WCW: Zoe Wanamaker

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Zoë Wanamaker is one of those ubiquitous British actresses that appear in so many historical films, but who doesn’t have quite the name recognition in the States like her contemporaries Helen Mirren and Emma Thompson. She’s known for powerhouse roles and comically abstract characters alike, with the kind of presence in a film that immediately commands attention no matter what she’s doing. American Millennials will, of course, recognize her as Madam Hooch from the Harry Potter franchise, as well as Cassandra, the last human from the Doctor Who reboot, but as you can see from the list below, she has quite the historical flick repertoire that is well worth checking out.

 

A Perfect Darling (1974)

Zoë Wanamaker plays Pearl Mary Teresa Richards, who writes under the pen name John Oliver Hobbes, in this biopic about Lady Randolph Churchill.

 

A Christmas Carol (1977)

Zoë Wanamaker plays Scrooge’s old flame, Belle.

 

Inside the Third Reich (1982)

Here she is as Annemarie Kempf, secretary to Albert Speer.

 

Richard III (1983)

I have yet to see this adaptation, but I really really want to now that I know that it has Annette Crosbie in it, and the costumes look decent.

 

Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story (1987)

1987 Poor Little Rich Girl

A dramatization of Barbara Hutton’s life. Zoë Wanamaker plays a supporting role as Jean Kennerly.

 

Once in a Lifetime (1988)

All-star cast, but very little written up about the show other than “satire of the Golden Age of Hollywood.” The costumes look good.

 

Othello (1990)

This re-imagining of the Shakespearean tragedy takes place in the late-1800s. Zoë Wanamaker plays Emilia.

 

The Blackheath Poisonings (1992)

The costumes in this are by Jenny Beavan. I’ll be hunting this one down for a full review, for sure.

 

Performance: The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd (1995)

Hmmm … early Colin Firth frock flick, you say? I may have to add this to the queue.

 

Wilde (1997)

Yeah, I’m using a watermarked stock image because all the available images of Zoë Wanamaker in this film suck and her costumes are fabulous and deserve better.

 

Swept from the Sea (1997)

I can’t bring myself to watch this depressing tragic romance, despite the favorable reviews it received. If someone out there wants to do the honors, hit us up.

 

A Dance to the Music of Time (1997)

Another one of the sprawling, epic British TV series, telling stories about Londoners from the 1920s to the 1960s.

 

David Copperfield (1999)

I am almost willing to set aside my distaste for Dickens just to screencap this movie, because the costumes look amazing, and nearly every image of it online is crap quality.

 

Gormenghast (2000)

So, this is one of those historicalized fantasy flicks that we always run into, where the costumes are clearly based on some part of history, but the rest of the story is completely not based in reality.

 

Marple (2005)

Classic and imminently watchable. Zoë Wanamaker plays Letitia Blacklock in “A Murder is Announced.”

 

A Waste of Shame: The Mystery of Shakespeare and his Sonnets (2005)

Annoyingly, there are no images of Zoe Wanamaker as the Countess of Pembroke online. And I have to purchase the DVD in order to watch it, so have this miniature of the Countess by Nicholas Hilliard instead:

 

The Old Curiosity Shop (2007)

Another Dickens adaptation. And again, the costumes look great, but … ugh. Dickens.

 

My Week with Marilyn (2011)

Zoë Wanamaker plays Paula Strasberg, Marilyn Monroe’s drama coach.

 

Wodehouse in Exile (2013)

Zoë Wanamaker plays Ethel Wodehouse, wife of author P.G. Wodehouse of Wooster and Jeeves fame, as he faces a charge of treason during WWII.

 

Poirot (2014)

Poirot never doesn’t deliver with amazing costume content. Zoë Wanamaker plays Ariadne Oliver in six episodes between 2005 and 2013.

 

Mr. Selfridge (2015)

This is the reminder I needed to finish watching this excellent series.

 

Babs (2017)

Zoë Wanamaker plays Joan Littlewood, theatre director, in this biopic about Dame Barbara Windsor.

 

Britannia (2019)

Zoe Wanamaker as Queen Antedia. That’s a lot of look for first century A.D. Britain.

 

 

What’s your favorite Zoë Wanamaker historical role? Share it with us in the comments!

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

16 Responses

  1. Sharon in Scotland

    I watched “The Blackheath Poisonings” on YouTube, you will enjoy it, it had gorgeous costumes, going by what I’ve learnt from this website!

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Thanks so much, Sarah and Sharon, about the “Blackheath” heads-up; it’s a very good mystery by Julian Symons, but I had no idea there was a movie. Z.W. is exquisite in just about anything, even, or especially, when she’s being abrasive (as in the first “Prime Suspect”). I also adored her Antedia in “Britannia.”

      (Nor did I know she’s Sam Wanamaker’s daughter.)

      Reply
  2. mmcquown

    Related to actor Sam Wanamaker? I always thought her face had a distinctly comic look, so often seen, but never connected to the name.

    Reply
  3. ctrent29

    I wondered if anyone knew that her father was Sam Wanamaker. I was also surprised to see that she has worked with David Suchet long before she co-starred with him in “Poirot”. She was the perfect Mrs. Oliver to his Poirot.

    Reply
  4. Susan Pola Staples

    I’ve been a fan of Ms Wanamaker ever since I saw her play an Angelican priest in Morse. She was the only reason that I watched Season 3 of Mr. Selfridge since Lady Mae was not in it. There are several films on your list I need to see.

    Reply
  5. Karen B Hayes

    Never heard about a connection to wonderful Wanamaker’s department store, but Zoe’s father, actor and director Sam Wanamaker was instrumental in recreating Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre near the original site on the South Bank in London. An American! A nearly thirty-year project! Unfortunately he didn’t live to see the opening. He’s buried in nearby Southwark Cathedral, close to his obsession.There’s a great picture of her standing in the unfinished Globe in Elizabethan garb.
    She’s been terrific in so many productions (Prime Suspect, HP) but of her historicals I love her in Poirot and Mr. Selfridge. And besides her unusual looks she has a really distinctive voice.

    Reply
  6. MrsC (Maryanne)

    I can NEVER get enough of her she is beyond fantastic. She is the embodiment of an Elf Queen with the personality and presence of an Empress. But then she can play a timid character with absolute credibility. AND THE VOICE…

    Reply
  7. Orian Hutton

    Loved ‘Wilde’. Love the hat in the ‘Mr Selfridge’ photo. Generally love Dickens, books and adaptations. ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ is probably my least favourite book, but Mrs. Jarley is a good character, so I can like Zoe Wanamaker in that adaptation.

    Reply
  8. SarahV

    Just chiming in to say….. stay far, far away from Britannia. I get that it is going for the Game of Thrones vibe with warring clans and palace intrigue with sexy Roman generals (David Morrissey!) but us a really really ugly show. Everyone has these bizarre ritual scarification and some of the characters have gaunt alien-like face make-up …. and the clothing is not fabulous.

    Reply
  9. Kelly

    Her Lady Anne in Richard III was the first thing I ever saw her in–she’s excellent (the whole BBC Shakespeare series from 1978-1985 is available on BritBox), and her Emilia in Othello (not from the BBC Shakespeare series–that Othello is to be avoided) is even more so. Thank you for this–I’d never heard of some of these films!

    Reply
  10. Roxana

    She has such an unusual and interesting face! Love the blue suit in Mrs. Selfridge. Judging by your review Brittania is every bit as insane as Zoe’s costume.

    Reply

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