Dame Penelope Alice Wilton (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 the widowed Isobel Crawley in the ITV drama Downton Abbey (2010–15). She also played the recurring role of Harriet Jones in Doctor Who (2005–08).
Wilton in Stockholm, Sweden, November 2013
Penelope Alice Wilton
3 June 1946
(m. 1975; div. 1984)
(m. 1991; div. 2001)
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), Cry Freedom (1987), Calendar Girls (2003), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Match Point (2005), Pride & Prejudice (2005), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012), The Girl (2012) and The BFG (2016).
Early life and background
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. Her maternal grandparents owned theatres.
She attended the Drama Centre London from 1965 to 1968.
She made her Broadway debut in March 1971 when she played Araminta in the original Broadway production of The Philanthropist, and made her West End debut in August 1971 opposite Sir Ralph Richardson, in the John Osborne play West of Suez at the Cambridge Theatre. She had previously appeared in both plays at the Royal Court Theatre. 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 the BBC2's adaptation of Mrs. Warren's Profession opposite Coral Browne in the title role and Robert Powell. The production was repeated as part of the Play of the Month series in 1974 on BBC1. In 1994, Wilton portrayed Browne in a radio adaptation of An Englishman Abroad for the BBC World Service and repeated on various BBC radio formats since. Following from the broadcast of 'Mrs. Warren's Profession', Wilton 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).
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". 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.
Wilton 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). Beginning in 2010, she appeared as Isobel Crawley in all six seasons of 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 Elizabeth Jane Howard's The Cazalets, broadcast on BBC Radio.
Between 1975 and 1984, Wilton was married to the actor Daniel Massey. They had a daughter, Alice, born in 1977. Before this, they had had a stillborn child, a son.
In 1991, Wilton married Ian Holm. In 1992, they appeared together as Pod and Homily in the BBC's adaptation of The Borrowers. A year later, they appeared together in a follow-up The Return of the Borrowers. In 1998, Ian Holm was knighted and Wilton became Lady Holm. They divorced in 2001.
Wilton was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2004 New Year Honours and was elevated to become a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2016 Birthday Honours, both for services to drama.
Awards and recognition
|1977||Joseph Andrews||Mrs. Wilson|
|1981||The French Lieutenant's Woman||Sonia|
|1987||Cry Freedom||Wendy Woods|
|1992||Blame It on the Bellboy||Patricia Fulford|
|1993||The Secret Rapture||Homily|
|1995||Carrington||Lady Ottoline Morrell|
|1999||Gooseberries Don't Dance||Short film|
|1999||Tom's Midnight Garden||Aunt Melbourne|
|2004||Shaun of the Dead||Barbara|
|2005||Match Point||Eleanor Hewett|
|2005||Pride and Prejudice||Mrs. Gardiner|
|2006||The History Boys||Mrs. Bibby|
|2012||The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel||Jean|
|2013||Belle||Lady Mary Murray|
|2015||The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel||Jean|
|2016||The BFG||The Queen|
|2018||The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society||Amelia Maugery|
|2019||Downton Abbey||Isobel Grey, Baroness Merton|
|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: King Lear||Regan||Shakespeare, d. Jonathan Miller|
|1976||The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd||TV drama|
|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||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)|
|1990||4 Play||Julia||TV series (1 episode: "Madly in Love")|
|1992||The Borrowers||Homily||TV series|
|1993||The Return of the Borrowers||Homily||TV series|
|1994||Performance: The Deep Blue Sea||Hester Collyer||TV series (2 episodes: 1994–1995|
|1998||This Could Be the Last Time||Marjorie||Television 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||Kavanagh QC||Barbara Watkins||TV series (1 episode: "Time of Need")|
|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|
|2005||Falling||Daisy Langrish||TV film|
