Who is Penelope Wilton?

British actress Dame Penelope Alice Wilton was born under the zodiac sign Gemini in Scarborough, England, on 3 June 1946. She has 84 acting credits, and is perhaps known best for portraying Jean Ainslie in the 2011 romantic comedy movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, which starred Bill Nighy and Judi Dench, and was directed by John Madden. It follows a group of retired British people who’ve travelled to a newly restored hotel in India; the movie won four of its 26 award nominations.

Penelope’s currently shooting for the upcoming movies “Murder is Easy” and “Visitation”.

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Early life and education

Penelope was raised in Scarborough alongside her two sisters, by their mother Alice Linda Travers who was an actress and tap dancer, and father Cliff Wilton who was a businessman, barrister and amateur football player; many of Penelope’s relatives were popular in the film industry, including her uncle Bill Travers, aunt Linden Travers, and cousins Richard and Angela Morant. Penelope’s maternal grandparents were owners of multiple theaters.

Penelope fell in love with acting at a very early age, and began appearing at plays performed at a local community theatre aged nine. She studied at a local high school in Scarborough, and upon matriculating in 1964 enrolled at Drama Centre London, from which she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in 1968.

Penelope appeared in a couple of plays prior to launching her career on TV; she began in plays performed at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1969, and her Broadway debut was in the original production of “The Philanthropist” in March 1971. Penelope made her West End debut by starring in “West of Suez” in August 1971.

Roles in TV series

Penelope’s debut TV series role was playing The Editor’s Secretary in the 1970 episode “The Editor Regrets” of the crime drama “Thirty-Minute Theatre”, and gained recognition in 1973, when cast to star as Lili Czepanek in all five episodes of the drama “The Song of Songs”, which also starred John McEnery and David Griffin, and follows a woman as she’s trying to find her composer father, who abandoned her when she was a child.

The remainder of the ‘70s saw Penelope appear in an episode of the drama “BBC Play of the Month”, the crime mystery “BBC2 Play of the Week” and the comedy mini-series “The Norman Conquests”.

From 1984 through 1989, she portrayed Ann Bryce in all 27 episodes of the comedy “Ever Decreasing Circles”, which also starred Richard Briers and Peter Egan, and follows the life of committee man Martin Bryce; the series was nominated for two BAFTA TV Awards.

Penelope appeared in several popular series in the ‘90s, including the comedy “Screaming”, the adventure family fantasy mini-series “The Borrowers”, and the drama mini-series “Wives and Daughters”.

In 2001, she played Monica Gossae in the romantic comedy “Bob & Rose”, which starred Alan Davies and Lesley Sharp, and was created by Russell T. Davies. It follows a gay man in his 30s who’s fallen for a woman, and the series won two of its seven award nominations. Some of Penelope’s notable performances in the remainder of the 2000s were in the crime mystery “Five Days”, the historical mini-series “The Passion” and the science fiction adventure “Doctor Who”.

From 2010 through 2015, she portrayed Isobel Crawley in all 52 episodes of the romantic drama “Downton Abbey”, which starred Hugh Bonneville and Phyllis Logan, and was created by Julian Fellowes. It follows the lives of members of the British aristocratic Crawley family, and the series won 59 of its 288 award nominations.

Penelope’s since appeared in only two TV series, playing Pauline in six episodes of the 2016 drama mini-series “Brief Encounters”, and Anne in 15 episodes of the comedy “After Life” from 2019 through 2022.

Roles in movies

Penelope’s debut film role was starring as Mrs Lizzie Holroyd in the 1976 drama “Widowing of Mrs Holroyd”, and she was then cast to appear in the 1977 adventure comedy “Joseph Andrews”, and in 1981 the romantic drama “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and the romantic drama “Othello”.

In 1982, she portrayed Regan in the drama “King Lear”, which starred John Shrapnel, Norman Rodway and Michael Kitchen, was directed by Jonathan Miller and written by William Shakespeare; it follows old and tired King Lear as he’s dividing his kingdom amongst his daughters. Some of Penelope’s notable performances in the remainder of the ‘80s were in the 1984 comedy “Singleton’s Pluck”, the 1986 family comedy “Clockwise”, and the 1987 biographical historical drama “Cry Freedom”.

What marked the ‘90s for her was perhaps portraying Lady Ottoline Morrell in the 1995 biographical romantic drama “Carrington”, which starred Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce, and was written and directed by Christopher Hampton. It follows the relationship between author Lytton Strachey and artist Dora Carrington in the early 20th century, and the film won seven of its 18 award nominations.

Penelope appeared in several popular movies in the 2000s, including the 2003 romantic comedy “Lucky Jim”, the 2004 horror comedy “Shaun of the Dead” and the 2009 biographical drama “Margot”.

The year 2013 saw her play Lady Mary Murray in the biographical romantic drama “Belle”, which starred Matthew Goode and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and was directed by Amma Asante. It follows a bi-racial girl who’s being raised by her aristocratic uncle Lord William Murray in 18th century England, and the film won 13 of the 45 awards for which it was nominated.

Some of Penelope’s most recent movie roles have been in the 2021 war drama “Operation Mincemeat”, the 2022 romantic drama “Downton Abbey: A New Era”, and the 2023 drama “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”.

Other credits

Some of Penelope’s most recent talk-show appearances have been in “Hollywood Insider”, “Love Your Weekend with Alan Titchmarsh” and “Kermode & Mayo’s Take”.

Awards and nominations

Penelope’s won three of her six Screen Actors Guild Award nominations: she and her colleagues won them for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series in 2013, 2015 and 2016, all for “Downton Abbey”.

Love life and marriages

Penelope shies away from speaking about her love life in public, but it’s known that she’s been married twice and has a daughter.

Her first husband was the late British actor Daniel Raymond Massey; he appeared in 71 movies and TV series, and was nominated for a 1969 Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, for his performance in the 1968 biographical comedy movie “Star!” Penelope and Daniele married on 12 December 1975, and she gave birth to their daughter Alice in 1977; prior to Alice’s birth, they had a stillborn son.

Penelope and Daniel divorced in 1984.

Her second husband was the late British actor Sir Ian Holm Cuthbert; they exchanged vows in 1991 and divorced in 2001. Ian was knighted in 1998, with Penelope thus becoming Lady Holm.

There are no other men whom Penelope’s perhaps been with, that we know about; she seems to be unattached as of August 2023, has been married twice and has a daughter with her first husband Daniel Massey.

Interesting facts and hobbies

The University of Hull Scarborough Campus presented Penelope with an honorary doctorate in 2012.

The year 2014 saw her appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, and she was in 2016 ‘promoted’ to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Penelope isn’t active on Instagram, but has allowed her fan page to be launched; it’s followed by only close to 500 people, and there are 168 pictures and videos uploaded onto it; most of these feature Penelope acting.

She’s a philanthropist and has worked with a number of charity organizations since the launch of her career; Penelope enjoys donating money to organizations working with underprivileged children, and abandoned animals.

She was once passionate about acting and her career’s taken her all around the world; her favorite city is still London, England.

One of Penelope’s favorite actresses is Judi Dench, and some of her favorite movies include “Victoria & Abdul”, “Notes on a Scandal” and “Shakespeare in Love”.

Appearance and net worth

Penelope’s age is 77. She has brown hair and eyes, weighs around 145lbs (65kgs) and is 5ft 7ins (1.7m) tall.

Penelope’s net worth’s been estimated at over $4 million, as of August 2023.

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