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Dame Edith Mary Evans DBE (8 February 1888 – 14 October 1976) was an actress who was known for her work on the British stage. She also appeared in a number of films, for which she received three Academy Award nominations, plus a BAFTA and a Golden Globe award.

Evans was particularly effective at portraying haughty aristocratic ladies, as in two of her most famous roles: Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest (both on stage and in the 1952 film), and Miss Western in the 1963 film of Tom Jones. By contrast, she played a poverty-striken old woman in one of her most acclaimed film roles, in The Whisperers (1967).

Theatre

Edith Evans was born in Londonmarker, the daughter of Edward Evans, a civil servant, and his wife, Caroline Ellen Foster. She was educated at St Michael's Church of England School, Pimlicomarker, before being apprenticed at the age of 15 in 1903 as a milliner.

Her first stage appearance was with Miss Massey's Streathammarker Shakespeare Players in the role of Viola in Twelfth Night in October 1910. In 1912 she was discovered by the noted producer William Poel and made her first professional appearance for Poel in August of that year, playing the role of Gautami in a sixth-century Hindu classic, Sakuntala. She received much attention with her performance as Cressida in Troilus and Cressida in London and subsequently at Stratford upon Avonmarker.

Her career spanned sixty years during which she played over 150 different roles, in works by Shakespeare, Congreve, Ibsen, Wycherley, Wilde and dramatists of her era including Shaw, Enid Bagnold, Christopher Fry and Coward. She created six of the characters of George Bernard Shaw: the Serpent, the Oracle, the She-Ancient, and the Ghost of the Serpent in Back to Methuselah (1923); Orinthia in The Apple Cart (1929); and Epifania in The Millionairess (1940). Other performances which many considered definitive were as Millamant in The Way of the World (1924), Rosalind in As You Like It (1926 and 1936), the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet (1932, 1934, 1935, and 1961), and, most notably, as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest (1939), a role with which she became identified in the public's mind (in particular for her drippingly sarcastic delivery of the line: "A handbag?"). In 1964 she appeared as Judith Bliss in a revival of Hay Fever by Noël Coward, directed by the playwright himself, for the National Theatre Companymarker at the Old Vic.

Film

She had begun her film career in 1915, but was noted mostly for her stage work until she appeared in the 1949 films The Queen of Spades and The Last Days of Dolwyn. From then until close to her death, she made several acclaimed films, including the following:

Evans was the ghost of Christmas past in the 1970 musical version of Scrooge starring Albert Finney.

Edith Evans also made many television appearances.

Portraits

Walter Sickert painted Edith Evans as Katharina, the lead character in Shakespeare's romantic comedy, The Taming of the Shrew.A sculpted head of her was for many years on display at the Royal Court Theatremarker, London.

Edith Evans was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1946. She also received four honorary degrees from the universities of London (1950), Cambridgemarker (1951), Oxfordmarker (1954) and Hull (1968).

Her ashes rest at St Paul's, Covent Gardenmarker, Londonmarker. There is a blue plaque outside her house at 109 Ebury Streetmarker, London.

Filmography

Year Film Role Notes
1915 Honeymoon for Three
A Welsh Singer Mrs. Pomfrey
1916 East Is East Aunt
1949 The Queen of Spades The Old Countess Ranevskaya
The Last Days of Dolwyn Merri aka Women of Dolwyn
1952 The Importance of Being Earnest Lady Augusta Bracknell
1958 Look Back in Anger Mrs. Tanner
1959 The Nun's Story Rev. Mother Emmanuel (as Dame Edith Evans)
National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture

1963 Tom Jones Miss Western Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best British Actress
1964 The Chalk Garden Mrs. St. Maugham National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best British Actress

1965 Young Cassidy Lady Gregory
1967 The Whisperers Mrs. Maggie Ross BAFTA Award for Best British Actress
Silver Bear for Best Actress
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
National Board of Review Award for Best Actress
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress




Fitzwilly Miss Victoria Woodworth
1968 Prudence and the Pill Lady Roberta Bates
1969 The Madwoman of Chaillot Josephine
Crooks and Coronets Lady Sophie Fitzmore
1970 Scrooge Ghost of Christmas Past
1973 A Doll's House Anne-Marie
El caballo torero
1974 Craze Aunt Louise
1976 The Slipper and the Rose Dowager Queen
1977 Nasty Habits Sister Hildegard


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