WCW: Eileen Atkins

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Dame Eileen Atkins has had a career spanning over 60 years, so today we’re going to take a look at some of the best known films and TV shows she’s appeared in. And on that note, there are a lot of shows I had to skip because there are no images of her online, so please do not inundate this post with cranky demands about how dare I overlook one role or another. Sometimes them’s the breaks!

 

An Age of Kings (1960)

One of Dame Eileen’s earliest roles. She played Joan of Arc.

 

Major Barbara (1966)

An adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw play of the same name. There was also a 1941 film treatment of the play, as well.

 

The Three Sisters (1970)

Wikipedia notes that there was a 1970 film version of Chekhov’s play, directed by Laurence Olivier, but this one is a BBC “Play of the Month” small-screen version staring Dame Eileen as Olga.

 

The Duchess of Malfi (1972)

This is one of those 16th-century films that pops up where I have to wonder how we haven’t covered it yet. The entire film appears to be on YouTube, albeit in a dozen or so 9 and 10 minute segments. This is also the era of the Beeb’s attention to historical accuracy in their productions, and therefore I’m more inclined now to watch it in all those 10-minute segments.

 

The Lady’s Not for Burning (1974)

A “romantic comedy” in three acts, I first came across this film when I put together my Richard Chamberlain Man Candy Monday.

 

She Fell Among Thieves (1980)

Every description of this flick that I can find online is vague enough to make it impossible for me to figure out what the plot is about, but Dame Eileen looks FABULOUS in it, as the villainess Vanity Fair. It also stars Malcom McDowell.

 

Oliver Twist (1982)

One of the half a dozen or more adaptations of Dickens’ classic orphan story, with Tim Curry playing Bill Sykes. Dame Eileen plays Mrs. Mann.

 

The Dresser (1983)

I came very close to not including this film because of the lack of any photographs of Eileen Atkins in it. It just so happened that I was looking for something else entirely when I stumbled across this photo, so there you go.

 

Titus Andronicus (1985)

Dame Eileen plays the captive Gothic queen, Tamora, in this adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. It is clearly very 1980s.

 

Cold Comfort Farm (1995)

Pretty sure this is one of Kendra’s favorite films of all time, and I can’t disagree. We both quote it pretty relentlessly. Dame Eileen plays Judith Starkadder, the mentally unstable matriarch of the sprawling, backwater English family that owns Cold Comfort Farm.

 

David Copperfield (2000)

Dame Eileen is Jane Murdstone in yet another “it’s been three years so we need to make a new adaptation of a Dickens book” film.

 

Gosford Park (2001)

Directed by Robert Altman, script written by Julian Fellows, and a delight to watch an all-star ensemble cast. Dame Eileen plays the head cook at the Edwardian mansion. Two other dames appear alongside her, Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren.

 

Bertie and Elizabeth (2002)

A TV film that explores the relationship between King George VI (known to his family as “Bertie”) and his wife, Queen Elizabeth. Dame Eileen plays Mary, the Queen Mother, and de facto matriarch of the House of Windsor. Wikipedia has informed me that the show was commissioned as part of the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee. I remember watching this around the time it came out and being really impressed by Dame Eileen’s portrayal of the Queen Mum.

 

Cold Mountain (2003)

I’ve never really been inclined to watch this film, even though it got great reviews for the costuming (and acting, but y’know, we’re a costuming blog so I have my priorities). Dame Eileen plays Maddy, a character that I’m not entirely sure serves what purpose in the film, because everyone is so focused on the performances of Jude Law and Nicole Kidman.

 

Vanity Fair (2004)

I’m not sure if it really surprised anyone, but it surprised the three of us: We really liked this film. Dame Eileen plays Miss Matilda Crawley, the aunt of Becky Sharp’s love interest, Captain Crawley.

 

Ask the Dust (2006)

Dame Eileen plays Mrs. Hargraves in this film set in Depression-era Los Angeles.

 

Marple: Towards Zero (2008)

I really need to get around to watching the Marple series. So many great actors have cameos in it (this episode also features Julian Sands and Tom Baker), and I adore Geraldine MacEwan. And here’s yet another cameo of a great British actress … Dame Eileen plays Lady Tressilian, whose home is at the center of two murders.

 

Cranford (2008)

One of those comfort flicks. Dame Eileen won a BAFTA for her role as Miss Deborah Jenkyns.

 

Robin Hood (2010)

Dame Eileen as Eleanor of Aquitaine. Need I say more? Oh, just that I really want her circlet.

