WCW: Elizabeth McGovern


Happy birthday to one of the hardest working women in frock flicks today! Elizabeth McGovern has been in a ton of our favorite historical costume movies and TV shows and is still going. Heck, she’s rockin’ with her own band, Sadie and the Hotheads, which she started in 2008. While onscreen, McGovern is not usually the big star, she’s the crucial supporting actress — the best friend, the advisor, the aunt, the mother. She seems to fit effortlessly into historical settings, especially around the early 20th century. Happy birthday, lady!


Evelyn Nesbit in Ragtime (1981)

Elizabeth McGovern, Ragtime (1981)

She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this playing celebrated chorus girl, artist’s model, and actress Evelyn Nesbit.

Elizabeth McGovern, Ragtime (1981)



Caddie Winger in Racing With the Moon (1984)

Elizabeth McGovern, Racing With the Moon (1984)

She met Sean Penn working on this pre-WWII film, and they were briefly engaged.

Elizabeth McGovern, Racing With the Moon (1984)



Deborah in Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Elizabeth McGovern, Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

With Robert DeNiro in this Prohibition-era mob film.

Elizabeth McGovern, Once Upon a Time in America (1984)



Susie “Sue” Stringham in The Wings of the Dove (1997)

Elizabeth McGovern, The Wings of the Dove (1997)

Traveling companion to a sick heiress — not the worst job, actually.

Elizabeth McGovern, The Wings of the Dove (1997)



Lady Marguerite Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1999)

Elizabeth McGovern, The Scarlet Pimpernel (1999)

Then comes her series of “leading roles in second-rate remakes.” She did a good job with the material, but yeah.

Elizabeth McGovern, The Scarlet Pimpernel (1999)



Mrs. Carry Fisher in The House of Mirth (2000)

Elizabeth McGovern, The House of Mirth (2000)

I still can’t decide if this is just a hard novel to adapt to the screen, or this was not a good adaption. McGovern’s acting wasn’t the problem though.



Ellen Doubleday in Daphne (2007)

Elizabeth McGovern, Daphne (2007)

Playing one of author Daphne du Maurier’s bisexual lovers during the 1940s-1950s.



Mrs. Honeychurch in A Room with a View (2007)

Elizabeth McGovern, A Room with a View (2007)

A wholly unnecessary remake, but at least they got a decent actress for mom.


Dame Celia Westholme in “Appointment with Death,” Agatha Christie’s Poirot (2008)

Elizabeth McGovern, Agatha Christie's Poirot (2008)

A 1920s mystery the ventures to Egypt.

Elizabeth McGovern, Agatha Christie's Poirot (2008)



Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, in Downton Abbey (2010-2015)

Cora in beaded red.

The countess we wish we could be, the mother we wish we had!

Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey (2010-5)



Mrs. Thatcham in Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (2012)

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (2012)

As if Cora went a bit nasty!



Coming Soon:

Norma in The Chaperone (post-production)

Elizabeth McGovern plays a Kansas woman who chaperones a 15-year-old dancer named Louise Brooks (played by Haley Lu Richardson) on her way to New York for the summer. So back to the 1920s!




What’s your favorite of Elizabeth McGovern’s historical costume movie and TV roles?

11 Responses

  1. M

    I will love her forever for being Snow White in the Fairie Tale Theatre episode.

    Her Cora was classyness personified. In the first season there is a moment where she mentions to her husband that he fell in love with her in their first year of marriage. It is a simple line and McGovern gave the scene such warmth.

    • Bronwyn M Benson

      Yes! That was the first thing I knew her in. I loved (still love) that episode. <3 :)

    • M.E. Lawrence

      I’d love to see a prequel to Downton and learn how Cora and Violet learned to become allies. I can’t imagine Violet initially liked her or her background, apart from the money, but the first episode of D.A. makes it clear that the two of them had built a pretty good relationship over the years, setting mutual goals, etc.

  2. India Edghill

    She’s really not well cast as Marguerite (in the book, Marguerite had red gold hair, just FYI). As for the Wharton film — it’s almost impossible to do a good movie of a non-genre novel. In Wharton’s novels (which I adore), the “action” is all MENTAL, and it’s really hard to get that across on screen. So one’s left with pretty pictures — the 1990s Age of Innocence had magnificent costumes, but still — just pretty pictures. I wish they hadn’t been so reverent about the book (although the Archers wouldn’t have had such a huge house!); I long to see the actual scene when May tells Ellen about the baby!

  3. SarahV

    She was so radiant in Once Upon a Time in America!! The costumer in that movie really loved must have loved her, because he draped her in such wonderful outfits.

  4. Heidi L

    I read the Chaperone and it was really good with some unexpected twists. Hope the film lives up to the book.

    • laBelleNoire

      I was just coming here to post the same thing! I can’t wait to see how it translates to the screen.