Lindsay Duncan

Duncan in 2011
Lindsay Vere Duncan

(1950-11-07) 7 November 1950 (age 73)
EducationRoyal Central School of Speech and Drama
Years active1975–present
SpouseHilton McRae

Lindsay Vere Duncan CBE (born 7 November 1950) is a Scottish actress. She is the recipient of three BAFTA nominations and one Scottish BAFTA nomination, as well as two Olivier Awards and a Tony Award for her work on stage. She has starred in several plays by Harold Pinter. Duncan's film credits include Prick Up Your Ears (1987), The Reflecting Skin (1990), City Hall (1996), An Ideal Husband, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Mansfield Park (all 1999), Under the Tuscan Sun, AfterLife (both 2003), Starter for 10 (2006), Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010), About Time (2013), Birdman (2014), and Blackbird (2019).

Outside of stage and film, Duncan appeared as Barbara Douglas in Alan Bleasdale's critically acclaimed G.B.H. (1991), Servilia of the Junii on the HBO historical drama series Rome (2005–2007), Adelaide Brooke in the Doctor Who special "The Waters of Mars" (2009), Anjelica Hayden-Hoyle in the BBC Two miniseries The Honourable Woman (2014), and Lady Smallwood on BBC One's Sherlock (2014–2017). She also portrayed Elizabeth Longford and Margaret Thatcher in the television films Longford (2006) and Margaret (2009), respectively.

Early life and education

Duncan was born into a working-class family in Scotland; one parent was from Edinburgh and the other from Glasgow.[1] Her father had served in the British army for 21 years before becoming a civil servant.[2] Her parents moved to Leeds, then Birmingham, when she was still a child. She attended King Edward VI High School for Girls in Birmingham through a scholarship.[3]

Despite her origins, she speaks with a received pronunciation accent.[1] As of 2011, her only role with a Scottish accent is AfterLife (2003).[4]

Duncan's father died in a car accident when she was 15.[4] Her mother was affected by Alzheimer's disease and died in 1994; she inspired Sharman Macdonald to write the play The Winter Guest (1995), directed by Alan Rickman, which he later adapted as a film.[5]


Duncan's first contact with theatre was through school productions.[2] She became friends with future playwright Kevin Elyot, who attended the neighbouring King Edward's School for boys, and followed him to Bristol, where he read Drama at university.[2] She did a number of odd jobs while staging her own production of Joe Orton's Funeral Games.[2]

Duncan joined London's Central School of Speech and Drama at the age of 21.[6] After her training, she started out in summer weekly rep in Southwold to gain her Equity card.[1][7] She appeared in two small roles in Molière's Don Juan at the Hampstead Theatre in 1976, and joined the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester when it opened. She performed in the first productions at the Royal Exchange and appeared in eight plays in Manchester in the next two years. In 1978 she returned to London in Plenty by David Hare at the National. She appeared on the television in small roles in a special episode of Up Pompeii!, in The New Avengers, and a commercial for Head & Shoulders shampoo.[8]

She made her breakthrough on Top Girls by Caryl Churchill, staged at the Royal Court in London and later transferred to the Public Theater in New York, Her performance as Lady Nijo, a 13th-century Japanese concubine, won her an Obie, her first award.[9]

The following year, she took her first major role on film in Richard Eyre's Loose Connections with Stephen Rea.[2] At the same time her television work included a filmed version of Frederick Lonsdale's On Approval (1982), Reilly, Ace of Spies (1983) and Dead Head (1985).

