WCW: Joanne Whalley


Joanne Whalley is an English actress who I will forever hold dear due to her role as the badass Sorsha in the fantasy film Willow — which, if I could find a way to review for a historical angle, I would. She did a few historical films when she was young, then took on the “no one can succeed at this” project of playing Scarlett in the sequel to Gone With the Wind. These days, she’s frequently cast as the still-hot older female character in historical TV series. So, let’s take a look at her filmography! Unfortunately there’s a few roles I can’t find photos of: Marjorie Dawson/Sarah Hughes in How We Used to Live (1976-79), and Ulla in Reilly, Ace of Spies (1983).


A Christmas Carol (1984)

As Fan, Scrooge’s sister, in this TV movie adaptation of the Dickens novel starring George C. Scott.

1984 A Christmas Carol

So many historically inaccurate bangs, so little time!


Scandal (1989)

As Christine Keeler, aspiring model who had an affair with British Secretary of State for War John Profumo, leading to a massive scandal in 1963.

1989 Scandal

Are the other ladies supposed to be Native American?


Scarlett (1994)

Nobody can match Vivien Leigh, but I thought Whalley did an admirable job with the role in this terrible, yet entertaining, sequel to Gone With the Wind.

Scarlett (1994)


Scarlett (1994)

Her wardrobe is great!

Scarlett (1994)

Even if the acting is melodramatic.

Scarlett (1994)

Timothy Dalton isn’t bad either!


Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (2000)

As the former first lady in this TV movie.

2000 Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis

She looks decent, he’s no JFK.


Run the Wild Fields (2000)

“A North Carolina woman and her daughter take in a mysterious drifter to work their farm while the woman’s husband is missing in action during World War II,” per IMDB.

2000 Run the Wild Fields

Nice hat, nice print!


The Virgin Queen (2006)

As Queen Mary Tudor, older sister to the future Queen Elizabeth I, in this Bess-focused bio-series.

2006 The Virgin Queen

During Mary’s paranoid years.


The Borgias (2011-13)

As Vanozza Cattaneo, longtime mistress to pope Pope Alexander VI, and mother to his children.

Joanne Whalley in The Borgias

She’s gorgeous!

The Borgias (2011-13)

She’s sophisticated!

Showtime's The Borgias

She has kids!


Jamaica Inn (2014)

As Patience Merlyn in this adaptation of a Regency-set Daphne du Maurier novel. Which I will never see, because it looks like poor, dirty people being miserable.

Jamaica Inn (2014)

There is literally nothing appealing about this.


A.D. The Bible Continues (2015)

As Claudia, wife of Pontius Pilate, in one of those interminable Bible fictionalizations.

2015 A.D. The Bible Continues

Take away the earrings and she looks like she’s headed to a vineyard wedding.


The Ark (2015)

Sticking with the biblical, as “Emmie,” wife of Noah — ya know, Noah’s ark.

2015 The Ark

I am not the target demographic here.


Wolf Hall (2015)

As Catherine of Aragon, first wife and queen of Henry VIII, in this adaptation of the Hilary Mantel novel about Henry’s divorce and Thomas Cromwell.

2015 Wolf Hall

99.9% spot on — just needs red/auburn hair.

2015 Wolf Hall

Sewing Henry’s shirts.


Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands (2016)

As Rheda, queen regent in this fantasy/historical series based on the Beowulf poem.

2016 Beowulf- Return to the Shieldlands

“Velvets are wrong historically but felt right in terms of her character”

2016 Beowulf- Return to the Shieldlands

This reads almost Asian to me?


The White Princess (2017)

As Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, in this adaptation of a Philippa Fucking Gregory novel about Elizabeth of York.

The White Princess (2017)

Sarah wrote a whole post about how much she hates this outfit.

2017 The White Princess

There was a sale on doilies at Joann’s?

2017 The White Princess

I like the color scheme?


Paul, Apostle of Christ (2018)

Back to the biblical, playing Priscilla, companion of Paul.

2018 Paul, Apostle of Christ

zzzz wha’?



What’s your favorite Joanne Whalley historical costume movie or TV role?


About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

19 Responses

  1. Andrew Schroeder

    Wow, didn’t know there were so many pale Anglo women inhabiting the Biblical middle east! Didn’t know that!

    • M.E. Lawrence

      Does that mean you didn’t know that a certain person had light-brown hair and blue eyes, just like an ideal mid-century American? (Or at least he does in Hollywood epics.)

  2. Shashwat

    Joanne whalley is so pretty!Her mouth is the only part of her age to suggest ageing,otherwise her eyes are so pretty and,ahem,seductive.I actually thought she was too pretty to play CoA in Wolf Hall because I feel she would have been a bit too plump at that point in her life.Whalley has a figure that women of her age would die for.

    • Roxana

      I agree. A very lovely woman who aged beautifully.
      And you’re right about CoA too, she became very fat in later life, after all those failed pregnancies. Francis I described her, with typically ungallantry, as old and deformed, an obvious exaggeration.

  3. Susan Pola Staples

    I, too, am a fan of her Sorcha in Willow. Have you thought about a comparison of Willow and Midsummer Night’s Dream? Fairies etc.
    But my favourite historical role she did was Vanozza in The Borgias. Gorgeous costumes and hair.

  4. Frannie Germeshausen

    Too bad Reilly, Ace of Spies is MIA. I loved that series.

  5. Rhonda Stannard

    I noticed that she is holding her utensils the British way in the Gone with the Wind sequel. Not done here in the U.S. but who knows what they were doing in the 1860’s South.

  6. Vee

    Being English I have no idea what ‘Joann’s’ is….some kind of haberdashery ?

    • Briony Kinnear

      Joann’s is a fabric store chain in the US that has managed to be almost the only fabric store in a lot of areas. The supplies are usually focused on quilting and home decor, with some fashion fabric stuffs, but not a lot that’s useful for any historic type clothing. I’m going to stop there; Joann’s makes me grumpy :)

    • Kelly

      Thank you for using the word “haberdashery”–almost extinct in the US!

  7. Lee Jones

    Tim Matheson may or may not have been JFK, but he was outstanding in a very complicated role in “The West Wing”.

    • Nzie

      when they took Hoynes from “oh, I guess maybe he’s a decent guy and we may have been unfair to him” and recovering alcoholic to “btw yeah he was sleeping with everyone on the campaign trail” I was so frustrated. Part of the last gasps I had for that show after Sorkin and Lowe departures.

  8. MrsC (Maryanne)

    Jamaica Inn is a fabulous read, though! I love her. She’s done some amazing work. Willow is one of my top ten. Filmed here in New Zealand of course!

  9. MrsC (Maryanne)

    P.S. Noah’s wife was called Naamah apparently. But hey, Emmy sounds kinda, Hebrew.. too?

  10. ladylavinia1932

    I’ve always thought that Whalley’s portrayal of Scarlett was underrated. I think people tend to dismiss it because “Scarlett” was a sequel to “Gone With the Wind”. The 1994 miniseries wasn’t perfect. Then again, neither was the 1939 movie.

  11. SarahV

    I love me some Timothy Dalton. That chin dimple! He looks good there.

    As Queen Mary I, is the character wearing an armored breastplate?