MCM: James Wilby


Whatever happened to these cute floppy-haired boys in late 1980s to early 1990s frock flicks? I’m on a mission to find out. James Wilby will forever be my Maurice, but then he played a bunch of baddies, and now he’s entering his elder statesman period. Let’s review…



Young Barclay in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984)

James Wilby, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984)

I’m not into sideburns, but that was a sideburns era, so fine.



Baker in Dreamchild (1985)

James Wilby, Dreamchild (1985)

A small role in this take on the life of Alice Liddell, who inspired Lewis Carroll.



Maurice Hall in Maurice (1987)

Maurice (1987)

Here’s where everything really started! In the title role, with Maurice’s first lover, played by Hugh Grant.

Maurice (1987)

Looking dapper as he chats up his second & final love, played by Rupert Graves.

James Wilby, Maurice (1987)




Tony Last in A Handful of Dust (1988)

James Wilby, A Handful of Dust (1988)

Looking so good in 1930s!

James Wilby, A Handful of Dust (1988)

In an Evelyn Waugh adaption about an unhappy marriage.



Frank Ashton in A Summer Story (1988)

James Wilby, A Summer Story (1988)

Wilby plays something of a ‘gentlemanly bastard’ in this bittersweet romance set around 1900.

James Wilby, A Summer Story (1988)



Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities (1989)

James Wilby, A Tale of Two Cities (1989)

He stars as the jerky lawyer who gives his life in the end to save his friend (because he’s really in love with his friend’s wife). The floppy hair is so adorably ’80s!



Arthur Donnithorne in “Adam Bede,” Screen One (1992)

James Wilby, Adam Bede (1992)

Apparently on a string of playing baddies, here he’s the rake who knocks up a village girl & kicks off the plot.



Charles Wilcox in Howards End (1992)

James Wilby, Howards End (1992)

Very much the baddie here! He’s a spoiled older son of stuffy Mr. Wilcox.

James Wilby, Howards End (1992)

Who doesn’t want Margaret Schlegel to inherit his mom’s little cottage, & he eventually goes to jail for killing Helen Schlegel’s lover.



Sir Clifford Chatterley in Lady Chatterley (1993)

James Wilby, Lady Chatterley (1993)

Kind of the baddie, but more pitiful than anything else. And still so cute!

James Wilby, Lady Chatterley (1993)

He’s just stuck in a bad situation!



2nd Lt. Siegfried Sassoon in Behind the Lines (1997)

James Wilby, Behind the Lines (1997)

One of the major English poets of the first World War.



Sir Percival Glyde in The Woman in White (1997)

James Wilby, The Woman in White (1997)

Oooo, another baddie — he’s the husband who plays all kinds of dirty tricks.



John MacIntosh in Cotton Mary (1999)

James Wilby, Cotton Mary (1999)

This film co-directed by Ismail Merchant is set during the post-Raj 1940s & sounds both depressing & pointless.



Freddie Nesbitt in Gosford Park (2001)

James Wilby, Gosford Park (2001)

A somewhat sleezy toff in this absolutely delicious flick. Deserves a rewatch!



Bertie in Bertie and Elizabeth (2002)

James Wilby, Bertie and Elizabeth (2002). Photo via Shutterstock.

I really enjoyed this dramatization of the King & Queen’s marriage & early years. Wilby made a solid George VI. Photo via Shutterstock.

James Wilby, Bertie and Elizabeth (2002)

I remember seeing it not long after the Queen Mum passed away, & this felt like a lovely tribute.



Sen. James Dorr in Island at War (2004)

James Wilby, Island at War (2004)

A soapy miniseries about the the German occupation of the Channel Islands during WWII.



Major Cornwall in Foyle’s War (2004)

James Wilby, Foyle's War (2004)

James Wilby appeared in an episode of this post-WWII detective series.



Andrew Restarick in Poirot (2008)

James Wilby, Poirot (2008)

And he was in an episode of Poirot, as mandated for every British actor!



Robert in Shadows in the Sun (2009)

James Wilby, Shadows in the Sun (2009)

Set in the 1960s, this indie film was Jean Simmons’ last screen appearance, plus an early role for Jamie Dornan.



Bruce Ismay in Titanic (2012)

James Wilby, Titanic (2012)

Back to the baddies as the White Star chairman who did NOT go down with the ship!



Sir Piers Gifford in Victoria (2016)

James Wilby, Victoria (2016). Photo via Shutterstock.

Something of a stuffy adversary of the Queen. Photo via Shutterstock.



Lord Falmouth in Poldark (2017-18)

James Wilby, Poldark (2017-18). Photo via BBC/Mammot Screen/Robert Viglasky.

Falmouth is a major landowner & political player in Cornwall. Photo via BBC/Mammot Screen/Robert Viglasky.

James Wilby, Poldark (2017-18)

So he butted heads with Poldark, of course. But looking sharp in the 18th-c. suit!



Judge Aarvold in The Duke (2020)

James Wilby, The Duke (2020)

A small role as a judge in this 1960s story about a man who steals a Goya portrait from London’s National Gallery.



Mr. Havers in Vindication Swim (2022)

James Wilby, Vindication Swim (2022)

In 1927, Mercedes Gleitze became the first woman to swim the English Channel. Wilby plays the manager of her rival, Edith Gade.



Have you seen James Wilby in any roles other than Maurice?

5 Responses

  1. Susan

    Fav is Bertie and Elizabeth. He didn’t go overboard on the speech impediment and was impeccably dressed. Even though King George told him to button his vest. And he held his own against the actresses playing the Queen Mum and Queen Mary. You just knew he was SO MUCH BETTER than icky David.

  2. Lily Lotus Rose

    He is such a good actor, and he really has a “period” look. I still haven’t seen Maurice!!! But I will finally get around to it in 2023, I promise!

  3. Roxana

    It’s not really fair to call Ismay a villain. Personally I take my opinion from that of survivor Jack Thayer, who did not get onto a boat and survived by luck and his own initiative. Thayer said that Ismay had a perfect right to get into a boat, as it was going and had empty seats. Adding one more dead man to the total would have been pointless. If Jack Thayer had no problem with Ismay nobody else has a right to criticize.

  4. Sophie

    I need to see more of his work! Maurice is absolutely amazing, I was under the influence of that film for weeks after watching it.

  5. Karen K.

    I loved him in Gosford Park, I should definitely rewatch it! Also remember him from Howards End, Maurice and A Handful of Dust. He’s all over those literary adaptations, isn’t he? Rupert Graves, James Wilby and Hugh Grant are like a BBC trifecta!


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