|2005–2008||Doctor Who||Harriet Jones||TV series (4 episodes: 2005–2008)|
|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|
|2010||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 (Baroness Merton)||TV series|
|2011||South Riding||Mrs. Beddows||TV series (3 episodes)|
|2012||The Girl||Peggy Robertson||TV film|
|2016||Brief Encounters||Pauline Spake||TV series (6 episodes)|
|2019||After Life||Anne||TV series|
|1969||King Lear||Cordelia||Nottingham Playhouse (then at The Old Vic, London, February 1970)|
|1969||The Dandy Lion||Nottingham Playhouse|
|1969||The Hostage||Nottingham Playhouse|
|1970||The Philanthropist||Araminta||Royal Court Theatre, (then at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City 1971)|
|1971||West of Suez||Mary||Royal Court Theatre, London / Cambridge Theatre, London|
|1972||The Great Exhibition||Maud||Hampstead Theatre Club, London|
|1973||The Director of the Opera||Sophia||Royal Court Theatre|
|1973||The Seagull||Masha||Chichester Festival Theatre|
|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|
|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||The Old Vic|
|1990||Piano||National Theatre Company, 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||The Little Foxes||Regina||Donmar Warehouse|
|2002||Afterplay||Sonya||Gielgud Theatre/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 Theatre, London|
|2006||Women Beware Women||Livia||Swan Theatre, Stratford|
|2007||John Gabriel Borkman||Ella Rentheim||Donmar Warehouse|
|2008||The Chalk Garden||Miss Madrigal||Donmar Warehouse|
|2008||The Family Reunion||Agatha||Donmar Warehouse|
|2011||A Delicate Balance||Agnes||Almeida Theatre|
|2014–2015||Taken at Midnight||Irmgard Litten||Minerva Theatre, Chichester/Theatre Royal Haymarket, London|
|2018||Fanny and Alexander||Helena Ekdahl||The Old Vic|
|2019||The Bay at Nice||Valentina Nrovka||Menier Chocolate Factory, London|
- "No. 61608". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 2016. p. B8.
- Powell, Lucy (9 June 2008). "Penelope Wilton, the winner of discontent". The Times. London, UK. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
- Billen, Andrew (26 April 2000). "Time for Penelope to soar". Evening Standard. London, UK. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
- "Acting Alumni Win Big at Olivier Awards". Csm.arts.ac.uk. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
- Billington, Michael (8 January 2015). "Massey, Daniel Raymond". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/69552.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- "What's On: Wicked role for Penelope means it's Women Beware Wilton; Theatre (Features)" Coventry Evening Telegraph (England) via Questia Online Library
- Drama Centre: watch this face Archived 2 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine, blogs.arts.ac.uk, 22 March 2009; accessed 14 June 2016.
- "The Wheatleys of Houghton-le-Spring: The sweet success of a family" (PDF). Houghton-le-Spring Heritage Society.
- "Performance Details – King Lear". Designing Shakespeare Collection – Performance Details. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
- "Interview: Penelope Wilton". TimeOut London. 28 April 2011. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
- "Institute of Directors — IoD". afterhoursmagazine.co.uk. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- "Mrs Warren's Profession". 28 September 1972. p. 35 – via BBC Genome.
- "Play of the Month: Mrs Warren's Profession". 18 April 1974. p. 23 – via BBC Genome.
- "Play of the Week: An Englishman Abroad". 27 October 1994. p. 115 – via BBC Genome.
- "An Englishman Abroad". 15 September 2005. p. 143 – via BBC Genome.
- "Early TV appearances: Penelope Wilton and Brenda Blethyn – King Lear (BBC, 1982), Shakespeare Lives". BBC. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
- "Episode 1, Confusion, The Cazalets – BBC Radio 4". BBC. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
- Kellaway, Kate (30 September 2001). "A study in emotion". The Observer. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
- Myskow, Nina (30 January 2015). "Penelope Wilton: a woman of substance". Saga magazine.
- Olga Craig (15 November 2008). "Penelope Wilton: an actress who epitomises all things quintessentially English". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
- "Annual Report 2011/12". Retrieved 12 December 2017.