Lindsay Duncan

Lindsay Vere Duncan, CBE (born 7 November 1950) is a British actress. On stage, she has won two Olivier Awards, a Tony Award for her performance in Private Lives and a Tony Award nomination for her role in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Duncan has starred in several plays by Harold Pinter. Her best known roles on television include: Barbara Douglas in Alan Bleasdale's G.B.H. (1991), Servilia of the Junii in the HBO/BBC/RAI series Rome (2005–2007), Adelaide Brooke in the Doctor Who special "The Waters of Mars" (2009) and Lady Smallwood in the BBC series Sherlock. On film, she portrayed Anthea Lahr in Prick Up Your Ears (1987), voiced the android TC-14 in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) and Alice's mother in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010), and played the acerbic theatre critic Tabitha Dickinson in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014).

Lindsay Duncan

Duncan after a performance of John Gabriel Borkman at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2011
Lindsay Vere Duncan

(1950-11-07) 7 November 1950
ResidenceNorth London, England
Years active1975–present
Spouse(s)Hilton McRae

She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2009 Birthday Honours for services to drama.

Early life

Duncan was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, into a working-class family;[1] her father had served in the British army for 21 years before becoming a civil servant.[2] Her parents moved to Leeds, then Birmingham, when she was still a child. Duncan attended King Edward VI High School for Girls in Birmingham through a scholarship.[3] Despite her origins, she speaks with a received pronunciation accent.[1] As of 2011, her only role with a Scottish accent is AfterLife (2003).[4]

Duncan's father died in a car accident when she was 15.[4] Her mother was affected by Alzheimer's disease and died in 1994; she inspired Sharman Macdonald to write the play The Winter Guest (1995), which was later adapted as a film by Alan Rickman.[5]


Duncan's first contact with theatre was through school productions.[2] She became friends with the future playwright Kevin Elyot, who attended the neighbouring King Edward's School for boys, and followed him to Bristol, where he read Drama at university.[2] She did a number of odd jobs while staging her own production of Joe Orton's Funeral Games.[2]

Duncan joined London's Central School of Speech and Drama at the age of 21.[6] After her training, she started out in summer weekly rep in Southwold to gain her Equity card.[1] She appeared in two small roles in Molière's Don Juan at the Hampstead Theatre in 1976, and she joined the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester when it opened. She performed in the very first productions at the Royal Exchange and appeared in eight plays in Manchester in the next two years. In 1978 she returned to London in Plenty by David Hare at the National. She appeared on the television in small roles in a special episode of Up Pompeii!, in The New Avengers, and a commercial for Head & Shoulders shampoo.[7] She made her breakthrough on Top Girls by Caryl Churchill, staged at the Royal Court in London and later transferred to the Public Theater in New York: her performance as Lady Nijo, a 13th-century Japanese concubine, won her an Obie, her first award.[8] Next year she took her first major role on film in Richard Eyre's Loose Connections with Stephen Rea.[2] At the same time her television work included a filmed version of Frederick Lonsdale's On Approval (1982), Reilly, Ace of Spies (1983) and Dead Head (1985).

In 1985, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company for the production of Troilus and Cressida, in which she played Helen of Troy.[9] In September she created the role of the Marquise de Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the play by Christopher Hampton after the French novel by Choderlos de Laclos. The play opened at The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon. On 8 January 1986, the production transferred to the 200-seat theatre The Pit in London's Barbican Centre, with its original cast intact. In October of the same year, the production moved to the Ambassadors in the West End. In April 1987, the cast, including Duncan, took the play to Broadway. For her performance, she was nominated for a Tony and won the Olivier Award for Best Actress and a Theatre World Award. She was replaced by Glenn Close for Dangerous LiaisonsStephen Frears's film of the play; similarly John Malkovich was selected for the role of Valmont instead of Duncan's co-star Alan Rickman.[10]

