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The Lady Olivier

Joan Plowright 1960 (cropped).jpg
Plowright in 1958
Joan Ann Plowright

(1929-10-28) 28 October 1929 (age 94)
Brigg, Lincolnshire, England
Alma mater Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
Occupation Actress
Years active 1948–2009
  • Roger Gage
    (m. 1953; div. 1960)
  • (m. 1961; died 1989)
Children 3
Relatives David Plowright (brother)

Joan Ann Plowright, Baroness Olivier, DBE (born 28 October 1929), professionally known as Dame Joan Plowright, is an English retired actress whose career spanned over six decades. She has won two Golden Globe Awards and a Tony Award and has been nominated for an Academy Award, an Emmy and two BAFTA Awards. She was the second of only four actresses (as of 2023) to have won two Golden Globes in the same year. She won the Laurence Olivier Award for Actress of the Year in a New Play in 1978 for Filumena.

Early life

Plowright was born on 28 October 1929 in Brigg, Lincolnshire, the daughter of Daisy Margaret (née Burton) and William Ernest Plowright, who was a journalist and newspaper editor. She attended Scunthorpe Grammar School and trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.


Plowright made her stage debut at Croydon in 1948 and her London debut in 1954. In 1956 she joined the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre and was cast as Margery Pinchwife in The Country Wife. She appeared with George Devine in the Eugène Ionesco play, The Chairs, Shaw's Major Barbara and Saint Joan.

Angela Lansbury Joan Plowright A Taste of Honey Broadway
Plowright as Jo (right) with Angela Lansbury as Helen (left) in the Broadway production of A Taste of Honey (1961)

In 1957, Plowright co-starred with Sir Laurence Olivier in the original London production of John Osborne's The Entertainer, taking over the role of Jean Rice from Dorothy Tutin when the play transferred from the Royal Court to the Palace Theatre. She continued to appear on stage and in films such as The Entertainer (1960). In 1961, she received a Tony Award for her role in A Taste of Honey on Broadway.

Through her marriage to Laurence Olivier, she became closely associated with his work at the National Theatre from 1963 onwards. In the 1990s she began to appear more regularly in films, including Enchanted April (1992), for which she won a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination, Dennis the Menace (1993), a cameo in Last Action Hero (also 1993), 101 Dalmatians (1996), playing Nanny, and Tea With Mussolini (1999). Among her television roles, she won another Golden Globe Award and earned an Emmy Award nomination for the HBO film Stalin in 1992 as the Soviet dictator's mother-in-law. Her pair of 1992 performances (Enchanted April and Stalin) marked only the second time an actress (after Sigourney Weaver, for performances in 1988) won two Golden Globes in the same year; as of the January 2023 presentation, only Helen Mirren (for performances in 2006) and Kate Winslet (for performances in 2008) have duplicated this feat. In 1994, she was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award.

In 2003, Plowright performed in the stage production Absolutely! (Perhaps) in London. She was appointed honorary president of the English Stage Company in March 2009, succeeding John Mortimer, who died in January 2009. She was previously vice-president of the company.

Plowright was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1970 New Year Honours and was promoted to Dame Commander (DBE) in the 2004 New Year Honours.

Plowright's vision declined steadily during the late 2000s and early 2010s due to macular degeneration. In 2014, she officially announced her retirement from acting because she had become legally blind.

Personal life

Plowright was first married to Roger Gage, an actor, in September 1953. She later divorced him and, in 1961, married Laurence Olivier shortly after the end of his twenty-year marriage to the actress Vivien Leigh. Plowright and Olivier had three children, son Richard (born 1961), daughter Tamsin Agnes Margaret (born 1963) and daughter Julie-Kate (born 1966). Both daughters became actresses. The couple remained married until Olivier's death in 1989.

Her younger brother, David Plowright (1930–2006) was an executive at Granada Television.


The Plowright Theatre in Scunthorpe is named in Plowright's honour.


Upon her marriage she became Lady Olivier. In 1970, her husband Sir Laurence Olivier was made a life peer and Plowright became Lady Olivier of Brighton in the County of Sussex. As the wife and widow of a life peer, she is entitled to be styled The Right Honourable The Lady Olivier, and since 2004, “The Lady Olivier DBE”.

