Renée Asherson

Dorothy Renée Ascherson[1] (19 May 1915 30 October 2014), 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).

Renée Asherson
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
Robert Donat
(m. 1953; died 1958)

Early life

Asherson was born in Kensington, London, the daughter of Charles Stephen Ascherson (18771945)[2] and Dorothy Lilian Ascherson (née Wiseman;[1] 18811975).[3] Her father was of German-Jewish extraction.[4] 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.[5]



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 Capulet.[5] It was the production in which Gielgud and Laurence Olivier alternated the roles of Romeo and Mercutio.[6] For eighteen months from 1937 through 1938, Asherson was a member of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre company. She first appeared at the Old Vic theatre 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 The Life and Death of King John. Asherson appeared at the New Theatre as Blanche in July 1941 before resuming her tour with the Old Vic company.[5]

In 1942, Asherson continued her work in Shakespearean plays at three theatres: the New Theatre, the Liverpool Playhouse and the Westminster Theatre. The following year, she appeared in two non-Shakespearean roles: Henriette Duquesnoy in The Mask of Virtue at the Mercury Theatre and Rose in Lottie Dundass at the Vaudeville Theatre. She returned to the New Theatre for the 1947–1948 season, appearing in such roles as Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew, The Queen in Richard II, and Marya Antonovna in Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector.

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.[7] Laurence Olivier wanted her to join his company at the Old Vic, but she chose to continue working with Donat instead.[6] 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 Laurence Olivier, with Vivien Leigh as Blanche.[6]

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 Theatre Royal, York in 1973 and 1976.[5]


Asherson's first major film appearance was in the World War II film The Way Ahead (1944) as Marjorie Gillingham. In her second film appearance, she drew from her experience as a Shakespearean actress as she played Princess Katherine in Laurence Olivier's film adaption of Henry V (1944). Asherson followed this by playing Iris in The Way to the Stars (1945) starring John Mills.[8]

Donat and Asherson reprised their stage roles in The Cure for Love (1949). His only film as director, it was during its production that the couple fell in love. Later they appeared together in The Magic Box (1951).[7] She starred as the mother of the troubled Madeleine Hinde in The Smashing Bird I Used to Know (1969), and appeared in the Douglas Hickox horror film Theatre of Blood (1973) as Michael Hordern's wife. Asherson made an appearance in Grey Owl (1999). Asherson's last-known film role was as the Old Lady in Alejandro Amenábar's The Others (2001).[9]


Asherson had an extensive career in television. Her first television appearance was in the role of Sybil in Smiling at Grief in 1939. In 1952, Asherson portrayed Queen Victoria in the BBC drama series Happy and Glorious. From 1953 through 1956, she appeared in five episodes of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Presents. In 1969, she played the role of a witch in an episode of Strange Report.

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.[10][11] She played Lady Margaret, opposite Alec Guinness' Sir Fennimore, Truscott, in the full-length, 1984 television play, Edwin, by John Mortimer, which also starred Paul Rogers. In 1985, she played the slow-witted Dora Bunner “Bunny” in the Miss Marple mystery A Murder is Announced starring Joan Hickson and Ursula Howells.[12] In 1989, she played Mrs Bartholomew in the BBC children's series, Tom's Midnight Garden, from the novel for children by Philippa Pearce. In 1996, she played Emily Simpson in 'The Killings at Badger's Drift', the pilot episode (approximately 20 minutes longer than the other episodes) in the long-running Midsomer Murders series; the original airdate of the pilot is 1997.[13]

Personal life

Asherson was married to fellow actor Robert Donat from 1953 until his death in 1958. His severe asthma led to their separation, although a reconciliation had seemed possible just before the end of his life. Although Donat had three children from his previous marriage, they had no children together.

She never remarried. She died on 30 October 2014, aged 99.[7] Among her surviving relatives is her nephew, the journalist Neal Ascherson.[14]


Year Title Role Notes
1944The Way AheadMarjorie Gillingham
1944Henry VPrincess Katherine
1945The Way to the StarsIris Winterton
1945Caesar and CleopatraIrasUncredited
1949Once a Jolly SwagmanPat
1949The Small Back RoomA.T.S. Corporal
1949The Cure for LoveMilly Southern
1951Pool of LondonSally
1951The Magic BoxMiss Tagg
1953Malta StoryJoan Rivers
1954Time Is My EnemyBarbara Everton
1954The Red DressMegan(segment "Red Dress' story)
1961The Day the Earth Caught FireAngela
1966Rasputin, the Mad MonkTsarina
1969The Smashing Bird I Used to KnowAnne Johnson
1973Theatre of BloodMrs. Maxwell
1992Memento MoriBBC play
1999Grey OwlCarrie Belaney
2001The OthersOld Lady(final film role)


  1. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 3 November 2010.
  2. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
  3. ASCHERSON, DOROTHY LILIAN. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
  4. Coveney, Michael (4 November 2014). "Renée Asherson obituary". the Guardian. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  5. Ian Herbert, ed. (1981). "ASHERSON, Renée". Who's Who in the Theatre. 1. Gale Research Company. pp. 26–27. ISSN 0083-9833.
  6. Simon Farquhar "Renée Asherson: Actress renowned for her grace and beauty", The Independent, 6 November 2014
  7. Obituary: Renée Asherson, Daily Telegraph, 4 November 2014. Retrieved 4 November 2014
  8. The Way to the Stars on IMDb
  9. The Others on IMDb
  10. Renée Asherson Filmography BFI Database
  11. Full cast and crew of Tenko, in IMDb.
  12. Full credits of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: A Murder Is Announced (1985), in IMDb.
  13. "Midsomer Murders": The Killings at Badger's Drift, in IMDb.
  14. "Obituary: Renée Asherson, actress", The Scotsman, 6 October 2014
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