In 1988, Duncan won an Evening Standard Award for her role of Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams. At the same time, she became a regular in the plays of Harold Pinter and the television work of Alan Bleasdale and Stephen Poliakoff.[11] She performed for a second season with the RSC in 1994–1995, in A Midsummer Night's Dream in which she played the double role of Hippolyta and Titania, replacing Stella Gonet from the original production cast.[12] She went on tour in the United States with the rest of the cast, but back and neck pains forced her to in turn be replaced by Emily Button from January to March 1997.[13] Impressed by her performance in David Mamet's The Cryptogram (1994), Al Pacino asked Duncan to play the role of his wife in City Hall (1996) by Harold Becker.[4]

To please her young son, a Star Wars fan, Duncan applied for the role of Anakin Skywalker's mother in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) but was not cast; she finally accepted to voice an android TC-14.[2] She reunited with Alan Rickman in a revival of Noël Coward's Private Lives (2001–02) and won a Tony Award for Best Actress and a second Olivier Award for her performance as Amanda Prynne; she was also nominated the same year for her role in Mouth To Mouth by Kevin Elyot.[14]

Duncan played Servilia Caepionis in the 2005 HBO-BBC series Rome and she starred as Rose Harbinson in Starter for 10. Aged by make-up, she played Lord Longford's wife, Elizabeth, in the TV film Longford. In February 2009, she played British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Margaret. In November 2009, Duncan played Adelaide Brooke, companion to the Doctor, in the second of the 2009 Doctor Who specials.[15][16] Duncan played Alice's mother in Tim Burton's 2010 film Alice in Wonderland, alongside Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. She also starred in the original London run of Polly Stenham's play That Face at the Royal Court co-starring Matt Smith and directed by Jeremy Herrin. She did the narration for the Matt Lucas and David Walliams 2010/2011 fly-on-the-wall mockumentary series Come Fly with Me on the BBC. In October–November 2010, Duncan starred in a new version by Frank McGuinness of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin alongside her Liaisons dangereuses co-stars Alan Rickman and Fiona Shaw.[17] The production transferred in January–February 2011 to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.[18]

Alan Bleasdale asked for Duncan to feature in his first work for television after ten years of absence, The Sinking of the Laconia, aired on January 2011; she plays an upper-class passenger in the two-part drama based on a true story of World War II.[19] She also played the mother of Matt Smith in the telefilm Christopher and His Kind written by Kevin Elyot after Christopher Isherwood's autobiography of the same title. In October–November 2011, Duncan read extracts of the King James Bible at the National Theatre, London as part of the 400th anniversary celebrations of the translation.[20] She played Queen Annis, ruler of Caerleon and antagonist of Merlin, in the 5th episode of the fourth series of BBC1's Merlin.[21] She also appeared as Home Secretary Alex Cairns to Rory Kinnear's Prime Minister in "The National Anthem", the first episode of Charlie Brooker's anthology series Black Mirror.[22]

Duncan started 2012 as a guest in the New Year special of Absolutely Fabulous, playing the part of Saffy's favourite film actress, 'Jeanne Durand'. In February, she returned to the West End in Noël Coward's Hay Fever with Kevin McNally, Jeremy Northam and Olivia Colman, once again under the direction of Howard Davies.[23] Later in 2012, Duncan featured in BBC2's productions of Shakespeare's history plays.[24] She played the Duchess of York in the first film, Richard II, with David Suchet as the Duke of York and Patrick Stewart as John of Gaunt.[25]

In October 2014, Duncan appeared as Claire in the revival of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance on Broadway.[26] That same year, she also featured in the film Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Personal life

Duncan is married to fellow Scottish actor Hilton McRae, whom she met in 1985 at the Royal Shakespeare Company.[27] They live in north London. They have one son, Cal McRae, born September 1991.[6]

Duncan was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours for services to drama.[28]



