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Stephen Frears
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Frears at the Odesa International Film Festival in 2014
Stephen Arthur Frears

(1941-06-20) 20 June 1941 (age 82)
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
  • Director
  • producer
Years active 1968–present
Notable work
  • My Beautiful Laundrette
  • Dangerous Liaisons
  • The Grifters
  • High Fidelity
  • The Queen
  • Philomena
  • Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Mary-Kay Wilmers
    (m. 1968, divorced)
  • Anne Rothenstein
    (m. 1992)
Children 4

Stephen Arthur Frears (born 20 June 1941) is an English director and producer of film and television often depicting real life stories as well as projects that explore social class through sharply drawn characters.

Born in Leicester and educated at Gresham's School and Trinity College, Cambridge, Frears started his career working as an assistant director in theatre and film while directing numerous television plays. In 1971, he directed his first feature film, Gumshoe. After more television work, he won acclaim for the gay romance film, My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), featuring a breakout performance from a young Daniel Day-Lewis. He continued to garner praise with Prick Up Your Ears (1987), a biographical movie about British playwright Joe Orton. He followed with the American films Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and The Grifters (1990), the latter receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Director.

In 2000, Frears adapted Nick Hornby's novel, High Fidelity, into a feature film with John Cusack, whom he had previously directed in The Grifters. In 2002, he directed the drama Dirty Pretty Things with Audrey Tautou and Chiwetel Ejiofor, which addressed the exploitation of illegal immigrant workers in London. In 2006, Frears directed The Queen, that focused on the reaction to the tragic death of Princess Diana in 1997. The film received its debut at the Venice International Film Festival to critical acclaim, with Helen Mirren eventually winning many awards for playing the title role, and Frears himself received his second Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Frears continued to work with prominent actors such as Judi Dench in the drama Philomena (2013), based on the true story of a woman searching for a child she gave up for adoption in her youth; and Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins (2016), as a delusional socialite who embarks upon a career as opera singer despite a manifest lack of vocal talent. He also reunited with Dench in Victoria and Abdul (2017), a film about the unlikely friendship between the aging Queen Victoria and her young Indian servant, Abdul Karim.

Frears is also known for his work on various television programs, including the Cold War thriller Fail Safe (2000) starring George Clooney, Richard Dreyfus, and Harvey Keitel. Frears won great acclaim for the television film The Deal (2003), about the pact made by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown revolving around the 1994 Labour Party leadership election. In 2013, Frears directed the HBO film Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight (2013), a drama involving the legal battle over Muhammad Ali's draft-dodging conviction during the Vietnam War starring Frank Langella and Christopher Plummer. He later directed the biographical BBC One/Amazon Prime miniseries A Very English Scandal (2018), in which Hugh Grant played British politician Jeremy Thorpe, and his scandal involving Norman Scott played by Ben Whishaw. His recent work in television includes the comic series State of the Union (2019) starring Rosamund Pike, and Chris O'Dowd, and the second series in 2022 starring Patricia Clarkson and Brendan Gleeson, as well as the miniseries Quiz (2020) starring Matthew Macfadyen, Sian Clifford and Michael Sheen, based on a true story about a man who was accused of cheating on the show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.

He has received two Academy Award nominations and four Primetime Emmy Award nominations, with one win. He has received thirteen British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award nominations, winning three times. In 2003 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Palm Springs International Film Festival. He has won numerous prizes at the Venice Film Festival including the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker Award in 2017. In 2008, The Daily Telegraph named Frears among the 100 most influential people in British culture. In 2009 he received the Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Early life and education

Frears was born on 20 June 1941 in Leicester, England. His mother, Ruth M. (née Danziger), was a social worker, and his father, Russell E. Frears, was a general practitioner and accountant. Frears was brought up Anglican, and did not find out that his mother was Jewish until he was in his late 20s.

From 1954 to 1959, Frears was educated at Gresham's School, a boarding independent school for boys (now co-educational) in the market town of Holt in Norfolk. This was followed by Trinity College, Cambridge, where he earnt a BA Law.


Early career

At the University of Cambridge, Frears was assistant stage manager for the 1963 footlights Revue, which starred Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese, Bill Oddie and David Hatch. After graduating from the university, Frears worked as an assistant director on the films Morgan – A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966) and if.... (1968). He spent most of his early directing career in television, mainly for the BBC but also for the commercial sector.

