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Eileen Atkins

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Also Known As: Dame Eileen Atkins, Eileen June Atkins Died:
Born: June 16, 1934 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: London, England, GB Profession: actor, screenwriter, playwright

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Veteran British star of both stage and screen, Eileen Atkins rose from her working-class roots to become one of the most accomplished and decorated actresses to cross the Atlantic. Though not as well known across the pond as contemporaries Judi Dench or Helen Mirren, Atkins nonetheless thrived on the stage, earning numerous awards and nominations, especially for her several transformative performances as novelist Virginia Woolf. While acting remained her bread and butter, Atkins occasionally used her talents as a writer to create unforgettable television like the popular "Upstairs, Downstairs" (ITV, 1971-75), the acclaimed stage play "Vita & Virginia" (1994) and the well-regarded screenplay for "Mrs. Dalloway" (1997). All throughout her career, she remained in an unparalleled class, building a sterling résumé that eventually earned her a place in the Theater Hall of Fame in 1998. While her feature career remained relatively muted compared to her stage work ⿿ a few highlights like "Gosford Park" (2001) and "Cold Mountain" (2003) stood out ⿿ Atkins nonetheless established herself as an actress of unending verve and talent.Born June 16, 1934 in a Salvation Army hospital in Clapton, London,...

Veteran British star of both stage and screen, Eileen Atkins rose from her working-class roots to become one of the most accomplished and decorated actresses to cross the Atlantic. Though not as well known across the pond as contemporaries Judi Dench or Helen Mirren, Atkins nonetheless thrived on the stage, earning numerous awards and nominations, especially for her several transformative performances as novelist Virginia Woolf. While acting remained her bread and butter, Atkins occasionally used her talents as a writer to create unforgettable television like the popular "Upstairs, Downstairs" (ITV, 1971-75), the acclaimed stage play "Vita & Virginia" (1994) and the well-regarded screenplay for "Mrs. Dalloway" (1997). All throughout her career, she remained in an unparalleled class, building a sterling résumé that eventually earned her a place in the Theater Hall of Fame in 1998. While her feature career remained relatively muted compared to her stage work ⿿ a few highlights like "Gosford Park" (2001) and "Cold Mountain" (2003) stood out ⿿ Atkins nonetheless established herself as an actress of unending verve and talent.

Born June 16, 1934 in a Salvation Army hospital in Clapton, London, England, Atkins was the youngest child of Arthur, a gas meter reader, and Annie, a seamstress. Raised in a working-class home, the youngster was forced to take dancing lessons at three, after a traveling fortune teller came to their door and told her mother that Atkins would become a world-famous dancer. When she was five years old, World War II broke out, forcing her mother to ship off her children â¿¿ as most parents were wont to do during the war â¿¿ to the countryside village of nearby Little Baddow, Essex. Despite being away from the routine bombing of London, the family did see its share of action; a nearby shelter they used was destroyed in an air raid when the lucky family was inside the house. Like many London kids missing their parents and not understanding the separation, Eileen ran afoul of the family with whom she had been placed and was returned to London when she was seven. Her mother quickly put Atkins to work singing and dancing in little nymphet costumes at certain men's clubs, an experience she later realized as an adult was horrid and unconscionable.

Atkins kept at dancing in the clubs until she was 15, before shifting gears to engage in acting in high school. She made a daring attempt to break into the Royal Shakespeare Company by writing a letter to one of the directors, stating that she could perform the young prince in "King John" better than the boy he had hired. Amused, the director called her in, but was immediately appalled at the sight of a working-class girl attempting to enter such a prestigious program. She nonetheless performed a monologue, impressing the director enough to encourage her to try again when she was old enough. Atkins ultimately failed to get into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), so she began pounding on as many doors as possible when she was 18 in order to land work. Against the wishes of her parents, who had visions of her being a chorus girl, Atkins managed through a scholarship to train at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she stayed for three years. After meeting and marrying her first husband, actor Julian Glover, she began landing walk-on roles at the RSC, eventually breaking through in 1962 playing Miranda in "The Tempest" and Viola in "Twelfth Night."