Year Title Role Notes
1985Loose ConnectionsSally
1985Samson and DelilahAlice NankervisShort
1987Prick Up Your EarsAnthea Lahr
1988ManifestoLily Sachor
1989The Child EaterEirwenShort
1990The Reflecting SkinDolphin BlueSitges - Catalan International Film Festival Award for Best Actress
1991Body PartsDr Agatha-Webb
1996City HallSydney Pappas
1996A Midsummer Night's DreamHippolyta/TitaniaFrom the 1994–1995 Royal Shakespeare Company stage production
1999An Ideal HusbandLady Markby
1999Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom MenaceTC-14Voice
1999Expelling the DemonWomanVoice, short.
1999Mansfield ParkMrs. Price/Lady Bertram
2003Under the Tuscan SunKatherine
2003AfterLifeMay BroganBratislava International Film Festival Award for Best Actress
Bowmore Scottish Screen Award
2004The Queen of Sheba's PearlsAudrey Pretty
2006Starter for TenRose Harbinson
2007The Rector's WifeAnna Bouverie
2010Burlesque FairytalesIce Queen
2010Alice in WonderlandHelen Kingsleigh
2012Last PassengerElaine Middleton
2013About TimeMary Lake
2013Le Week-EndMeg Burrows
2014Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)Tabitha DickinsonWashington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Ensemble
2016Alice Through the Looking GlassHelen Kingsleigh
2017GiftedEvelyn Adler
2019Little JoePyschotherapist
2019My Zoe
TBAMade in ItalyPost-production


Year Title Role Notes
1975Up Pompeii!ScrubbaSeries (BBC), special episode 'Further Up Pompeii!'
1976One-UpmanshipSeries (BBC), episode 'Woomanship'
1977The New AvengersJaneSeries, episode 'The Angels of Death'
1979The WinklerDianeITV Playhouse
1980Dick TurpinCatherine LangfordSeries, episode 'Deadlier Than the Male'
1980Grown-UpsChristine ButcherBBC2 Playhouse, directed by Mike Leigh
1982Muck and BrassJean TorrodeSeries, episodes 'Public Relations' and 'Our Green and Pleasant Land'
1982On ApprovalHelen HayleFilmed production of Frederick Lonsdale's On Approval, BBC Play of the Month
1983Reilly, Ace of SpiesThe PluggerMini series, episode 'After Moscow'
1984Rainy Day WomenKaren MillerBBC Play for Today
1984Travelling ManAndreaSeries, episodes 'First Leg', 'The Collector', 'The Watcher', 'Grasser', 'Moving On', 'Sudden Death'
1986Dead HeadDanaSeries, episodes 'Why me?', 'Anything for England', 'The Patriot'
1986Kit CurranPamela ScottSeries, all episodes
1989These Foolish ThingsGutrune DayBBC The Play on One
1989TraffikHelen RosshaldeMini-series, written by Simon Moore, all episodes
1988–1990Colin's SandwichRosemarySeries, episodes 'Enough' (1988) and 'Zanzibar' (1990)
1990TECXLaura PellinSeries, épisode 'Getting Personnel'
1991The Storyteller: Greek MythsMedeaSeries, episode 'Theseus & the Minotaur'
1991ScreenplayKath PeacheySeries, episode 'Redemption'
1991G.B.H.Barbara DouglasMini-series, witten by Alan Bleasdale, episodes 'Only Here on a Message', 'Send a Message to Michael', 'Message Sent', 'Message received', 'Message Understood', 'Over and Out'
Nominated – TV BAFTA for Best Actress
1993A Year in ProvenceAnnie MayleMiniseries, all episodes. After Peter Mayle's book.
1994The Rector's WifeAnne BouverieSeries, all episodes. After the novel by Joanna Trollope.
1995Just WilliamLady WaltonSeries, episode 'William Clears the Slums'
1995Jake's ProgressMonicaMiniseries, episodes 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.6
1999The History of Tom Jones, A FoundlingLady BellastonMiniseries, episodes 1, 3, 4, 5. After the novel by Henry Fielding.
1998Get RealLouiseSeries, all episodes
1999Shooting the PastMarilyn TrumanTelefilm (BBC), written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff
Nominated – TV BAFTA for Best Actress
1999Oliver TwistElizabeth LeefordMiniseries, all episodes. Adapted by Alan Bleasdale after Charles Dickens' novel.
2000Dirty TricksAlisonTelefilm
2000Victoria Wood with All The TrimmingsPamChristmas special, segment 'Women Institute'
2001Perfect StrangersAliceSeries, all episodes. Written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff
Nominated — TV BAFTA for Best Actress
2001Witness of Truth: The Railway MurdersNarrator's VoiceTelefilm
2005Agatha Christie's PoirotLady TamplinSeries, episode 'The Mystery of the Blue Train'
2005–2006SpooksAngela WellsEpisodes 'Diana' and 'Gas and Oil, Part One'
2005–2007RomeServilia of the JuniiSeries, 18 episodes
2006LongfordLady LongfordTelefilm
2007FrankensteinProfessor Jane PretoriusTelefilm
2008Criminal JusticeAlison SlaughterMiniseries, episodes 3–5
2008Lost in AustenLady Catherine de BourghMiniseries, episodes 3 and 4
2009MargaretMargaret ThatcherNominated – Scottish BAFTA Award for Best Actress
2009Doctor WhoAdelaide BrookeSpecial episode: 'The Waters of Mars'
2009MargotNinette de ValoisTelefilm (BBC)
2010Agatha Christie's MarpleMarina GreggEpisode: 'The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side'
2010Mission: 2110CybeleChildren game show
2010–2011 Come Fly with MeNarrator (voice)Series, all episodes
2011The Sinking of the LaconiaElisabeth FullwoodMiniseries (BBC), all episodes. Written by Alan Bleasdale.
2011Christopher and His KindKathleen IsherwoodTelefilm, written by Kevin Elyot after Christopher Isherwood's autobiography
2011–2012MerlinQueen AnnisSeries (BBC1), 4th season, 5th season
2011Black MirrorHome Secretary Alex CairnsMiniseries, first episode: "The National Anthem" (Channel 4). Written by Charlie Brooker.
2011Against the WallFaith KowalskiPolice-crime drama television series, episode 'We Have a Cop in Trouble Here'
2012Absolutely FabulousJeanne DurandNew Year's Day 'Special' (BBC1)
2012White HeatLillySeries (BBC2), written by Paula Milne
2012Richard IIDuchess of YorkTelefilm (BBC2) – filmed production of Shakespeare's play
2012SpyThe DirectorEpisodes 'Codename: Citizen Lame' and 'Codename - Show Stopper'
2012WallanderMonika WestinEpisode 'Before the Frost'
2013You, Me and ThemLydia WalkerSeries Regular
2013Count Arthur StrongDame Agnes
2014–2017SherlockLady SmallwoodEpisodes: "His Last Vow", "The Six Thatchers", and "The Lying Detective"
2014The Honourable WomanAnjelica Hayden-Hoyle
2015Toast of LondonHerselfEpisode: "Global Warming"
2016Churchill's SecretClementine Churchill
2016Close to the EnemyFrau BellinghausenBBC2 mini-series, written & directed by Stephen Poliakoff
2017The LeftoversGrace5 episodes
2018A Discovery of WitchesYsabeauSeries with 8 episodes