Frears contributed to several anthology series, such as the BBC's Play for Today. He produced a series of Alan Bennett's plays for LWT, taking responsibility for working in the gallery on The Old Crowd while Lindsay Anderson worked with the actors.


Stephen Frears 01
Frears in Sweden, 1989, promoting his film Dangerous Liaisons

In the late 1980s, Frears came to international attention as a director of feature films. His directorial film debut was the noir detective spoof Gumshoe (1971). In 1985, Frears found widespread acclaim with My Beautiful Laundrette. The film focuses on an interracial gay romance, based on a Hanif Kureishi screenplay and shot on 16 mm film, was released theatrically to great critical acclaim. It received an Academy Award nomination and two nominations for BAFTA Award. The success of the film helped launch the careers of both Frears and actor Daniel Day Lewis.

Frears worked with Adrian Edmondson on Mr Jolly Lives Next Door, a 45-minute programme starring Peter Cook in The Comic Strip Presents television comedy series that aired on Channel Four in 1988. In 1985, Frears had also directed a Comic Strip parody of Daphne Du Maurier's novel Rebecca. Frears next directed the Joe Orton biopic Prick Up Your Ears (1987), a collaboration with playwright Alan Bennett. His second film adapted from a Kureishi screenplay was Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987).

In 1988, Frears directed Dangerous Liaisons to widespread critical acclaim. The film was shot in France, with a cast that included Americans Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Michelle Pfeiffer, and Uma Thurman. Based on the late 18th-century French novel of romantic game playing and adapted by Christopher Hampton. The film received seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress for Glenn Close and Best Supporting Actress for Michelle Pfeiffer. The film also received 10 British Academy Film Award nominations including for Frears for Best Direction.


In 1990, Frears directed the neo-noir crime thriller The Grifters starring John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, and Anette Bening. Martin Scorsese served as a producer on the film. The film won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Film and was declared one of the Top 10 films of 1990 by The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. Frears was also nominated for the British Academy Film Award for Best Direction and earned him his first Academy Award nomination for best direction.

In 1992, Frears directed the comedy drama Hero released in the United Kingdom as Accidental Hero. The film starred Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis, Andy Garcia, and Joan Cusack. Many critics compared the film to those of Preston Sturges and Frank Capra including Roger Ebert who wrote, "It [the film] has all the ingredients for a terrific entertainment, but it lingers over the kinds of details that belong in a different kind of movie. It comes out of the tradition of those rat-a-tat Preston Sturges comedies of the 1940s." While the film was met with generally positive critical reviews, it was not a box office success. Columbia Pictures lost $25.6 million.

Frears has also directed two films adapted from novels by Roddy Doyle, The Snapper (1993) and The Van (1996). Frears' other films include the horror film Mary Reilly and the Western The Hi-Lo Country (1998).


In 2000, Frears directed High Fidelity starring John Cusack, Jack Black, Lisa Bonet, and Joan Cusack. The film is based on the 1995 British novel of the same name by Nick Hornby, with the setting moved from London to Chicago and the name of the lead character changed. After seeing the film, Hornby expressed his happiness with Cusack's performance, saying that "at times, it appears to be a film in which John Cusack reads my book." The film received positive reviews from critics and has a "Certified Fresh" score of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 165 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The critical consensus states: "The deft hand of director Stephen Frears and strong performances by the ensemble cast combine to tell an entertaining story with a rock-solid soundtrack."

In 2002, Frears directed social thriller, Dirty Pretty Things, a film about two immigrants living in London. The film starred Audrey Tautou, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. The film received widespread critical acclaim, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and won a British Independent Film Award for Best Independent British Film in 2003. For his performance as Okwe, Chiwetel Ejiofor won the 2003 British Independent Film Award for Best Actor.

In 2003, Frears was attached to direct the James Bond spin-off Jinx, featuring Halle Berry as her character from Die Another Day (2002) co-starring with Michael Madsen and Javier Bardem. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were scheduled to return to write the screenplay, and Wade described it as "a very atmospheric, Euro thriller, a Bourne-type movie." Producer Barbara Broccoli described it as the beginning of a "Winter Olympics"-style alternative to the conventional Bond films. However, the project was cancelled due to "creative differences" between Eon Productions and MGM and in order to focus on the reboot of the series with Casino Royale (2006).