In 2004 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE), and is professionally known as Dame Joan Plowright.



Year Title Role Notes
1956 Moby Dick Starbuck's wife Uncredited
1957 Time Without Pity Agnes Cole
1960 The Entertainer Jean Rice
1963 Uncle Vanya Sonya
1970 Three Sisters Masha Kulighina
1977 Equus Dora Strang
1982 Britannia Hospital Phyllis Grimshaw
Brimstone & Treacle Norma Bates
1985 Revolution Mrs. Daisy McConnahay
1988 Drowning by Numbers Cissie Colpitts 1
The Dressmaker Nellie
1990 I Love You to Death Nadja
Avalon Eva Krichinsky
1991 Enchanted April Mrs. Jane Fisher
1993 Dennis the Menace Mrs. Martha Wilson
Last Action Hero Teacher
The Summer House Mrs. Evelyn Munro
1994 A Pin for the Butterfly Grandma
Widows' Peak Mrs. Dawn Doyle-Counihan
1995 The Scarlet Letter Harriet Hibbons
A Pyromaniac's Love Story Mrs. Wendy Linzer
Hotel Sorrento Marge Morrisey
1996 101 Dalmatians Nanny
Surviving Picasso Françoise's Grandmother
Mr. Wrong Mrs. Jessica Crawford
Jane Eyre Mrs. Maddie Fairfax
1997 The Assistant Mrs. Ida Bober
1998 Dance with Me Bea Johnson
1999 Tom's Midnight Garden Mrs. Ortensia Bartholomew
Tea with Mussolini Mary Wallace
Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach! Miss Endless (voice)
2000 Dinosaur Baylene (voice)
Back to the Secret Garden Martha Sowerby
2002 Global Heresy Lady Foxley
Callas Forever Sarah Keller
2003 Bringing Down the House Virginia Arness
I am David Sophie
2004 George and the Dragon Mother Superior
2005 Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont Mrs. Sarah Palfrey
2006 Goose on the Loose Beatrice Fairfield
Curious George Victoria Plushbottom (voice)
2008 The Spiderwick Chronicles Aunt Lucinda Spiderwick
2009 Knife Edge Marjorie
2018 Nothing Like a Dame Herself Documentary


Year Title Role Notes
1951 Sara Crewe Winnie 4 episodes
1954 BBC Sunday-Night Theatre Adriana 3 episodes
1955 Moby Dick—Rehearsed A Young Actress/Pip Uncompleted and lost Orson Welles film
1957 Sword of Freedom Lisa Giocondo Episode: "The Woman in the Picture"
1959 Theatre Night Arlette Le Boeuf Episode: Hook, Line, and Sinker
World Theatre Lady Teazle Episode: The School for Scandal
ITV Play of the Week Viola Episode: The Secret Agent
ITV Television Playhouse Jane Maxwell Episode: Odd Man In
1967 NET Playhouse Sonya Episode: Uncle Vanya
1970 ITV Playhouse Lisa Episode: "The Plastic People"
ITV Sunday Night Theatre Viola/Sebastian Episode: Twelfth Night
1973 The Merchant of Venice Portia Film
1978 Saturday, Sunday, Monday Rosa Film
Daphne Laureola Lady Pitts Film
1980 The Diary of Anne Frank Mrs. Frank US film
1982 All for Love Edith Episode: "A Dedicated Man"
1983 Wagner Mrs. Taylor Episode: "1.2"
1986 The Importance of Being Earnest Lady Bracknell Film
1987 Theatre Night Meg Bowles Episode: "The Birthday Party"
1989 And a Nightingale Sang Mam Film
1990 Sophie Sophie Film
1991 The House of Bernarda Alba La Poncia Film
1992 Stalin Olga Film
Driving Miss Daisy Daisy Werthan Film
1993 Screen Two Mrs. Monro Episode: "The Clothes in the Wardrobe"
1994 The Return of the Native Mrs. Yeobright Film
A Place for Annie Dorothy Film
On Promised Land Mrs. Appletree Film
1998–1999 Encore! Marie Pinoni 12 episodes
1998 Aldrich Ames: Traitor Within Jeanne Vertefeuille Film
This Could Be the Last Time Rosemary Film
2000 Frankie & Hazel Phoebe Harkness Film
2001 Bailey's Mistake Aunt Angie Film
Scrooge and Marley Narrator Film