1976Dom JuanCharlotte/ViolettaHampstead Theatre, London
1976The ScriptHampstead Theatre, London
1976ZackSally TealeRoyal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1976The RivalsLucyRoyal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1976The Prince of HomburgNatalieRoyal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1977The Deep Blue SeaAnneCambridge Arts Theatre
1977The Ordeal of Gilbert PinfoldMargaret Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1977What the Butler SawGeraldine BarclayRoyal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1977 The Skin of Our Teeth Gladys Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1977 Present Laughter Daphne Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1977 Twelfth Night Viola Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1978 Plenty Dorcas National Theatre, London
1978 Comings and Goings Hilary Hampstead Theatre, London
1979 The Recruiting Officer Sylvia Bristol Old Vic/Edinburgh Festival
1980 Julius Caesar Portia Riverside Studios, London
1980 The Provoked Wife Belinda National Theatre, London
1981 Incident at Tulse Hill Rosemary Hampstead Theatre, London
1982 Top Girls Lady Nijo/Win Royal Court Theatre, London/Joe Papp's Public Theater, New York
Won – Obie Award.
1984 Progress Ronnie Bush Theatre, London
1985–1986 Troilus and Cressida Helen Royal Shakespeare Company: Stratford-upon-Avon/Barbican Theatre
1985–1986 Les Liaisons dangereuses Marquise de Merteuil Royal Shakespeare Company: Ambassadors Theatre, London/Music Box Theater, New York
Won – Olivier Award for Best Actress and a Theatre World Award; nominated – Tony Award for Best Actress.
1985–1986 The Merry Wives of Windsor Mistress Ford Royal Shakespeare Company: Stratford-upon-Avon/Barbican Theatre
1988 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Maggie National Theatre, London
Won – Evening Standard Theatre Award
1988 Hedda Gabler Hedda Gabler Hampstead Theatre, London
1990 Bérénice Bérénice National Theatre, London
1993 Three Hotels Barbara Boyle Tricycle Theatre, London
1994 The Cryptogram Donny Ambassadors Theatre, London
1995 A Midsummer Night's Dream Titania/Hippolyta Royal Shakespeare Company: Barbican Theatre, London/Lunt Fontanne Theater, New York
1996 Ashes to Ashes Rebecca Gramercy Theater, New York
1997 The Homecoming Ruth National Theatre, London
2000 Celebration/The Room Prue/Rose (double bill) Almeida Theatre, London
2001 Mouth to Mouth Laura Albery Theatre, London
Won – Critics' Circle Theatre Award; nominated – Olivier Award, Evening Standard Award
2001-2002 Private Lives Amanda Prynne Albery Theatre, London/Richard Rodgers Theater, New York
Won – Olivier Award for Best Actress, Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, Critics' Circle Theatre Award, Drama Desk Award and Variety Club Award; nominated – Evening Standard Award
2007 That Face Martha Royal Court Theatre/Duke of York's Theatre
Nominated – Oliver Award for Best Actress
2010 John Gabriel Borkman Ella Rentheim Abbey Theatre, Dublin/Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York
2012 Hay Fever Judith Bliss Noël Coward Theatre, London
2014 A Delicate Balance Claire John Golden Theatre, New York
2019 Hansard Diana National Theatre, London