In 2003, Frears returned to directing for television with The Deal (2003), which depicts an alleged deal between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown over which of them should become leader of the Labour Party in 1994. Michael Sheen portrayed Tony Blair to great acclaim. In 2005, Frears directed the British theatre comedy Mrs Henderson Presents starring Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins. The film was praised for its performances by Dench and Hoskins with Dench receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

Frears next film project was The Queen (2006), a film that depicts the death of Princess Diana on 31 August 1997 and its reaction from the Monarchy, and the public. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival where Mirren won Best Actress and Peter Morgan won Best Screenplay. Frears was nominated for the Golden Lion. When released nationally within the United States, the film achieved immense critical acclaim, box-office success, and awards. At the Academy Awards, Frears himself received his second Academy Award nomination for best direction, and actor Helen Mirren won numerous awards for playing the title role including the Academy Award for Best Actress.


Philomena - Steve Coogan Stephen Frears (9712275459)
Steve Coogan with Frears at a screening of Philomena in 2013

Frears holds the "David Lean Chair in Fiction Direction" at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, where he teaches.

In 2013, Frears directed the drama, Philomena (2013) which was based on the 2009 book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by journalist Martin Sixsmith based on the true story of Philomena Lee's 50-year search for her forcibly adopted son and Sixsmith's efforts to help her find him. The film starred Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. The film premiered at the 70th Venice International Film Festival to great acclaim and writers Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan won the best screenplay award for the film. The film won the People's Choice Award Runner-Up prize at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. The film was nominated for four Oscars at the 86th Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress (for Dench), and Best Original Score. It was also nominated for four British Academy Film Awards and three Golden Globe Awards. The same year, HBO released his television drama Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight, starring Christopher Plummer and Frank Langella, which depicts the United States Supreme Court deliberation over banning Muhammad Ali from boxing for refusing to serve in the US Army during the Vietnam War.

His biopic of disgraced cycling champion Lance Armstrong, The Program, starring Ben Foster, was premiered in the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. Many of Frears' films are based on stories of living persons, but he has never sought to meet any of his subjects. National Life Stories conducted an oral history interview (C1316/07) with Stephen Frears in 2008 for its The Legacy of the English Stage Company collection held by the British Library.

In 2016, Frears directed the film, Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep, as the title character, a New York heiress known and aspiring opera singer despite her poor singing abilities. Hugh Grant plays her manager and long-time companion, St. Clair Bayfield. Other cast members include Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson, and Nina Arianda. The film was a critical and commercial success with many praising Streep and Grant for their performances. At the 89th Academy Awards, it was nominated for Best Costume Design and earned Streep her 20th nomination for Best Actress. It received four Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture in a Comedy or Musical. In 2017, Frears reunited with Judi Dench, this time in Victoria & Abdul, about the real-life relationship between Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and her Indian Muslim servant Abdul Karim. The film also stars Ali Fazal, Michael Gambon, Eddie Izzard, Tim Pigott-Smith (in his final film role), and Adeel Akhtar. The film had its world premiere at the 74th Venice Film Festival, and was theatrically released on 15 September 2017 in the United Kingdom. It has grossed over $65 million worldwide.

In 2018, Frears returned to the limited series with A Very English Scandal which premiered on BBC One and later on Amazon Prime. The project is a three-part 2018 British television comedy-drama miniseries based on John Preston's 2016 book of the same name. It is a dramatisation of the 1976–1979 Jeremy Thorpe scandal and more than 15 years of events leading up to it. The series stars Hugh Grant as Jeremy Thorpe, and Ben Whishaw as Norman Scott. The limited series gained great acclaim in both the United Kingdom and the United States. On Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 97% based on 64 reviews, with an average rating of 9.05/10. Rotten Tomatoes's critical consensus reads, "Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw impress in A Very English Scandal, an equally absorbing and appalling look at British politics and society". Grant received Primetime Emmy Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, Golden Globe Award, British Academy Television Award, and Critics Choice Award nominations for his performance while Whishaw earned a Emmy, and BAFTA win.

Personal life

In 1968, Frears married Mary-Kay Wilmers, with whom he had two sons, Sam and Will Frears (a stage and film director). Frears left Wilmers while she was pregnant with their second son Will. They lived on Gloucester Crescent in Camden Town. The couple divorced in the early 1970s. The live-in nanny that Wilmers hired in the early 1980s, Nina Stibbe, wrote letters home describing the North London literati life; these were compiled and published, and turned into a 2016 TV series, Love, Nina.

