otley Jean
1973 Hitler: The Last Ten Days Fraulein Manzialy
1989 Tree of Hands Julia
1992 Peter's Friends Vera
1993 Much Ado About Nothing Ursula
1994 Before the Rain Mother
Junior Dr. Talbot Uncredited
1996 Emma Mrs Bates
1997 Anna Karenina Vronskaya
The Winter Guest Elspeth
1999 Mad Cows Lady Drake
2000 Saving Grace Margaret Sutton
2002 The Time Machine Mrs. Watchit
2003 I’ll Be There Mrs. Williams
2005 Nanny McPhee Mrs Partridge Voice
Danny the Dog Distinguished Lady
Mee-Shee: The Water Giant Mrs. Coogan
2006 Miss Potter Mrs. Louisa Warne
2007 The Waiting Room Helen
2010 Ways to Live Forever Grandmother
Love at First Sight Ruth Short film
Arrietty Sadako UK English dub
2011 Albert Nobbs Mrs. Cavendish
2014 A Little Chaos Suzanne
2020 Then Came You Arlene Awd

Partial Television Credits[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1960 ITV Television Playhouse Julia Cathart Episode: "Missing from Home"
1964 Play School Nurse
1972 The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club Marjorie Phelps 2 episodes
1973 A Picture of Katherine Mansfield Linda Burnell / Mother / Mrs. Beauchamp/ Mrs. Sheridan
1978 Come Back, Lucy Aunt Gwen
1982 The Barchester Chronicles Mrs. Stanhope
1987 Rumpole of the Bailey Honoria Bird Episode: "Rumpole and the Blind Tasting "
1988-1992 That's Love Babs 10 episodes
1989 Agatha Christie’s Poirot Lady Carrington Episode: "The Incredible Theft"
1991 The House of Eliott Edith Duglass
1994 Taggart Joan Mathieson Episode: "Forbidden Fruit"
The Blue Boy Marie's Mother TV Movie
Heartbeat Nancy Bellow
1999 Midsomer Murders Felicity Dinsdale Episode: “Blood Will out”
The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns Lady Margaret TV Movie
2002 Monarch of the Glen Isobel Hogg
The Swap Rose Trenchard
2003 Brush with Fate Maria TV film
2004 Waking the Dead Mrs. Carstairs Episode: "The Hardest Word"
Rosemary & Thyme May Beauchamp Episode: "Orpheus in the Undergrowth"
2005 Afterlife Irene Moser Episode: "The 7:59 Club"
2006 Pinochet in Suburbia Lucía Hiriart TV Movie
2007-2009 Kingdom Aunt Auriel 16 episodes
2007 The Sarah Jane Adventures Bea Nelson-Stanley 2 episodes
2007 Miss Austen Regrets Mrs. Austen TV Movie
2008 Foyle's War Lady Muriel Sackville Episode: "Broken Souls"
2010 Doc Martin Mrs McLynn Episode: "Driving Mr McLynn"
Agatha Christie’s Poirot Mrs Llewellyn-Smythe Episódio: "Hallowe’en Party"
2011 The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff Aunt Sobriety
Midsomer Murders Mary Bingham Episode: "Dark Secrets"
2013 New Tricks Eliza Belgrade Episode: "Into the Woods "

Published works[edit]

  • Law, Phyllida (2009). Notes to my Mother-in-Law. Fourth Estate. ISBN 978-0007338412.
  • Law, Phyllida (2013). How Many Camels Are There in Holland?: Dementia, Ma and Me. Fourth Estate. ISBN 978-0007485864.


  1. ^ "Arriving at a certain stage of solitude". HeraldScotland.
  2. ^ "Review: How Many Camels are There in Holland? Dementia, Ma and Me, By". The Independent. 2 March 2013. Archived from the original on 26 May 2022.
  3. ^ a b Barbieri, Interview by Annalisa (16 October 2009). "My family values | Phyllida Law". The Guardian.
  4. ^ a b c d Law, P. (2013). How Many Camels Are There in Holland?: Dementia, Ma and Me. HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0-00-751380-2. Retrieved 9 October 2021.
  5. ^ Roberts, Lesley (6 April 2014). "Veteran actress Phyllida Law says she won't be molly-coddled in her old age". Daily Record.
  6. ^ "Phyllida Law, mothers and a camel". The Sydney Morning Herald. 4 April 2014.
  7. ^ "StackPath".
  8. ^ Lambert, Victoria (24 July 2017). "Phyllida Law: 'I've got to have my funeral in the afternoon, curtain up 2.30pm, so people can get to the theatre afterwards'" – via
  9. ^ "Books: Phyllida Law talks about her new book about her adventures in her early days in theatre". The Northern Echo.
  10. ^ "La Cage aux Folles – 1986 West End – Original West End Cast". 9 October 2011. Retrieved 22 December 2011.
  11. ^ Howe, David J; Stammers, Mark; Walker, Stephen James (1994). The Handbook: The First Doctor – The William Hartnell Years: 1963–1966. Virgin Publishing. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-426-20430-5.
  12. ^ "The Bookseller". The Bookseller. Archived from the original on 29 February 2012. Retrieved 22 December 2011.
  13. ^ Ford, Rebecca (14 December 2011). "10 Live Action Short Films". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 24 January 2012.
  14. ^ "Actresses collect degrees together". BBC News. 2 July 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2018.
  15. ^ "No. 60895". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 June 2014. p. b13.

External links[edit]