1979Head & ShouldersShampoo


  1. Walsh, John (18 January 1997). "The stainless steel queen". The Independent. Retrieved 20 June 2011.
  2. Jackson, Kevin (23 October 2005). "Lindsay Duncan: When in Rome". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 23 November 2007. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  3. Collins, Tony (7 May 2009). "Actress Lindsay Duncan helps Birmingham school celebrate". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 20 June 2011.
  4. Burnside, Anna (26 June 2005). "The rose who showed her thorns". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 20 June 2011.
  5. Bayley, Clare (25 January 1995). "Listening to the teenager within". The Independent. Retrieved 20 June 2011.
  6. Lane, Harriet (23 April 2007). "Bad girl. Lindsay Duncan talks to Harriet Lane about her new play". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 June 2011.
  7. "Thames Adverts, 25th January 1979 (1)". Retrieved 26 July 2010 via YouTube.
  8. "Lindsay Duncan". Masterclass, Theatre Royal Haymarket. Archived from the original on 4 November 2010. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
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  17. Walsh, Fintan. "John Gabriel Borkman". The Irish Theatre Magazine. Archived from the original on 27 March 2012.
  18. "John Gabriel Borkman". Brooklyn Academy of Music. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011.
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  20. "King James Bible: In the Beginning — Cast and credits". National Theatre.
  21. Jeffery, Morgan. "James Callis, Lindsay Duncan for 'Merlin' roles". Digital Spy. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  22. Brooker, Charlie (1 December 2011). "Charlie Brooker: the dark side of our gadget addiction". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 March 2012.
  23. Kellaway, Kate (26 February 2012). "Lindsay Duncan: 'There's pain as well as laughter in Noël Coward's plays'". The Observer. Retrieved 2 March 2012.
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  26. McNulty, Charles (11 November 2014). "Lindsay Duncan finds her footing in 'A Delicate Balance'". The Los Angeles Times.
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  28. "No. 59090". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 2009. p. 7.
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