In 1985, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company for the production of Troilus and Cressida, in which she played Helen of Troy.[10] In September she created the role of the Marquise de Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the play by Christopher Hampton after the French novel by Choderlos de Laclos, which opened at The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon. On 8 January 1986, the production transferred to the 200-seat theatre The Pit in London's Barbican Centre, with its original cast. In October of that year, the production moved to the Ambassadors in the West End. In April 1987, the cast, including Duncan, took the play to Broadway. For her performance, she was nominated for a Tony and won the Olivier Award for Best Actress and a Theatre World Award. She was replaced by Glenn Close for Dangerous LiaisonsStephen Frears's film of the play; similarly John Malkovich was selected for the role of Valmont instead of Duncan's co-star Alan Rickman.[11]

In 1988, Duncan won an Evening Standard Award for her role of Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams. At the same time, she became a regular in the plays of Harold Pinter and the television work of Alan Bleasdale and Stephen Poliakoff.[12] In 1994–95, she performed for a second season with the RSC in A Midsummer Night's Dream, in the double role of Hippolyta and Titania, replacing Stella Gonet from the original production cast.[13] She went on tour in the United States with the rest of the cast, but back and neck pains forced her to be replaced by Emily Button from January to March 1997.[14] Impressed by her performance in David Mamet's The Cryptogram (1994), Al Pacino asked Duncan to play the role of his wife in City Hall (1996) by Harold Becker.[4]

To please her young son, a Star Wars fan, Duncan applied for the role of Anakin Skywalker's mother in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) but was not cast; she finally accepted to voice an android TC-14.[2] She reunited with Alan Rickman in a revival of Noël Coward's Private Lives (2001–02) and won a Tony Award for Best Actress and a second Olivier Award for her performance as Amanda Prynne; she was also nominated that year for her role in Mouth To Mouth by Kevin Elyot.[15]

Duncan played Servilia Caepionis in the 2005 HBO-BBC series Rome, and starred as Rose Harbinson in Starter for 10. Aged by make-up, she played Lord Longford's wife, Elizabeth, in the TV film Longford. In February 2009, she played British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Margaret. In November 2009, she played Adelaide Brooke, companion to the Doctor, in the second of the 2009 Doctor Who specials.[16][17] She played Alice's mother in Tim Burton's 2010 film Alice in Wonderland, alongside Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. She also starred in the original London run of Polly Stenham's play That Face at the Royal Court co-starring Matt Smith and directed by Jeremy Herrin. She narrated the Matt Lucas and David Walliams 2010/2011 fly-on-the-wall mockumentary series Come Fly with Me on the BBC. In October–November 2010, she starred in a new version by Frank McGuinness of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin alongside her Liaisons dangereuses co-stars Alan Rickman and Fiona Shaw.[18] The production transferred in January–February 2011 to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.[19]

Alan Bleasdale asked Duncan to appear in his first work for television after ten years of absence, The Sinking of the Laconia, aired in January 2011. She played an upper-class passenger in the two-part drama based on a true story of World War II.[20] She also played the mother of Matt Smith in the telefilm Christopher and His Kind written by Kevin Elyot after Christopher Isherwood's autobiography of the same title. In October–November 2011, Duncan read extracts of the King James Bible at the National Theatre, London as part of the 400th anniversary celebrations of the translation.[21] She played Queen Annis, ruler of Caerleon and antagonist of Merlin, in the 5th episode of the fourth series of BBC1's Merlin.[22] She also appeared as Home Secretary Alex Cairns to Rory Kinnear's Prime Minister in "The National Anthem", the first episode of Charlie Brooker's anthology series Black Mirror.[23]

Duncan started 2012 as a guest in the New Year special of Absolutely Fabulous, playing Saffy's favourite film actress, Jeanne Durand. In February, she returned to the West End in Noël Coward's Hay Fever with Kevin McNally, Jeremy Northam and Olivia Colman, once again under the direction of Howard Davies.[24] Later in 2012, she was featured in BBC2's productions of Shakespeare's history plays.[25] She played the Duchess of York in the first film, Richard II, with David Suchet as the Duke of York and Patrick Stewart as John of Gaunt.[26]

In October 2014, Duncan appeared as Claire in the revival of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance on Broadway.[27] That year, she also appeared in the film Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. In 2023, Duncan starred in The Morning Show.