Early in his career, Frears made a programme featuring the band the Scaffold and is name-checked ("Mr Frears had sticky-out ears...") in their hit song "Lily the Pink".

As of 2002 Frears lived in London with Anne Rothenstein and their two children.

Political views

A convinced republican, in April 2015, Frears was one of several celebrities who endorsed the parliamentary candidacy of the Green Party's Caroline Lucas at the 2015 general election.

In December 2019, along with 42 other leading cultural figures, Frears signed a letter endorsing the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership in the 2019 general election. The letter stated that "Labour's election manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership offers a transformative plan that prioritises the needs of people and the planet over private profit and the vested interests of a few."



Year Title Distributor
1968 The Burning
1971 Gumshoe Columbia Pictures
1984 The Hit Palace Pictures
1985 My Beautiful Laundrette Orion Pictures
1987 Prick Up Your Ears The Samuel Goldwyn Company
1987 Sammy and Rosie Get Laid Cinecom Pictures
1988 Dangerous Liaisons Warner Bros.
1990 The Grifters Miramax Films
1992 Hero Columbia Pictures
1996 Mary Reilly TriStar Pictures
1996 The Van 20th Century Fox
1998 The Hi-Lo Country Gramercy Pictures
2000 High Fidelity Buena Vista Pictures
2000 Liam Lionsgate
2002 Dirty Pretty Things Buena Vista International
2005 Mrs Henderson Presents The Weinstein Company
2006 The Queen Pathé
2009 Chéri Pathé/Warner Bros.
2010 Tamara Drewe Sony Pictures Classics
2012 Lay the Favorite The Weinstein Company
2013 Philomena The Weinstein Company/Pathé
2015 The Program StudioCanal
2016 Florence Foster Jenkins 20th Century Fox/Pathé
2017 Victoria & Abdul Focus Features/Universal Pictures
2022 The Lost King Pathé/Warner Bros.


Year Title Notes Ref.
1969 Parkin's Patch 2 episodes
1969 Report: St - Ann's Nottingham Documentary television film
1969 Tom Grattan's War 5 episodes
1971–73 Follyfoot 4 episodes
1972 A Day Out Television film
1973 Full House Episode: "#1.15"
1973 Sporting Scenes Episode: "England, Their England"
1973 The Cricket Match Television film
1974 Second City Firsts Episode: "Match of the Day"
1975 Daft as a Bush Television film
1975 Three Men in a Boat Television film
1975 Play for Today 3 episodes
1976 BBC2 Playhouse 2 episodes
1977 ITV Play of the Week 2 episodes
1977 ITV Playhouse 2 episodes; also producer
1977 Black Christmas Television film
1978 Me! I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf Television film; also producer
1978 Doris and Doreen Television film; also producer
1979 Afternoon Off Television film; also producer
1979 One Fine Day Television film; also producer
1980 Bloody Kids Television film
1982 Walter Television film
1983 Walter and June Television film
1983 Saigon: Year of the Cat Television film
1983 The Last Company Car Television film
1984 The Comic Strip Presents... 3 episodes
1984 December Flower Television film
1986–93 Screen Two 2 episodes
1993 The Snapper Television film
2000 Fail Safe Television film, CBS
2003 The Deal Television film, Channel 4
2013 Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight Television film, HBO
2018 A Very English Scandal Miniseries, BBC One/Amazon Prime
Also executive producer
2019–22 State of the Union 20 episodes, Sundance TV
Also executive producer
2019 The Loudest Voice Episode: "2015"
2020 Quiz Miniseries, ITV
Also executive producer

Awards and honours

Over his distinguished career, Frears has amassed numerous awards and nominations, including two Academy Award nominations, four Primetime Emmy Award nominations (one win), a Golden Globe Award nomination, and 17 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award nominations (three wins).

In 1990, Frears earned his first Academy Award nomination for directing the film The Grifters. In 2006, he earned his second nomination for The Queen. At the Primetime Emmy Awards, he was nominated for Fail Safe (2000), Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight (2013), and A Very English Scandal (2019), before winning for State of the Union (2019). He has also been acknowledged by the Cannes, Berlin, Venice, and Toronto film festivals.


  • 2009: Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
  • 2014: Golden Duke for Lifetime Achievement of the 5th Odessa International Film Festival
  • Frears was made an Honorary Associate of London Film School.

See also

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