In 1966, the same year she divorced from Glover, she made her Broadway debut starring in "The Killing of Sister George," a play that earned Atkins her first Tony Award nomination. Two years later, she made her feature film with a supporting role in "Inadmissible Evidence" (1968); then developed the idea for what became the acclaimed British television series, "Upstairs, Downstairs" with fellow actress Jean Marsh. Originally conceived as a comedy centered on two housemaids â¿¿ to be played of course by Atkins and Marsh â¿¿ the actresses added a family to be served, and eventually "Upstairs, Downstairs" became a drama about the differences in the occupants of a high-status household and the working-class people who serve them. Both Atkins and Marsh were pushed to the sidelines once their original idea was developed by the network, though they did manage to retain some degree of input. Returning her focus to acting, Atkins was in several classics adapted for television â¿¿ Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters" (1970), Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1971) and Henrico Ibsen's "The Lady from the Sea" (1974).

Though Atkins endeavored to appear in quality projects, she occasionally endured her share of drivel. In the "Exorcist" knock-off, "The Devil within Her" (1976), she played a nun attempting to drive out a demonic spirit from a baby born unto a stripper (Joan Collins) who refused the advances of an evil dwarf. After turns in "Equus" (1977) and the made-for-television special "She Fell Among Thieves" (PBS, 1980), she starred in the BBC miniseries, "Smiley's People" (1982), then played Mrs. Mann in a network adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" (CBS, 1982). She landed a leading role in "Nelly's Version" (1983), playing an amnesiac woman who uncovers a rather mundane existence that offers little clue to the horrid crime she apparently committed. With great adroitness, she vacillated from stage to features to television, including performances in "The Dresser" (1983), "Titus Andronicus" (1985) and a television remake of "Roman Holiday" (NBC, 1987). In 1989, she began a one-woman show called "A Room of One's Own," an adaptation of Virginia Woolf's extended essay on whether or not women were capable of writing Shakespeare-quality work, while at the same time, examining the careers of notable female authors like Jane Austen and George Eliot.

Atkins earned critical kudos, as well as an OBIE Award, for her transformative portrayal of the troubled, enigmatic Woolf. She went on to earn more acclaim and awards for her stage work, while continuing a fruitful career on screens both large and small. After playing a wife and mother who has remained oblivious to the homosexuality of her closeted husband (Brian Cox) in "The Lost Language of Cranes" (1991), Atkins earned another OBIE for "Vita & Virginia" (1994), which she adapted from the letters and diaries detailing the deep friendship between Virginia Woolf and aloof aristocrat Vita Sackville-West. Returning to features, she had supporting roles in "Wolf" (1994) and "Jack & Sarah" (1995) before playing the matriarch of an eccentric country family who houses their upper-class cousin (Kate Beckinsale) so she can write her first novel in "Cold Comfort Farm" (1996). Atkins earned more critical praise and awards for her work on the stage, winning an Evening Standard Award for Best Actress in Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance" (1997) and an Olivier Award for her performance in "The Unexpected Man" (1999). She then played Mary Louise in a public television adaptation of "Madame Bovary" (PBS, 2000). Returning to the familiar world of "Upstairs, Downstairs," Atkins was one of many British talents selected by director Robert Altman to join the ensemble cast of "Gosford Park" (2001), an exquisite whodunit set in the world of 1932 England, where both high-class guests and the lower-class help all fall under suspicion when the host (Michael Gambon) is murdered.