She star in The National Theatre’s revival of Dear Octopus in 2024 [28] [29]

Personal life

Duncan is married to fellow Scottish actor Hilton McRae, whom she met in 1985 at the Royal Shakespeare Company.[30] They live in north London. They have one son, Cal McRae, born September 1991.[6]

Duncan was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours for her services to drama.[31]



Year Title Role Notes
1985 Loose Connections Sally
1985 Samson and Delilah Alice Nankervis Short
1987 Prick Up Your Ears Anthea Lahr
1988 Manifesto Lily Sachor
1989 The Child Eater Eirwen Short
1990 The Reflecting Skin Dolphin Blue Sitges - Catalan International Film Festival Award for Best Actress
1991 Body Parts Dr Agatha-Webb
1996 City Hall Sydney Pappas
1996 A Midsummer Night's Dream Hippolyta/Titania From the 1994–1995 Royal Shakespeare Company stage production
1999 An Ideal Husband Lady Markby
1999 Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace TC-14 Voice
1999 Expelling the Demon Woman Voice; Short
1999 Mansfield Park Mrs. Price/Lady Bertram
2001 Hamilton Mattress Gertrude/Beryl Voice; Short
2003 Under the Tuscan Sun Katherine
2003 AfterLife May Brogan Bratislava International Film Festival Award for Best Actress
Bowmore Scottish Screen Award
2004 The Queen of Sheba's Pearls Audrey Pretty
2006 Starter for Ten Rose Harbinson
2007 The Rector's Wife Anna Bouverie
2010 Burlesque Fairytales Ice Queen
2010 Alice in Wonderland Helen Kingsleigh
2012 Last Passenger Elaine Middleton
2013 About Time Mary Lake
2013 Le Week-End Meg Burrows
2014 Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Tabitha Dickinson Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
2016 Alice Through the Looking Glass Helen Kingsleigh
2017 Gifted Evelyn Adler
2019 Little Joe Psychotherapist
2019 Blackbird Liz
2019 My Zoe Kathy
2019 November 1st Bonnie
2020 Made in Italy Kate
2021 A Banquet June
2023 Doctor Jekyll Sandra Poole


