WCW: Jean Marsh


Jean Marsh is one of those quintessentially English actors to me, because, of course, I first saw her in the original Upstairs, Downstairs as the proper but feisty maid. Later, I learned she co-created the series with Eileen Atkins. The pair also created The House of Eliott (1991-4), and while neither acted in that series, Marsh did write for it. She’s performed in plenty of TV over the years — alas, the early U.K. serials are often lost completely and the later U.S. miniseries are impossible to find pix from. But here are some highlights of her varied career in frock flicks, perhaps with a fantasy tinge.



Octavia in Cleopatra (1963)

Jean Marsh, Cleopatra (1963). Photo via Almay.

A small role as Marc Antony’s Roman wife, who he divorces for the Egyptian queen. Photo via Almay.



Mrs. Rochester aka Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre (1970)

Jean Marsh, Jane Eyre (1970)

I loves me a madwoman in the attic!



Rose in Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-1975)

Jean Marsh, Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-1975)

Yes, that’s a behind-the-scenes photo. So sassy! Marsh won a Emmy Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for this role in 1971.



Joanna Grey in The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

Jean Marsh, The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

A World War II flick about a (fictional) German plot to kidnap Winston Churchill.



Hilary von Kleist in The Waltons, “The Hiding Place” (1977)

Jean Marsh, The Waltons (1977)

One episode of this Depression-era TV series where Marsh guest-stars as a relative who arrives from war-threatened Vienna.



Nurse Wilson / Mombi in Return to Oz (1985)

Jean Marsh, Return to Oz (1985)

A fantasy film that starts in 1899, & I wish I could find better pix because LOOKIT that awesomely evil late-Victorian blouse!



Morgaine in Doctor Who, “Battlefield” (1989)

Jean Marsh, Doctor Who (1989)

More fantasy than historical, the Doctor goes to King Arthur’s era & tangles with Morgaine.



The Queens in Monarch (2000)

Jean Marsh, Monarch (2000)

This is on my watchlist because it’s Henry VIII on his deathbed being confronted by all the bad shit he’s done. Marsh plays an amalgamation of all his past queens, interrogating him. YES.



Furmity Woman in The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003)

Jean Marsh, The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003)

A small, almost wordless role, but crucial because the main character buys booze from her, & in his drunkness, sets the plot in motion.



Mrs. Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility (2008)

Jean Marsh, Sense & Sensibility (2008)

Just trying to get her sons married off, in this less-beautiful Austen adaption.



Lady Constance de Momery in Crooked House (2008)

Jean Marsh, Crooked House (2008)

In the middle of a three-part anthology of ghost stories, Marsh is part of the disapproving family of a newly engaged man in the 1920s.



Mrs. Rose Buck in Upstairs Downstairs (2010-2012)

Jean Marsh, Upstairs Downstairs (2010-2012)

A continuation of the original series where Rose is now the housekeeper for a new family in the 1930s. However, this series didn’t last very long because it premiered at the same time as Downton Abbey, which copied the idea on a grander scale.



What’s your favorite frock flick role of Jean Marsh’s? 

21 Responses

  1. florenceandtheai

    I’ve only seen her in Cleopatra and Return to Oz. She was properly scary in Oz. I’m more intrigued by how she looks like a number of other actresses (Deborah Kerr, Vanessa Redgrave, even Diana Rigg a bit) but still looks like exactly herself. That fluidity is interesting, and I think would help in acting. Tangent endeth here.

  2. Roxana

    I loved her as Morgaine. She also played a short lived companion, Sarah Kingdom back in the First Doctor’s era and was, I believe, married to John Pertwee at one time.

  3. SarahV

    I had no idea that was her Cleopatra. She looks so very beautiful there!

    Return to Oz still scares the shit out of me, and she’s no small part of that.

    However, and this is not a frock flick, but she will ever had pride of place in my heart as the MAGNIFICENT Witch Queen Bavmorda in Willow with the most excellent goth metal wimple and crown ever designed by man.

  4. Saraquill

    Return to Oz. I enjoyed it quite a bit when I was the target age.

  5. Brandy Loutherback

    Wasn’t she is Grantchester? I could be confusing her with another actress.

  6. Karen K.

    I loved her so much in Upstairs, Downstairs, but did not know about all these other roles, especially Sense & Sensibility!

  7. Alexander

    I have adored Jean Marsh since childhood! She is such a barnstorming and multifaceted character. I think my first sight of her was in Willow and Return to Oz but I then came to love her in Upstairs Downstairs and then… Monarch!!! Whoooo, I adored it and Jean Marsh was fabulous. She really is an incredible actor, writer, producer and director – a real star, who looks fantastic in Victorian garb.

  8. Darcy

    You forgot Jean Marsh’s first Doctor Who appearance as Princess Joanna, sister of RIchard the Lion Heart, in 1965 story The Crusade. Unfortunately, only very few pictures of her in costume survive.

  9. MJ

    I didn’t realize that was her as Mrs. Ferrars! She is excellent in that! Loved her in Upstairs, Downstairs, too.

  10. Bea

    NOT a Frock Flick, but she’s one of the few female Classic Who actors with more than one part, with her own face (not alien-ed up).
    She was futuristic companion Sara Kingdom, where she worked with Nick Courtney (who played her brother), in the Dalek Master Plan. Seeing Marsh in Battlefield was like seeing Jacqueline Hill (Barbara Wright) back as the Priestess in Meglos… that little warm glow of “hi, old friend” even when they weren’t a hero at all.

  11. Katie

    I watched Monarch on a whim tonight. I am posting this immediately after watching it, in the hopes that by doing so I can warn Trystan before it’s too late. This is dreadful. The plot is dull, and it’s 90 minutes of dudes wandering around a manor house either delivering modern sounding speeches on the nature of the monarchy or referring vaguely to dark and mysterious plottings and goings on. The costuming is a solid C. Everyone except for Henry is dressed for the 1550s at the earliest, and Henry’s clothing is ok. Just ok. Jean Marsh’s costuming and performance (which is really just a extended cameo, it lasts for 3 minutes) is the high point, since she wears a very nice gable hood, and a plausible, although plain, shift.

    • Roxana

      Since Henry VIII dies in 1547, 1550s costuming is a problem. There were all sorts of goings on around Henry’s deathbed. The plotting and counter plotting could make a good show. But it doesn’t sound like it did.

  12. LondonKdS

    “Battlefield” isn’t set in the Arthurian era, it’s set in the UK a few years later than broadcast date, which is invaded by techno-medieval Arthurian characters from a parallel universe.