Year Title Role Venue
1948 If Four Walls Told Hope (stage debut) Croydon Repertory Theatre, England
1954 The Merry Gentlemen Allison Bristol Old Vic, England
The Duenna Donna Clara Westminster Theatre, London
1955 Moby Dick Pip Duke of York's Theatre, London
1956 The Crucible Mary Warren Royal Court Theatre, London
Dom Juan Baptista Royal Court Theatre, London
The Death of Satan Receptionist Royal Court Theatre, London
Cards of Identity Miss Tray Royal Court Theatre, London
The Good Woman of Setzuan Mrs. Shin Royal Court Theatre, London
The Country Wife Margery Pinchwife Royal Court Theatre
Adelphi Theatre, London
1957 The Making of Moo Elizabeth Compton Royal Court Theatre, London
1958 The Entertainer Jean Rice Palace Theatre, London
Major Barbara Major Barbara Royal Court Theatre, London
Hook, Line and Sinker Arlette Piccadilly Theatre, London
The Lesson The Student Phoenix Theatre, Off-Broadway
The Chairs Old Woman
The Entertainer Jean Rice Royale Theatre, Broadway
1959 Roots Beatie Bryant Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
Royal Court Theatre, London
Duke of York's Theatre
1960 Rhinoceros Daisy Royal Court Theatre, London
A Taste of Honey Josephine Booth Theatre, Broadway
1962 The Chances Another Constatia Chichester Festival Theatre, England
1962–1963 Uncle Vanya Sonya Chichester Festival Theatre
Old Vic Theatre, London
1963 Saint Joan Saint Joan Old Vic Theatre, London
1964 Hobson's Choice Maggie Hobson Old Vic Theatre, London
The Master Builder Hilda Wangel Old Vic Theatre, London
1967–68 Much Ado about Nothing Beatrice Old Vic Theatre, London
Three Sisters Masha Old Vic Theatre, London
Tartuffe Dorine Old Vic Theatre, London
1968 The Advertisement Teresa Old Vic Theatre, London
Royal Theatre, London
Love's Labour's Lost Rosaline Old Vic Theatre, London
1969 Back to Methuselah, Part II Voice of Lilith Old Vic Theatre, London
1970 The Merchant of Venice Portia New Theatre, London
1971 A Woman Killed with Kindness Mistress Anne Frankford New Theatre, London
The Rules of the Game Silla New Theatre, London
1972 The Doctor's Dilemma Jennifer Dubedat Chichester Festival Theatre, England
The Taming of the Shrew Katharina Chichester Festival Theatre, England
1973 Rosmersholm Rebecca West Greenwich Theatre, London
Saturday, Sunday, Monday Rosa Old Vic Theatre, London
Queen's Theatre, London
1974 Eden's End Stella Kirby Old Vic Theatre, London
National Theatre, London
1975 The Seagull Irena Arkadina Lyric Theatre Company, London
The Bed before Yesterday Alma Lyric Theatre Company, London
1978 Filumena Filumena Marturano Lyric Theatre, London
1980 Enjoy Mam Vaudeville Theatre, London,
The Best House in Naples Filumena Marturano St. James Theatre, Broadway
1981 Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Martha Royal National Theatre, London
1982 Cavell Performer Royal National Theatre, London
1983 The Cherry Orchard Madame Ranevskaya Haymarket Theatre, London
1984 The Way of the World Lady Wishfort Haymarket Theatre, London
1985 Mrs. Warren's Profession Mrs. Warren Lyttelton Theatre, London
1986–87 The House of Bernarda Alba La Poncia Lyric Theatre, London
Globe Theatre, London
1990 Time and the Conways Mrs. Conway Old Vic Theatre, London

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1961 Tony Awards Best Actress in a Play A Taste of Honey Won
British Academy Film Awards Most Promising Newcomer The Entertainer Nominated
1977 Best Supporting Actress Equus Nominated
1993 Academy Awards Best Supporting Actress Enchanted April Nominated
1993 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture Won
Best Supporting Actress - Television Stalin Won
1993 Primetime Emmy Awards Best Supporting Actress - Limited Series or TV Movie Nominated

See also

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