WCW: Penelope Wilton


I first noticed Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones, MP, in Doctor Who, where she was smart and funny and had a great storyline through a couple seasons. Then she showed up in Downton Abbey as an excellent foil for the Dowager Countess, and finally I started noticing her everywhere in frock flicks. Like many British actors, she started on the stage and has performed a fair amount of Shakespeare, plus roles in most any British TV show you can imagine. At age 75, she’s still acting in film and TV, so let’s give Dame Penelope Wilton her WCW due!




Rachel Sullens in Country Matters, “The Sullens Sisters” (1972)

Penelope Wilton, Country Matters, "The Sullens Sisters" (1972)

Kind of adorable here in a post-WWI period TV series.



Vivie Warren in Stage 2, “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” (1972)

Penelope Wilton, Mrs. Warren's Profession (1972)

Playing the modern young daughter in this George Bernard Shaw play, written in 1893.

Penelope Wilton, Mrs. Warren's Profession (1972)



Mrs. Wilson in Joseph Andrews (1977)

Joseph Andrews (1977)

Must be a small role in this film, because she’s not any of the ostentatious ladies pictured anywhere.



Desdemona in Othello (1981)

Penelope Wilton, Othello (1981)

Part of the BBC Television Shakespeare series, & OMG I love this costume with the Venetian winged lion on her gown!



Regan in King Lear (1982)

Penelope Wilton, King Lear (1982)

Also part of the BBC Television Shakespeare series, here shown with Michael Kitchen as Edmund. Penelope Wilton previously played the same role in the 1975 production for the BBC’s Play of the Month series, but I couldn’t find any screencaps.



Lady Angela Forbes in The Monocled Mutineer (1986)

The Monocled Mutineer (1986)

Wilton played a real-life socialite who volunteered during WWI in this TV miniseries, but alas, no pix. Just being a completionist here!



Lady Ottoline Morrell in Carrington (1995)

Penelope Wilton, Carrington (1995)

Another real person, Lady Ottoline was a society hostess among the Bloomsbury set. I should give Carrington a rewatch because I just remember it as being sad but Ottoline’s parties were pretty fabulous.



Mrs. Hamley in Wives and Daughters (1999)

Wives & Daughters (1999)

See, she shows up everywhere!

Penelope Wilton, Wives and Daughters (1999)



Delfina / Paulina in The Strange Case of Delfina Potocka: The Mystery of Chopin (1999)

Penelope Wilton, The Strange Case of Delfina Potocka: The Mystery of Chopin (1999)

This odd flick is set in 1945 with Wilton’s character trying to uncover info about Chopin. The 1940s part is all in black & white, but there are color flashbacks to the 1840s.



Princess Mary Louise Victoria, Duchess of Kent, in Victoria & Albert (2001)

Penelope Wilton, Victoria & Albert (2001)

I rather enjoyed this Queen Victoria biopic, & Penelope Wilton makes a good turn as the Duchess of Kent.



Mrs. Gardiner in Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Penelope Wilton, Pride & Prejudice (2005)

I’ve blocked out everything from my one unfortunate viewing of P&P&Pigs. But I like Wilton’s van-dyked collar here.

Penelope Wilton, Pride & Prejudice (2005)



Mary in The Passion (2008)

Penelope Wilton, The Passion (2008)

Mary, as in “Mother of God,” I guess? This pic doesn’t strike me as “Magdalene.”



Carrie Louise Serrocold in Agatha Christie’s Marple, “They Do It With Mirrors” (2009)

Penelope Wilton, Agatha Christie’s Marple, "They Do It With Mirrors" (2009)

Digging the bohemian ’20s vibe.



Mrs. Beddows in South Riding (2011)

Penelope Wilton, South Riding (2011)

A 1930s serial.



Lady Mary Murray in Belle (2013)

Belle (2013)

Spinster, but make it fashion.

Belle (2013)

She takes this small role & makes it perfect.

Belle (2013)

Also, I neeeeeeeeeeeed this outfit. Please!



Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey (2010-2015)

Downton Abbey

Everyone’s favorite 1910s middle-class mom!