 

Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (2010)

Dame Eileen is Princess Dragomiroff in this star-powered feature-length TV film.

 

Upstairs Downstairs: The Cuckoo (2010)

Dame Eileen plays Lady Holland.

 

The Scapegoat (2012)

The film is about a doppelgänger who finds himself in the middle of the other lookalike’s screwed up life, trying to make sense of all of it.

 

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

Based on the description, I wanted to watch this film until I found out it’s a Woody Allen film. Nope. Can’t do it. If anyone else has watched it, let me know if it’s good, but I won’t suffer through another Allen film if I have any choice in the matter.

 

The Crown (2016)

Dame Eileen plays yet another Queen Mum, this time Queen Elizabeth, the mother of Elizabeth II.

 

What’s your favorite historical costume role by Eileen Atkins? 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.

19 Responses

  1. Jillian

    I saw Magic in the Moonlight a few years ago, prior to being made aware of what a total shit Woody Allen is. Nice costumes from what I remember. Wasn’t a fan of the Colin Firth/Emma Stone pairing, he’s 30 years older than her, it kind of took me out of the film a little. You can probably find photos on IMDB, clips are probably on YouTube.

    Reply
    • Natasha Rubin

      Yup, that’s a mistake in the post. She’s actually playing the same character in both Bertie & Elizabeth and The Crown, Mary of Teck.

      Reply
  2. Sharon in Scotland

    Colin Farrell was staying in same hotel as Dame Eileen. It was her 70th birthday and Colin apparently made it crystal clear that he wanted to spend the night…………….Dame Eileen turned him down!

    Reply
    • robintmp

      Didn’t hear it was her birthday per se, but they had just started filming Ask the Dust. Both of them were interviewed (separately) by Jonathan Ross on the BBC, and the clips of them on YouTube each telling the tale are hysterical–he was serious, and she was highly flattered, but finally convinced him (after an amusing hour of being wooed, complete with him reading her a bedtime story) to leave. Wouldn’t be surprised if he was still interested…

      Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Agreed–Dame E. was heavenly as Judith. Also as Queen Mary, especially when she curtsies to her granddaughter for the first time, staring up at her like the ultimate crone. But OMG I did not realize Tim Curry had ever played Bill Sikes; must find that.

      Reply
      • Karen K.

        Yes, they had me at “Tim Curry as Bill Sikes.” Would look long and hard to find that!

        Reply
  3. LydiaR

    I think my mom taped The Lady’s Not For Burning, and I’m pretty sure I still have it somewhere… I even have a working VHS player!

    I adore Cold Comfort Farm, Gosford Park, and Cranford. Basically I end up loving anything she’s in!

    Reply
  4. Lily Lotus Rose

    There are so many good ones to choose from. Movie-wise, my favorite is Vanity Fair. Character-wise, I thought she was excellent as the Queen Mum in The Crown.

    Reply
  5. Roxana

    I adored her Miss Deborah! I was almost as heartbroken as Miss Mattie when Deborah died.

    Re.: The image for. Bertie and Elizabeth, that’s a very good copy of Elizabeth’s wedding dress but it’s not quite shapeless enough.

    Reply
  6. Natasha Rubin

    Yesssss, a very worthy WCW! I’m mainly familiar with her from The Crown, which she was amazing in, but she’s had such a long and excellent career.

    Reply
  7. Aleko

    She was as good as she always is in Ridley Scott’s awful farrago Robin Hood, but the script required her to play EoA as a down-to-earth, no-Frenchified-nonsense plain Englishwoman: everything that EoA emphatically was not!

    Reply
  8. Karen K.

    Eileen Atkins is so good in EVERYTHING. My favorites have to be Cranford, Gosford Park, and Cold Comfort Farm. And The Crown, I love that still of them laughing! I don’t even know if I’ve actually seen that version of Murder on the Orient Express but I can absolutely imagine how brilliant she would be as Princess Dragomiroff.

    Reply
  9. jose

    I thought she was queen Mary of Teck in The Crown (2016) too
    also i think is worth mentioning she helped create the original Upstairs Downstairs (1971) with Jean March and would originally play the role of Sarah Moffat but was unable to A TRUE SHAME!

    Reply
  10. Damnitz

    I now saw “The Duchess of Malfi”. Thank you very much for writing about it here. I enjoyed the stunning performances by the whole cast.
    I had only the Impression that the camera positions were very often very strange… Very interesting tragedy.

    Reply

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