After being named Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2001, she made a brief appearance in the Virginia Woolf-inspired drama, "The Hours" (2002), before landing meatier supporting roles in "Cold Mountain" (2003) and "What a Girl Wants" (2003). Continuing with features, she appeared in "Vanity Fair" (2004), "Ask the Dust" (2006) and "Scenes of a Sexual Nature" (2006), before returning to the stage for a production of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Doubt" at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway. Atkins made an appearance as a night nurse in the period romance, "Evening" (2007), then starred opposite Dame Judi Dench in "Cranford" (BBC, 2007-08), a 19th century-set drama about the small absurdities and major tragedies in the lives of a community whose morals are dictated by a pair of seventy-something spinster sisters (Atkins and Dench). In April 2008, Atkins edged out her co-star to win the BAFTA Award for Best Actress; her first win in a four decade-long career. She and Dench would also receive Golden Globe nominations for their "Cranford" work; albeit in different categories, with Atkins getting the supporting actress nod to Dench's lead. After a turn as the Kingâ¿¿s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, in Ridley Scottâ¿¿s version of "Robin Hood" (2010), Atkins returned to the world of "Upstairs, Downstairs" once again, this time for a BBC production in 2010-11. She earned further awards recognition after receiving an Emmy nod for Outstanding Supporting Actress for her performance as Lady Maud Holland.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
2.
 Scapegoat, The (2012)
3.
 Wild Target (2010)
4.
 Robin Hood (2010)
5.
6.
 Ballet Shoes (2008)
8.
 Evening (2007)
10.
 Ask the Dust (2006)
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1952:
First stage appearance, "Harvey" at the Repertory Theatre in Ireland
1953:
Made professional London stage debut in "Love's Labours Lost" at Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park
1957:
Was member of Memorial Theatre Company, Stratford-on-Avon
1959:
Made British TV debut in "Hilda Lessways"
1962:
Joined Old Vic Theatre Company
1964:
Made U.S. stage debut in "Twelfth Night" at Ravinia Festival in Illinois
1966:
Made Broadway debut in "The Killing of Sister George"; earned first Tony Award nomination
1968:
Made feature film debut in "Inadmissible Evidence"
1971:
Co-created award-winning ITV series "Upstairs, Downstairs" with Jean Marsh
1989:
Directed by Patrick Garland in one-woman show "A Room of One's Own," based on an essay by Virginia Woolf
1994:
Appeared off-Broadway in "Vita and Virginia" opposite Vanessa Redgrave; also wrote
1995:
Joined cast of Jean Cocteau's Broadway play "Indiscretions"; nominated for third Tony Award
1998:
Scripted film adaptation of Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway," starring Vanessa Redgrave
1998:
Cast in London production of "The Unexpected Man" opposite Michael Gambon
2000:
Reprised role for off-Broadway production of "The Unexpected Man" opposite Alan Bates
2001:
Played the mentor to a college professor (Emma Thompson) stricken with terminal cancer in Mike Nichols' directed "Wit" (HBO)
2001:
Cast as the head cook in Robert Altman directed period mystery "Gosford Park"
2003:
Appeared in Anthony Minghella directed "Cold Mountain"
2003:
Starred opposite John Lithgow in "The Retreat From Moscow"; received fourth Tony nomination
2006:
Performed on Broadway in Pulitzer Prize-winning "Doubt" opposite Ron Eldard and Jena Malone
2006:
Co-starred with Colin Farrell in Robert Towne-directed adaptation of John Fante's Depression Era novel "Ask the Dust"
2007:
Appeared in in Michael Cunningham's film adaptation of Susan Minot's novel "Evening"
2008:
Co-starred with Judi Dench in BBC One series "Cranford" (aired on PBS in the U.S.); earned Golden Globe nomination for Supporting Actress
2008:
Returned to London's West End to play Mrs Rafi in Edward Bond's "The Sea"
2010:
Cast as the King's mother Eleanor of Aquitaine in Ridley Scott's adaptation of "Robin Hood"
2010:
Appeared on BBC reboot of "Upstairs, Downstairs"
2011:
Nominated for the 2011 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
2013:
Cast as Emmaline 'Gramma' Duchannes in feature adaptation of young adult fantasy novel "Beautiful Creatures"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Latymer Grammar School: -
Guildhall School of Music and Drama: London , England -

Notes

Inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 1998

Made Dame Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in June 2001.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Julian Glover. Actor. Divorced.
husband:
Julian Glover. Divorced; Harris will not identify him, only admits he was much older.
husband:
Bill Shepherd. TV producer.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Arthur Thomas Atkins. Gas meter reader.
mother:
Annie Ellen Atkins. Seamstress. Was 46 years old when Atkins was born.
mother:
Annie Ellen Atkins. Composer. Twin of Harper.

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