Penelope Wilton, Downton Abbey (2010-2015)

She wears a hat well.

Downton Abbey

Tailored & unfussy.



Denise Austin in Zoo (2017)

Penelope Wilton, Zoo (2017)

Set in 1941 & loosely based on the real Denise Austin, who was Belfast Zoo’s ‘Elephant Angel’ & hid an elephant in her yard.



Amelia Maugery in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

Penelope Wilton, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

Part of the secret “book club” in this mild WWII-period romance.



Isobel Grey, Baroness Merton, in Downton Abbey (2019)

Penelope Wilton, Downton Abbey (2019)

A bit glammed up for the big screen now that she’s a titled lady!



Older Alice in Summerland (2020)

Penelope Wilton, Summerland (2020)

OK, as “Older Alice” she’s not in the 1940s part of this flick, but I haven’t seen it yet so I’m not sure what the actual date of her flash-forward part is.



Upcoming Movies:

Watch for Penelope Wilton in Downton Abbey: A New Era (March 18, 2022) and a World War II movie called Operation Mincemeat (completed, 2022).



What’s your favorite historical costume movie or TV role of Penelope Wilton’s?

16 Responses

  1. Heather

    I would love to see some of her earlier work, thank you for this post. She is such a class act and gives a solid performance. Plus I do very much enjoy the banter between Penelope’s character and Violet’s in Downton Abbey.

  2. Caroline Macafee

    For me she’ll always be Homily in the 1992 tv series of The Borrowers.

  3. Cathy Springs

    And what about Beatrix Potter? What a lovely woman. Someone I would like to have tea with.

  4. Roxana

    I wonder who she could be playing in Operation Mincemeat, which is of course the famous story of the imaginary officer, complete with borrowed body, invented by British intelligence to plant false information in World War II. There was at least one woman on the team who concocted the officer, and of course there’s the Next of Kin of the body who gave permission it be used.

  5. SarahV

    ” first noticed Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones, MP, in Doctor Who, where she was smart and funny and had a great storyline through a couple seasons. “

    This!!! This a thousand times this!

  6. MrsC (Maryanne)

    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is MILD? Lordie it was one of the most harrowing movies I’ve ever watched! It reached right into my chest and tore out my heart. And Penelope was amazing as always. I lovez her.

  7. Janet

    Yep, she portrayed Maria “Mother of Jesus” in 2008s ‘The Passion’, she played a real 3 dimensional character. She is really an actress that gives the best “lived in” character preformances in even bad to mediocre films. Like 2005 ‘P&P and Pigs’ in which she and Mr. Gardiner are just the best married couple there is.
    And in 2918 ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ her reformance as Amelia Maugery “closed off” post WWII grief feels heartwrenchingly real.
    I loved her in anything I’ve see her in👌🏻.

  8. Lily Lotus Rose

    Whoa–I would not have recognized her from her younger years. And no, that’s not a euphemism about aging badly. She just looks like a totally different person to me. She’s an EXCELLENT actress. Like many people I know her from Downton Abbey–TV show and film. But I would gladly watch her in anything. I thoroughly enjoyed Belle, but perhaps because I was unaware of Penelope Wilton as an actress, I don’t remember her character well. P&P&Pigs didn’t offend me as much as it seems to have offended everyone else, but once again, I didn’t register Penelope Wilton. Ditto to Trystan’s comments about Carrington, though I don’t think I can stomach that morose movie a second time. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society–what can I say? She was VERY GOOD in a very so-so movie (but then again, the book was very so-so, and a least the filmmakers left out the worst parts of the book).

    On a completely different note: Has Paul McGann ever looked bad a day in his life? The movie poster for The Monocled Mutineer has me drooling!

    Back to Penelope Wilton, there’s lots here that I haven’t seen, but I’m interested based on her acting skills alone. Thanks for this WCW!

  9. Penny H

    I’m ashamed to say I didn’t realize that was her in Wives and Daughters and Carrington, two of my favorite period films/TV series ever. If you do rewatch Carrington, I’d be curious what you think of the costumes, though what I remember more are the paintings and the houses. But then I don’t have a very good eye for costumes.

    And yes, her younger self does look very different.