Renée Asherson

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Renée Asherson
Renee Asherson.png
Dorothy Renée Ascherson

(1915-05-19)19 May 1915
Kensington, London, England
Died30 October 2014(2014-10-30) (aged 99)
Primrose Hill, London, England
Years active1939–2001
(m. 1953; died 1958)

Dorothy Renée Ascherson (19 May 1915 – 30 October 2014),[1] known professionally as Renée Asherson, was an English actress. Much of her theatrical career was spent in Shakespearean plays, appearing at such venues as the Old Vic, the Liverpool Playhouse, and the Westminster Theatre. Her first stage appearance was on 17 October 1935, aged 20, and her first major film appearance was in The Way Ahead (1944). Her last film appearance was in The Others (2001).

Early life[edit]

Dorothy Renée Ascherson was born in Kensington, London, the younger daughter of shipowner Charles Stephen Ascherson (1877–1945) and Dorothy Lilian (née Wiseman; 1881–1975).[2] Her father was of German-Jewish extraction.[3] She was brought up in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, as well as Switzerland and Anjou. She later trained for the stage at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.[4]



Asherson made her first stage appearance on 17 October 1935, as a walk-on in John Gielgud's production of Romeo and Juliet, though she was also the second understudy for Juliet.[4] It was the production in which Gielgud and Laurence Olivier alternated the roles of Romeo and Mercutio.[5] For eighteen months from 1937 through 1938, Asherson was a member of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre company. She first appeared at The Old Vic in May 1940 as Iris in The Tempest. Asherson toured with the Old Vic company from 1940 through 1941 in the roles of Kate Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer, Maria in Twelfth Night, Nerissa in The Merchant of Venice, and Blanche in King John. Asherson appeared at the New Theatre as Blanche in July 1941 before resuming her tour with the Old Vic company.[4]

Asherson appeared at other venues. It was at the Westminster Theatre that she gained especially good notices for her appearance in Walter Greenwood's The Cure for Love in 1945 with Robert Donat.[1] Laurence Olivier wanted her to join his company at The Old Vic, but she chose to continue working with Donat instead.[5] At the Aldwych Theatre, she played Beatrice to Donat's Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing in 1947 and Stella in the first London production of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1949. The latter production was directed by Olivier, with Vivien Leigh as Blanche.[5]

She also performed at the Apollo Theatre in 1956, the Criterion Theatre also in 1956, St Martin's Theatre in 1962, the Savoy Theatre in 1963 and 1977 and the York Theatre Royal in 1973 and 1976.[4]


An early lead role for Asherson was as King Henry V's love interest, Princess Katherine, in Laurence Olivier's film of Shakespeare's play Henry V.

On film, Donat and Asherson reprised their stage roles in The Cure for Love (1949) in Donat's only film as director. During its production, the couple fell in love. They frequently appeared together in later films, such as The Magic Box (1951).[1] In 1945 she appeared in The Way to the Stars as Iris Winterton, the love interest of Peter Penrose (John Mills).

Her final film role was as the unnamed old woman in the haunted house thriller The Others.


In 1976, she played the tragic Miss Gailey over seven episodes of ATV's epic dramatisation of Arnold Bennett's "Clayhanger" opposite Janet Suzman and Denis Quilley. In 1978, she portrayed Mother Ancilla in the Armchair Thriller adaptation of the Antonia Fraser novel Quiet as a Nun, and appeared as Mrs Wainwright in the 1979 TV miniseries A Man Called Intrepid. In 1981, Asherson played the role of Sylvia Ashburton in the first season and for eight episodes of Tenko.[6]She appeared in Midsomer Murders 1997 ‘The Killings at Badger’s Drift’ as Emily Simpson.

Personal life[edit]

In 1953 she moved to 8 The Grove, Highgate upon her marriage to fellow actor Robert Donat,[7] separating before his death five years later. She never remarried and died in Primrose Hill, London[2] on 30 October 2014, aged 99.[1] Among her surviving relatives is her nephew, the journalist Neal Ascherson.[8]


Year Title Role Notes
1944 The Way Ahead Marjorie Gillingham
1944 Henry V Princess Katherine
1945 The Way to the Stars Iris Winterton
1945 Caesar and Cleopatra Iras Uncredited
1949 Once a Jolly Swagman Pat
1949 The Small Back Room A.T.S. Corporal
1949 The Cure for Love Milly Southern
1951 Pool of London Sally
1951 The Magic Box Miss Tagg
1953 Malta Story Joan Rivers
1954 Time Is My Enemy Barbara Everton
1954 The Red Dress Megan (segment "Red Dress' story)
1961 The Day the Earth Caught Fire Angela
1966 Rasputin, the Mad Monk Tsarina
1969 The Smashing Bird I Used to Know Anne Johnson
1973 Theatre of Blood Mrs. Maxwell
1984 Edwin Lady Margaret Truscott
1985 A Murder is Announced Miss Dora Bunner 'Bunny'
1992 Memento Mori BBC play
1999 Grey Owl Carrie Belaney
2001 The Others Old Lady (final film role)


  1. ^ a b c d "Obituary: Renée Asherson". The Daily Telegraph. London. 4 November 2014. Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  2. ^ a b Jennings, Alex (2018). "Asherson, Renée [real name Dorothy Renée Ascherson]". doi:10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.013.108059. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ Coveney, Michael (4 November 2014). "Renée Asherson obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d Herbert, Ian, ed. (1981). "ASHERSON, Renée". Who's Who in the Theatre. 1. Detroit: Gale Research. pp. 26–27. ISBN 978-0810302341.
  5. ^ a b c Farquhar, Simon (6 November 2014). "Renée Asherson: Actress renowned for her grace and beauty". The Independent. London. Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  6. ^ Renée Asherson Filmography BFI Database.
  7. ^ "Robert Donat, 8 The Grove, 1953-1956". Hampstead & Highgate Express, page 31. 7 November 1969.
  8. ^ "Obituary: Renée Asherson, actress". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. 6 October 2014.

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