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Ashcroft, Dame Peggy (1907-1991)


Main image of Ashcroft, Dame Peggy (1907-1991)

Dominant star of the British stage for over 50 years, Dame Peggy Ashcroft made no more than 15 films, but some are very memorable.

On stage from 1926, she first filmed in 1933 in The Wandering Jew (d. Maurice Elvey), was obliquely sexy and touching as the crofter's wife in The 39 Steps (d. Alfred Hitchcock, 1935), and delectably funny as the affected Fleur in Quiet Wedding (d. Anthony Asquith, 1941), then did not film again for nearly 20 years, except for two wartime shorts.

Never conventionally photogenic, as she aged she played some incisive character roles in both film (Sunday Bloody Sunday (d. John Schlesinger, 1971), as Glenda Jackson's astringent mother) and TV (notably as Queen Mary in Edward and Mrs Simpson (Thames, 1978) and as Barbie, the dim missionary in Jewel in the Crown (Granada, 1984)).

Her career in the visual media was crowned by her Oscar for A Passage to India (d. David Lean, 1984). Everything she did was characterised by the sharpest intelligence and truthful feeling.

She was created DBE in 1956, but never settled into being a mere grande dame.

Biographies: Peggy Ashcroft by Michael Billington (1988), The Secret Woman: A Life of Peggy Ashcroft by Garry O'Connor (1997)

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Cinema

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of 39 Steps, The (1935)39 Steps, The (1935)

Classic Hitchcock thriller about spies, secrets and Scotland

Thumbnail image of Caught on a Train (1980)Caught on a Train (1980)

A chance encounter between a young man and an elderly lady in Germany

Thumbnail image of Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978)Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978)

Lavish Thames dramatisation of the romance that rocked Britain

Thumbnail image of Jewel in the Crown, The (1984)Jewel in the Crown, The (1984)

Acclaimed drama series set in the 1940s Indian Raj

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