WCW: Olivia Williams


I feel like Olivia Williams can sometimes be overlooked! She has a quiet, demure thing going on when she’s in historical films, so maybe that’s why. She’s played in Jane Austen adaptations, played the Jane Austen, and generally Done Some Stuff!

Emma (1996)

The BBC miniseries version starring Kate Beckinsale; Williams played Jane Fairfax.

1996 Emma 1996 Emma 1996 Emma

The Heart of Me (2002)

1930s setting, playing sisters opposite Helena Bonham Carter.

2002 The Heart of Me

Peter Pan (2003)

A smaller part as Mrs. Darling, but she’s beautifully dressed (by the fabulous Janet Patterson).

Peter Pan (2003) Peter Pan (2003)

To Kill a King (2003)

She’s the long-suffering English Civil War-era aristocratic wife, I’m the long-suffering person who watched this big ball of meh. Apparently I liked her costumes, according to my own review. I just remember being bored!

2003 To Kill a King 2003 To Kill a King

Agatha Christie: A Life in Pictures (2004)

One of the many stories based on Christie’s (played by Williams) disappearance.

2004 Agatha Christie- A Life in Pictures

Miss Austen Regrets (2008)

Jane Austen’s later years; I thought it was snoozy, Sarah liked it! YMMV.

Miss Austen Regrets (2008) Miss Austen Regrets (2008) 2008 Miss Austen Regrets

An Education (2009)

She has a small part as a stern schoolteacher in this shhh-don’t-tell-Trystan Carey Mulligan led, 1960s-set film.

An Education (2009)

Anna Karenina (2012)

As the Countess Vronsky in the Keira Knightley version.

2012 Anna Karenina 2012 Anna Karenina

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

As a smart and elegant Eleanor Roosevelt, while Bill Murray is charming as philandering FDR.

2012 Hyde Park on Hudson 2012 Hyde Park on Hudson

Manhattan (2014-15)

A TV series about the Manhattan project.

2014-15 manhattan 2014-15 manhattan

The Halcyon (2017)

Glamming it up in this 1930s British hotel series.

The Halcyon (2017) 2017 The Halcyon 2017 The Halcyon

Victoria & Abdul (2017)

As the cranky Lady Churchill in this Judi Dench-as-Queen-Victoria film.

Victoria & Abdul (2017) Victoria & Abdul (2017)

Which is your favorite Olivia Williams historical film?


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.

10 Responses

  1. Kate D

    I really enjoy Olivia Williams’ performances.

    Not historical, but after seeing her in the short-lived Joss Whedon show Dollhouse I really appreciated her range. She can go from “ice queen” to “hurting human being with needs who is trying to hold it together” all within one episode. It made me notice her more elsewhere, like in Victoria & Abdul.

    Out of this list, Miss Austen Regrets and Peter Pan might be my favorites!

  2. M.E. Lawrence

    I just saw her Jane Fairfax in “Emma,” and was impressed. Her contained quality, with the suggestion of emotions smoldering under the surface, was perfect for the role.

  3. Gail

    Glad you referenced ‘Manhattan’ as it had great acting by Williams and John Benjamin Hickey.

  4. SarahV

    I’ve had the biggest Girl Crush on her since the I saw her i the decidedly un-period Rushmore.

  5. Damnitz

    She was the best Jane Fairfax until now.
    Her best perfomance was as the wife of the politician Lang in “The Ghost Writer” by Polanski. Sexy and influencing.

  6. Michael Mårten Neiss

    She is the only believable Jane Fairfax. Watching her singing and playing the piano in front of an audience put the fear of God into me — and made me understand Emma’s unease with her (simply because she is lacking all of Jane’s accomplishments). William’s portrayal of Jane Austen was sublime.