Year Title Role Notes
1975 Up Pompeii! Scrubba Series (BBC), special episode 'Further Up Pompeii!'
1976 One-Upmanship Series (BBC), episode 'Woomanship'
1977 The New Avengers Jane Series, episode 'The Angels of Death'
1979 The Winkler Diane ITV Playhouse
1980 Dick Turpin Catherine Langford Series, episode 'Deadlier Than the Male'
1980 Grown-Ups Christine Butcher BBC2 Playhouse, directed by Mike Leigh
1982 Muck and Brass Jean Torrode Series, episodes 'Public Relations' and 'Our Green and Pleasant Land'
1982 On Approval Helen Hayle Filmed production of Frederick Lonsdale's On Approval, BBC Play of the Month
1983 Reilly, Ace of Spies The Plugger Series, episode 'After Moscow'
1984 Rainy Day Women Karen Miller BBC Play for Today
1984 Travelling Man Andrea Series, episodes 'First Leg', 'The Collector', 'The Watcher', 'Grasser', 'Moving On', 'Sudden Death'
1986 Dead Head Dana Series, episodes 'Why me?', 'Anything for England', 'The Patriot'
1986 Kit Curran Pamela Scott Series, all episodes
1989 These Foolish Things Gutrune Day BBC The Play on One
1989 Traffik Helen Rosshalde Mini-series, written by Simon Moore, all episodes
1988–1990 Colin's Sandwich Rosemary Series, episodes 'Enough' (1988) and 'Zanzibar' (1990)
1990 TECX Laura Pellin Series, épisode 'Getting Personnel'
1991 The Storyteller: Greek Myths Medea Series, episode 'Theseus & the Minotaur'
1991 Screenplay Kath Peachey Series, episode 'Redemption'
1991 G.B.H. Barbara Douglas Mini-series, witten by Alan Bleasdale, episodes 'Only Here on a Message', 'Send a Message to Michael', 'Message Sent', 'Message received', 'Message Understood', 'Over and Out'
Nominated – TV BAFTA for Best Actress
1993 A Year in Provence Annie Mayle Miniseries, all episodes. After Peter Mayle's book.
1994 The Rector's Wife Anna Bouverie Series, all episodes. After the novel by Joanna Trollope.Being shown on channel 4s catchup at presentas of 24th October 2023
1995 Just William Lady Walton Series, episode 'William Clears the Slums'
1995 Jake's Progress Monica Miniseries, episodes 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.6
1999 The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling Lady Bellaston Miniseries, episodes 1, 3, 4, 5. After the novel by Henry Fielding.
1998 Get Real Louise Series, all episodes
1999 Shooting the Past Marilyn Truman Telefilm (BBC), written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff
Nominated – TV BAFTA for Best Actress
1999 Oliver Twist Elizabeth Leeford Miniseries, all episodes. Adapted by Alan Bleasdale after Charles Dickens' novel.
2000 Dirty Tricks Alison Telefilm
2000 Victoria Wood with All The Trimmings Pam Christmas special, segment 'Women Institute'
2001 Perfect Strangers Alice Series, all episodes. Written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff
Nominated — TV BAFTA for Best Actress
2001 Witness of Truth: The Railway Murders Narrator's Voice Telefilm
2005 Agatha Christie's Poirot Lady Tamplin Series, episode 'The Mystery of the Blue Train'
2005–2006 Spooks Angela Wells Episodes 'Diana' and 'Gas and Oil, Part One'
2005–2007 Rome Servilia of the Junii Series, 18 episodes
2006 Longford Lady Longford Telefilm
2007 Frankenstein Professor Jane Pretorius Telefilm
2008 Criminal Justice Alison Slaughter Miniseries, episodes 3–5
2008 Lost in Austen Lady Catherine de Bourgh Miniseries, episodes 3 and 4
2009 Margaret Margaret Thatcher Nominated – Scottish BAFTA Award for Best Actress
2009 Doctor Who Adelaide Brooke Autumn 2009 Special: "The Waters of Mars"
2009 Margot Ninette de Valois Telefilm (BBC)
2010 Agatha Christie's Marple Marina Gregg Episode: 'The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side'
2010 Mission: 2110 Cybele Children game show
2010–2011 Come Fly with Me Narrator (voice) Series, all episodes
2011 The Sinking of the Laconia Elisabeth Fullwood Miniseries (BBC), all episodes. Written by Alan Bleasdale.
2011 Christopher and His Kind Kathleen Isherwood Telefilm, written by Kevin Elyot after Christopher Isherwood's autobiography
2011–2012 Merlin Queen Annis Series (BBC1), 4th season, 5th season
2011 Black Mirror Home Secretary Alex Cairns Miniseries, first episode: "The National Anthem" (Channel 4). Written by Charlie Brooker.
2011 Against the Wall Faith Kowalski Police-crime drama television series, episode 'We Have a Cop in Trouble Here'
2012 Absolutely Fabulous Jeanne Durand Episode: "Job"
2012 White Heat Lilly Series (BBC2), written by Paula Milne
2012 Richard II Duchess of York Telefilm (BBC2) – filmed production of Shakespeare's play
2012 Spy The Director Episodes 'Codename: Citizen Lame' and 'Codename – Show Stopper'
2012 Wallander Monika Westin Episode 'Before the Frost'
2013 You, Me and Them Lydia Walker Series Regular
2013 Count Arthur Strong Dame Agnes
2014–2017 Sherlock Lady Smallwood Episodes: "His Last Vow", "The Six Thatchers", and "The Lying Detective"
2014 The Honourable Woman Anjelica Hayden-Hoyle
2015 Toast of London Herself Episode: "Global Warming"
2016 Churchill's Secret Clementine Churchill
2016 Close to the Enemy Frau Bellinghausen BBC2 mini-series, written & directed by Stephen Poliakoff
2017 The Leftovers Grace 5 episodes
2017 Carnage Maude Mockumentary
2018-2022 A Discovery of Witches Ysabeau Series with 25 episodes
2020-2022 His Dark Materials Octavia Voice
2021 Inside No. 9 Loretta Episode: “Simon Says”
2021 Around the World in 80 Days Jane Digby Series, episode 1.3
2022 The Split Countess Caroline Series 3
2022 Sherwood Jennifer Hale Series, episode 1.4
2023 The Wheel of Time Anvaere Damodred Series (Amazon Prime Video), 2nd season
2023 The Morning Show Martha Ellison Series (Apple TV+), 3rd season
2024 Truelove PHIL (channel 4) Series all episodes.


