Geraldine McEwan, Leading Actress of London Stage and Television Miss Marple, Dies at 82

Obituaries   Geraldine McEwan, Leading Actress of London Stage and Television Miss Marple, Dies at 82
Geraldine McEwan, a well-respected actress of the British stage who was adept at both comedy and drama, and who may be best known as the Agatha Christie detective Miss Marple in a series of BBC films, died Jan. 30 at Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith. She had suffered a stroke three months prior. She was 82.

Ms. McEwan, who was of Irish ancestry but born in Old Windsor, Berkshire, England, won accolades throughout most of her long career. Though petite in frame—she was routinely described as elfin and pixieish—she never lacked in stage presence. Delicately pretty, with large, long-lashed eyes, she possessed a coquettish air laced with a dose of devilry. She brought an air of mischief and fun to the roles she played, the ever-present twinkle in the corner of her eye simultaneously signaling both charm and potential danger.

She performed at early incarnations of both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. She appeared in the original 1965 production of Joe Orton’s black comedy Loot, and was playwright Muriel Spark’s favorite interpreter of the lead role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which she portrayed in a television adaptation in 1978.

She won an Evening Standard Award for Best Actress in 1983 for her performance as Mrs. Malaprop in the Richard Sheridan comedy The Rivals at the National, and another in 1995 for The Way of the World. She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1998 for her work as the Old Woman in Ionesco’s The Chairs, a revival that had originated at the Royal Court.

She made two other brief appearances on Broadway in the 1960s, in Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, directed by John Gielgud, and Peter Shaffer’s The Private Ear and The Public Eye, directed by Peter Wood (both 1963).

“Her playing of the mischievous Lady Teazle has a brittleness, sparkle and, in the end, warmth that reminds one of Lynn Fontanne,” wrote Howard Taubman in the New York Times, reviewing Scandal. She was born Geraldine McKeown on May 9, 1932. She began her acting career as a teenager in her native Windsor, playing many parts with the Windsor Repertory Company in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. By 1951, she had made her West End debut in Who Goes There!, followed by an 18-month run in For Better, For Worse at the Comedy Theatre.

At the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford—a predecessor to the RSC—she acted Olivia in Twelfth Night, Marina in Pericles and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing. In the early ‘60s, she returned to the RSC to perform in Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, opposite Christopher Plummer.

Other National Theatre credits included The Dance of Death, A Flea in Her Ear, Chez Nous, Home and Beauty, The Browning Version, Harlequinade and The White Devil. In 1999, she starred as Judith Bliss in Noel Coward's Hay Fever.

On film, she scored a significant success playing a religious zealot in a 1989 adaptation of Jeanette Winterson’s “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.” She won a best actress Bafta for her performance.

She found her greatest fame late in life, portraying the wily, knitting Miss Marple in a series of BBC “Masterpiece Mystery!” productions, from 2004 to 1997. Other television work included the series “Mapp & Lucia" and “The Barchester Chronicles.”

Her private life was steady. She met her husband, Hugh Cruttwell, the future Principal of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, when she was just 14. They married in 1953 and stayed so until Cruttwell died in 2002. They had two children, who survive her.

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