WCW: Emily Watson


She’s a classic character actor, not flashy or stereotypically beautiful. But Emily Watson is often cast as women of substance and determination. Her characters are the ones you have to admit you wish you were more like because they’re a little quirky and a lot stronger than you are.


Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss (1997)

Emily Watson, The Mill on the Floss (1997)

An adaption of the George Eliot novel (sadly with few hairpins).


Angela McCourt in Angela’s Ashes (1999)

Emily Watson, Angela's Ashes (1999)


Natalia in The Luzhin Defence (2000)

Emily Watson, The Luzhin Defence (2000)

Late ’20s romance.


Elsie in Gosford Park (2001)

Emily Watson, Gosford Park (2001)

Fantastic ensemble piece!


Millie Warne in Miss Potter (2006)

Emily Watson, Miss Potter (2006)

With Renée Zellweger as Beatrix Potter.


Rose Narracott in War Horse (2011)

Emily Watson, War Horse (2011)


Countess Lydia Ivanova in Anna Karenina (2012)

Emily Watson, Anna Karenina (2012)


Lady Mansfield in Belle (2013)

Emily Watson, Belle (2013)

With Tom Wilkinson as Lord Mansfield, they’re Belle’s guardians.


Mrs. Brittain in Testament of Youth (2014)

Emily Watson, Testament of Youth (2014)


The Queen in A Royal Night Out (2015)

Emily Watson, A Royal Night Out (2015)

The Queen Elizabeth that was King George VI’s wife (later known as the Queen Mum).


Grace McKee in The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (2015)

Emily Watson, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (2015)

McKee was Marilyn’s foster mother, who she later called “aunt.” Shown with Gladys Monroe Mortenson, Marilyn’s mother.


Elsa Einstein in Genius (2017)

Emily Watson, Genius (2017)

The second wife and cousin of Albert Einstein. She immigrated to the U.S. with him in the 1930s but died a few years later.


Marmee March in Little Women (2018)

Emily Watson, Little Women (2018)

Literature’s favorite mom!


Constance Wilde in The Happy Prince (2018)

Emily Watson, The Happy Prince (2018)

Oscar Wilde’s abandoned wife.


Ulana Khomyuk in Chernobyl (2019)

Emily Watson, Chernobyl (2019)

Yes, the historical events happened during my lifetime, but THIS MINISERIES IS SO GOOD & IMPORTANT, PLEASE WATCH IT. Her character is fictional & an amalgamation of several historical characters — there’s a great podcast called ‘Chernobyl’ that explains how they wrote & created the series.


What’s your favorite of Emily Watson’s historical costume movie & TV roles?

22 Responses

  1. Nzie

    YES. I LOVE Emily Watson. I feel like she often plays characters who live their lives as they would have in that period, in line with what you recommend in the article from here I share most on feminist portrayals of historical women, and in line with some of the combox discussions we’ve had about Kristin Lavransdatter (wait, can I fantasy cast Emily Watson as Ragnfrid, Kristin’s mother??).

    I need to see the Chernobyl series, but I don’t have HBO so I’ll have to wait on that for now. But thanks for the podcast recommendation!

    Also, I think she played the foster mother in The Book Thief, which is set in Nazi Germany. I haven’t seen it, because the minute I was intrigued and googled it I learned I needed to read the book first, and now that I have I am not sure it should’ve been made into a film, but I would see it to see how Emily Watson could pull off a less nice (but still good) character.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      “I feel like she often plays characters who live their lives as they would have in that period”

      YES, that’s a great way to describe her. She gets into these women’s heads & lives them, so the characters are just so interesting & real.

    • Kate D

      Yes! Kristin Lavransdatter!! I could totally see Emily Watson as Ragnfrid. Shouldering heavy sorrows and moving forward sadly. They’d have to get a great actor for Lavrans, one of the best fathers in fiction.

      • Nzie

        I may pitch fantasy casting this to my online book club that read it together. :-) Trying to think about for Lavrans, I am not sure I’m sold on any of these guys, but the following came to mind: Gary Oldman, Kenneth Branagh, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (I haven’t watched GoT so I don’t know if he’d be too associated with a bad guy in that, but I liked him a lot in a short-lived TV show from years ago). Or maybe go with someone like a Colm Meaney? I don’t know. But I do love the idea of fantasy casting her.

        If Amazon could do it right, I’d love to see basically a 4 season show about Kristin (I think the 2nd book needs 2 seasons, but the others could be done in 1, in a short season set up like British shows).

        Any thoughts for Kristin? Elle Fanning came to mind but that’s purely on looks.

  2. Frannie Germeshausen

    Chernobyl literally gave me nightmares. It is important, and she’s great in it. So smart, so brave.

  3. Misty

    Chernobyl….. Masterfully done & heartbreaking….. Both it & the podcast are….

    I am still at a loss for words even weeks after watching it (First series i didn’t binge, I couldn’t)

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Yeah, I’m not a binge-watcher in general, but I purposefully watched Chernobyl once a week, as it came out. And listened to the podcast right after. Also Googled a billion topics after each ep!

  4. Sharon in Scotland

    She also broke your heart in “Breaking the Waves”

    • susan l eiffert

      Sharon, that’s where I first encountered her. Extraordinary performance that captivated me. She did indeed inhabit that character completely with her complex strengths and weaknesses, magical thinking, courage, love.. I’m not sure any other actor could have achieved that.

  5. Kathy Gustafson

    The Proposition. Set in 1880s Outback Australia, she plays the wife of Ray Winstone’s Captain Stanley who has set up a scheme of capturing the region’s most notorious outlaw by pitting one brother against another to save a third. Written by Nick Cave. Outstanding in every respect.

  6. Myra Edwards.

    Can you do another Disney Princess historically accurate article?

  7. Kate D

    She was so good in Little Women! Loved her. That part when she couldn’t even cry alone in her room about Beth, and Jo came in. My heart.

  8. Katriona

    Ah, I love her so much, I’m glad you covered her. Thank you. <3

  9. M.E. Lawrence

    Watson as Elsie in “Gosford” and that moment where she forgets her lowly status, stands up for her employer, and suddenly Secrets Are Revealed (that probably everyone actually knew, but still–not in front of the servants…). She’s a very delicate, shaded actress. And I just realized that she reminds me a bit of Amanda Root, star of my favorite Austen-based film, “Persuasion.”

  10. Jen

    I loved how in Little Women she didn’t portray Marmee as Super Mom but one that is trying to do her best with the deal she was dealt. She get rushed and harried, is stressed and has too much to do. She’s not harking back to some Victorian “angel of the household” ideal that even Susan Sarandon fell victim too. Emily Watson turned Marmee into a relatable character rather than an archetype.