WCW: Joan Plowright


Dame Joan Plowright — aka Baroness Olivier, aka third wife of Laurence Olivier — had a long and successful career on the British stage before dabbling in TV and film in the ’80s and ’90s. While her historical roles tend to be the crotchety biddy type, she adds depth, pathos, and humor to her characters. And if you want a peek at the lady herself, I highly recommend the 2018 documentary Tea With the Dames filmed at Plowright’s house and featuring an entertaining chat amongst her and Dames Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Eileen Atkins.



Mrs. Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank (1980)

Joan Plowright, The Diary of Anne Frank (1980)

Joan Plowright did a lot more historical TV productions before this, but it’s super difficult to find photos (even this one is full of watermarks).


Mrs. McConnahay in Revolution (1985)

Joan Plowright, Revolution (1985)

As in the American Revolution, though I suspect she leans towards the redcoat side, dunno!


Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest (1986)

Joan Plowright, The Importance of Being Earnest (1986)

Ah, here we go! One of those ’80s BBC adaptions with pretty damn good costumes & amazing acting. Don’t let this fuzzy screencap fool you.


Eva Krichinsky in Avalon (1990)

Joan Plowright, Avalon (1990)

With Armin Mueller-Stahl in this story of Polish-Jewish immigrants in 1940s America.


Mrs. Fisher in Enchanted April (1991)

Joan Plowright, Enchanted April (1991)

Plowright was nominated for an Oscar & won a Golden Globe award for this role.


Mrs. Doyle-Counihan in Widows’ Peak (1992)

1994 Widows' Peak

With Natasha Richardson in this quirky 1920s mystery comedy | (c) Fine Line Features.


Mrs. Yeobright in The Return of the Native (1994)

Joan Plowright, The Return of the Native (1994)

With Ray Stevenson in this excellent Thomas Hardy adaption.


Harriet Hibbons in The Scarlet Letter (1995)

Joan Plowright, The Scarlet Letter (1995)

Gorgeously costumed, if not wholly successful, Nathaniel Hawthorne adaption.


Mrs. Fairfax in Jane Eyre (1996)

Joan Plowright, Jane Eyre (1996)

With Charlotte Gainsbourg, in this Brontë adaption solidly costumed by Jenny Beavan.


Mary in Tea With Mussolini (1999)

Joan Plowright, Tea With Mussolini (1999)

With Judi Dench in this nostalgic look at Italy between the world wars.



What’s your favorite historical costume movie or TV role of Joan Plowright’s?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

11 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    My favourite Enchanted April. She is so perfect in it. Everyone is. Tea with Mussolini is a close second.

  2. Saraquill

    DAT HAT in the Importance of Being Earnest. It’s the glorious sort of thing you wear to church to passive aggressively piss off your rivals by blocking their view of the pastor.

    The hats in Widow’s Peak are more casual wear I want in my collection.

  3. Lily

    I happened to see her in Twelfth Night (as Viola) from a BBC/ITV production (1970?) with Sir Alec Guiness (!) as Malvolio. For the completists …. ;)

  4. Constance

    I enjoy her but am not into 20th century period shows or movies much…which a lot of hers seem to be…

  5. Bea

    Is that the Importance of Being Earnest with the Tom Selleck version of Paul McGann? :D

  6. SarahV

    Avalon is one of those perfect movies. Its so perfect it rends your heart.

  7. Irene Dwyer

    I saw Dame Joan in a London production of Shaw’s “St. Joan” over 50 years ago.
    She sat on the edge of the stage and talked with “Charlie” (Dauphin) several times—about three feet from me. I’d snagged a single seat in the front row.
    The costumes generally made the production but the only one that could be considered a “frock” was worn by the Cardinal.
    Dame Joan was got up as Peter Pan.

  8. Aleko

    I have to say it – she’s Lady Olivier, not Baroness Olivier. (Yes, a man holding the lowest rank of peerage is technically a baron, but he is always known as ‘Lord X’, and his wife is ‘Lady X’. Only women who have inherited or been granted the peerage in their own right are known as ‘Baroness X’ – e.g. Margaret Thatcher was made a peer in her own right after she retired from Parliament and thus became Baroness Thatcher.

    • Amanda J Shirk

      I have a great deal of respect for the crazy that you said all of that.

  9. M.E. Lawrence

    She reminds me a bit of Elsa Lanchester–the big, round eyes, the elfin quality, and yet she’s earthy as well. I’d love to have seen J.P. as Joan of Arc.