Year Title Role Notes
1976 Dom Juan Charlotte/Violetta Hampstead Theatre, London
1976 The Script Hampstead Theatre, London
1976 Zack Sally Teale Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1976 The Rivals Lucy Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1976 The Prince of Homburg Natalie Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1977 The Deep Blue Sea Anne Cambridge Arts Theatre
1977 The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold Margaret Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1977 What the Butler Saw Geraldine Barclay Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1977 The Skin of Our Teeth Gladys Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1977 Present Laughter Daphne Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1977 Twelfth Night Viola Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
1978 Plenty Dorcas National Theatre, London
1978 Comings and Goings Hilary Hampstead Theatre, London
1979 The Recruiting Officer Sylvia Bristol Old Vic/Edinburgh Festival
1980 Julius Caesar Portia Riverside Studios, London
1980 The Provoked Wife Belinda National Theatre, London
1981 Incident at Tulse Hill Rosemary Hampstead Theatre, London
1982 Top Girls Lady Nijo/Win Royal Court Theatre, London/Joe Papp's Public Theater, New York
Won – Obie Award.
1984 Progress Ronnie Bush Theatre, London
1985–1986 Troilus and Cressida Helen Royal Shakespeare Company: Stratford-upon-Avon/Barbican Theatre
1985–1986 Les Liaisons dangereuses Marquise de Merteuil Royal Shakespeare Company: Ambassadors Theatre, London/Music Box Theater, New York
Won – Olivier Award for Best Actress and a Theatre World Award; nominated – Tony Award for Best Actress.
1985–1986 The Merry Wives of Windsor Mistress Ford Royal Shakespeare Company: Stratford-upon-Avon/Barbican Theatre
1988 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Maggie National Theatre, London
Won – Evening Standard Theatre Award
1988 Hedda Gabler Hedda Gabler Hampstead Theatre, London
1990 Bérénice Bérénice National Theatre, London
1993 Three Hotels Barbara Boyle Tricycle Theatre, London
1994 The Cryptogram Donny Ambassadors Theatre, London
1995 A Midsummer Night's Dream Titania/Hippolyta Royal Shakespeare Company: Barbican Theatre, London/Lunt Fontanne Theater, New York
1996 Ashes to Ashes Rebecca Gramercy Theater, New York
1997 The Homecoming Ruth National Theatre, London
2000 Celebration/The Room Prue/Rose (double bill) Almeida Theatre, London
2001 Mouth to Mouth Laura Albery Theatre, London
Won – Critics' Circle Theatre Award; nominated – Olivier Award, Evening Standard Award
2001–2002 Private Lives Amanda Prynne Albery Theatre, London/Richard Rodgers Theater, New York
Won – Olivier Award for Best Actress, Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, Critics' Circle Theatre Award, Drama Desk Award and Variety Club Award; nominated – Evening Standard Award
2007 That Face Martha Royal Court Theatre/Duke of York's Theatre
Nominated – Oliver Award for Best Actress
2010 John Gabriel Borkman Ella Rentheim Abbey Theatre, Dublin/Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York
2012 Hay Fever Judith Bliss Noël Coward Theatre, London
2014 A Delicate Balance Claire John Golden Theater, New York
2019 Hansard Diana National Theatre, London
2022 The Dance of Death Alice Arcola Theatre, London/Tour
2024 Dear Octopus Dora Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre London


Year Title Product
1979 Head & Shoulders Shampoo


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  19. ^ "John Gabriel Borkman". Brooklyn Academy of Music. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011.
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  29. ^ Wyver, Kate (15 February 2024). "Dear Octopus review – Lindsay Duncan leads a warm drama about a bickering family". the guardian.
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  31. ^ "No. 59090". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 2009. p. 7.