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Dame Peggy Ashcroft, DBE (22 December 1907 – 14 June 1991) was an English actress.

Early years

Born as Edith Margaret Emily Ashcroft in Croydonmarker, Ashcroft attended the Woodford School, Croydon and the Central School of Speech and Drama. A prolific stage actress from a young age, she first gained notoriety playing Naemi in Jew Suss in 1929, and Desdemona opposite Paul Robeson's Othello two years later.


Stardom came in 1934 when she played Juliet in a legendary production of Romeo and Juliet, at the New Theatremarker, in which Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud alternated in the roles of Romeo and Mercutio. She and Gielgud would later be acclaimed as Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing which they played together a number of times, including a London engagement and European tour for the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1955 (she also played Cordelia to his King Lear during that tour). When she first played Beatrice with him in 1950, Gielgud found her performance "a revelation - an impish, rather tactless girl with a curious resemblance to Bea Lillie," while a teenage Peter Hall observed in her "English containment and decency, contrasted with a wild passion." She stayed at the top of the British theatrical profession throughout her career, with some of the highlights Three Sisters (1937) in which she played Irina, The Heiress (1949), Antony and Cleopatra (1953), As You Like It and Cymbeline (as Imogen) (1957), The Taming of the Shrew (1960), and The War of the Roses, the Royal Shakespeare Company's massive landmark compendium of the three Henry VI plays and Richard III, directed by Peter Hall for the RSC in 1963.

Ashcroft's film and television appearances were rare but memorable. One of her earliest film roles was the minor part of the crofter's wife in the Robert Donat version of The Thirty-Nine Steps. In 1937, she appeared in a 30 minute excerpt of Twelfth Night on the BBC Television Service, alongside Greer Garson, the first known instance of a Shakespeare play being performed on television.

In 1973 she starred in the Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe-winner for Best Foreign Language Foreign Film of 1974, Der Fußgänger (English title: The Pedestrian). The film was directed by Austrian actor-director Maximilian Schell, and starred international former early screen peers Käthe Haack, Lil Dagover and Françoise Rosay.

Possibly her best known celluloid role was that of Mrs. Moore in the 1984 film A Passage to India — a role for which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Although Ashcroft did not appear in person at the telecast to accept the Oscar, Angela Lansbury accepted it on her behalf.

On television, Ashcroft appeared in the role of Barbie Batchelor on the internationally acclaimed British mini-series The Jewel in the Crown (1984), for which she won a BAFTA Best Television Actress award.


In May 1986 Ashcroft was awarded an honorary degree from the Open Universitymarker as Doctor of the University.


Ashcroft was appointed Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1951, and raised to Dame Commander (DBE) in 1956.

Personal life

She was married three times, first to Rupert Hart-Davis (from 1929-33), and then to Theodore Komisarjevsky (1934). She had two children with her last husband, Jeremy Hutchinson, whom she married in 1940 and divorced in 1965. Her granddaughter is the French singer Emily Loizeau.


Peggy Ashcroft died in London of a stroke in June 1991, aged 83.


She was commemorated with memorial plaque in Poet's Cornermarker, Westminster Abbeymarker (just above the grave of fellow Central School of Speech and Drama pupil and friend Laurence Olivier and 18th Century actor David Garrick).





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