WCW: Barbara Leigh-Hunt


People, I am nothing if not a completionist. Of course we all know Barbara Leigh-Hunt for her legendary performance as Lady Catherine de Bourgh in the 1995/BBC Pride and Prejudice. She seems like such a grand dame, but I admit I didn’t actually know her from anything else… until I watched Henry VIII and His Six Wives and boom, there she was as Catherine Parr! Ever since, I’ve been meaning to look her up and find out more about her career. I finally got around to it and this post is the result!

Leigh-Hunt got her start in theater, and it looks like she started acting in her late teens/early 20s (in the 1950s). Her first film roles were in 1972, and she seems to be best known for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy from that year.

1959 As You Like It play Old Vic

Behind the scenes of “As You Like It” at the Old Vic, 1959.

I had to do some real sleuthing to find images of Leigh-Hunt in her various historical roles, and even some (like 1983’s Wagner miniseries) I came up with nada, even after skimming through the entire series on YouTube! Here’s what I could find:


Macbeth (1970)

A TV version of the Shakespeare play. Leigh-Hunt plays Lady Macbeth.

1970 Macbeth

They didn’t work too hard at the hair, obviously.


The Search for the Nile (1971)

A British miniseries about European explorers’ search for the source of the Nile in the late 19th century. Leigh-Hunt plays English explorer Isabel Burton.

1971 The Search for the Nile

I think she’s sick here?


Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)

As a mostly-mute Catherine Parr in the feature film.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

There’s SO MUCH that’s great about the costumes in this! Don’t let the obviously sewn-on bows fool you.

1972 Henry VIII and His Six Wives

Like, this gable hood! Is great!

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

With the future Queen Elizabeth I in an outfit that references the most famous painting of Catherine Parr.


The Brontës of Haworth (1973)

A TV miniseries, in which the story of the Brontë sisters is narrated by later writer Elizabeth Gaskell (played by Leigh-Hunt).

1973 The Brontës of Haworth

Shockingly, I don’t hate this head-doily!


The Nelson Affair (1973)

Aka Bequest to the Nation, a feature film about Admiral Lord Nelson and his mistress Lady Hamilton. I’d love to watch this if anyone has a source! Leigh-Hunt plays Catherine “Catty” Matcham, and I can’t tell if that’s a real or fictional character.

1973 The Nelson Affair

Cute hat!

1973 The Nelson Affair

I can spot Leigh-Hunt in the background from a mile away.

1973 The Nelson Affair

This appears to be her main scene from the film.

1973 The Nelson Affair

Don’t love the beige, but the outfit is very of the period.

1973 The Nelson Affair

Behind the scenes, filming in Bath.


A Perfect Hero (1991)

An RAF pilot is shot down during World War II. Leigh-Hunt plays “Iris Fleming.”

1991 A Perfect Hero

Photo by ITV/Shutterstock (733580gx)
‘A Perfect Hero’ – 1991 –
Bernard Hepton as Arthur Fleming, Amanda Elwes as Marjorie, Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Iris Fleming and Nigel Havers as Hugh Fleming..


Pride and Prejudice (1995)

The classic, the ultimate, the best ever — Leigh-Hunt as Lady Catherine de Bourgh!!

1995 Pride and Prejudice


Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Pride and Prejudice (1995)

Witty, intelligent young ladies are chapping her hide.

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

I hate that hairdo, but the outfit is nicely done.

Pride and Prejudice (1995)Pride and Prejudice (1995)


Wives and Daughters (1999)

Leigh-Hunt is Lady Cumnor, the local aristocrat whose daughter plays a key role in two young sisters’ lives in this 1830s-set Elizabeth Gaskell adaptation.

Wives & Daughters (1999)

She’s a nice older biddy in this.

Wives & Daughters (1999)

She’s in the black, on the right.

Wives & Daughters (1999)

Wait, black and purple! Oh I like this much more in closeup. Photo by Lichfield Archive via Getty Images


Bertie and Elizabeth (2002)

As Mabell Ogilvy, Countess of Airlie, who has some interactions with the future Queen Elizabeth (queen mother to Elizabeth II).

2002 Bertie and Elizabeth

Edwardian biddy!

2002 Bertie and Elizabeth


George Eliot: A Scandalous Life (2002)

Leigh-Hunt simply plays “Gossip” in this TV movie about Victorian writer George Eliot.

2002 George Eliot- A Scandalous Life

This image tells me everything I need to know about her character.


Vanity Fair (2004)

As Lady Bareacres, the aristocratic lady who is super snobby to Becky Sharp in this feature film adaptation of the Thackeray novel.

2004 Vanity Fair

On the right. I love that she gets to be glam in this!

2004 Vanity Fair

All the hair! All the sparkles!

2004 Vanity Fair

Trying to get Becky to sell her a horse.

2004 Vanity Fair

So elegant, even if so snobby!



What’s your favorite of Barbara Leigh-Hunt’s frock flick roles, and why is it Lady Catherine de Bourgh? But really, have you seen any of these others? What’s your take?


About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

12 Responses

  1. Damnitz

    She definetly is Lady Catherine de Burgh as I would imagine her out of the book. I love her acting and think that this was one of the best decisions in casting ever. It’s very interesting to see a photo of her from her earlier years. I thought that she played very well in “A bequest to the nation” as well although the role is very small and I would have hoped to see more from her. Great to see her portrayed here. :-)

  2. Viola

    God I love her as Lady Catherine. Obviously her confrontation with Lizzie, both of them absolutely spitting at each other and Lady C waving her massive muff around, is fantastic, but I also love the more subtle moment in the much earlier scene where they’ve met for the first time and Lizzie has dared to talk back a bit. She does some banal bragging as if to change the subject – “Lady Catherine, said she, you have given me a treasure” – and then just for a second her facade drops and she looks at Lizzie with absolute cold hatred. Lovely.

  3. Gray

    Fascinating. I must check out the flicks I haven’t seen.

    And that IS a good gable hood! But it’s perched on top of her head. I thought no hair should show with a gable hood… what the cross-cross of fabric at the front is to hide.

  4. Orian Hutton

    ‘Wives and Daughters’ wins for me. Love the adaptation of the book and love the way she plays Lady Cumnor.

    • Susan Pola Staples

      My favourites are Lady Catherine de Bourg and Lady Cunmor. Her Lady Bareacres conveyed just the right amount of snobbery to Becky Sharp. I thought she was Lady Nelson in Bequest?

  5. Frances Germeshausen

    I remember “Search for the Nile!” Not in great detail, but I did watch it back when dinosaurs walked.

    • Susan Pola Staples

      I’ve only seen Fiona Shaw as Lady Burton in Mountains of the Moon. But would enjoy this one too. Brittbox or Acorn to stream? From another Veggiesaurus

  6. Emma

    There’s a great moment in the British sitcom As Time Goes By (not a frock flick sadly, but very 90s) where THIS Lady Catherine officiates the marriage of ANOTHER Lady Catherine, Dame Judi Dench. It blows my mind and makes me grin to see them in the same universe. Like two Dr Who’s or two James Bonds….only cooler and with more sass. On my first tv job I got to work with Penelope Keith as Lady C in a ‘spin off’ Death Comes to Pemberly, I’d love to see her in P&P itself (there’s an essay on here from snark week about her frock in that one, so I’ll just say it wasn’t my fault, hold up my hands and quietly back away from the comments section now….).

  7. Jose

    The Nelson Affair is on Youtube complete under it’s alternative name Bequest for the nation, i’ve seen it already Glenda Jackson as Lady Hamilton is gloriously funny