• Penelope Wilton is a British actress born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire in 1946.
• She attended the Drama Centre London and began acting at the Nottingham Playhouse.
• She has had notable movie roles in "Iris", "Pride & Prejudice", "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", and "The BFG".
• She is best known for her role as Isobel Crawley in the series and movie "Downton Abbey".
• Penelope Wilton is estimated to have a net worth of more than $1.5 million.

Who is Penelope Wilton?

If you are a fan of the series and movie “Downton Abbey”, you are certainly familiar with the character of Isobel Crawley, a woman with a strong will who isn’t afraid to speak her own mind and confront aristocratic views of the Crawley family. Did you know that the actress who played this character, Penelope Wilton, was married to a knight in real life and thus became a Lady?

Well, if you didn’t, let us tell you more interesting facts about this renowned actress.

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Early life, family, and education

Born Dame Penelope Alice Wilton, under the zodiac sign of Gemini, on 3 June 1946, she will celebrate her 76th birthday this year (2023). She hails from Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England thus she holds British nationality.

Penelope was raised by her parents, Alice Linda Travers and Cliff Wilton, alongside her two sisters. Their father, was a businessman and their mother was a former actress whose parents owned theatres, so it isn’t surprising that Penelope developed a love for performing from an early age.

Upon matriculating in 1964, Penelope enrolled at the Drama Centre London, where she studied acting for three years.

Acting career beginnings

Penelope began acting at the Nottingham Playhouse, England; one of her first stage roles was Cordella in the play “King Lear”, a tragedy by William Shakespeare. In 1971, Penelope made her Broadway debut as Araminta in “The Philanthropist” by Christopher Hampton.

Also in the early ‘70s, Penelope made her first television series appearance, as Rachel Sullens in an episode of the 1972 series “Country Matters”. It took her five years to make her big-screen debut, playing Mrs Wilson in the comedy-drama “Joseph Andrews”, which was nominated for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award.

In the following years, Penelope guest starred in series such as “The Norman Conquest” (1977) and “Play for Today” (1980) before she was cast to play Ann Bryce in the series “Ever Decreasing Circles”, which was her breakthrough role. She starred opposite Richard Briers and Peter Egan, in 27 episodes of this comedy-drama from 1984 to 1989, which was nominated for two BAFTA Awards.

Concurrently, Penelope was seen in movies such as “Singleton’s Pluck” (1984), “Clockwise” (1986), and “Cry Freedom” (1987).

Notable movie roles

The early ‘90s saw Penelope as Patricia Fulford in the comedy “Blame It on the Bellboy” (1992), followed by her roles in “The Secret Rapture” (1993), and “Carrington” (1995).

Her next movie role came in 1999, when she was cast to play Aunt Melbourne in “Tom’s Midnight Garden”, based on the novel of the same title by Philippa Pearce.

Penelope then co-starred with Judi Dench and Kate Winslet in the 2001 Oscar-awarded movie “Iris”, a biographic drama about novelist Iris Murdoch, her battle with Alzheimer’s, and the romance she had with her husband John Bayley. The movie had 31 award nominations and won 14, including the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jim Broadbent).

Certainly worth mentioning is Penelope’s role as Mrs Gardiner in the four times Oscar-nominated drama “Pride & Prejudice”, based on the eponymous novel by Jane Austen, starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen. The 2005 movie had 59 award nominations, including the Oscar nominations for Best Achievement in Costume Design, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score, Best Achievement in Art Direction, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (K. Knightley), and 13 wins.

In 2011, Penelope was again seen alongside the great Judi Dench, playing Jean Ainslie in the romantic comedy-drama “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, which brought her and her co-stars a nomination for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Penelope reprised her role in the 2015 sequel “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.

In the following year, Penelope starred as The Queen in the family adventure fantasy “The BFG”, which followed the story of an orphan girl who becomes friends with a benevolent giant. Directed by Steven Spielberg, also starring Mark Rylance, the movie had 26 award nominations, including for one BAFTA, and won four.

Next, Penelope co-starred in “Zoo” (2017) and “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” (2018) before she was seen playing Isobel Merton in the 2019 movie “Downton Abbey”, a spin-off from the series, which had 17 award nominations and won three.

Penelope was next seen in “Summerland” (2020) and “Operation Mincemeat” (2021) before she reprised her role as Isobel in the 2022 movie “Downton Abbey: A New Era”, which was nominated for the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA Saturn Award for Best International Film.

Notable TV series roles

From 1984 to 1991, Penelope was seen as a Storyteller in the children’s series “Jackanory”, which was nominated for two BAFTA Awards, and in the early ‘90s, one of her notable TV series roles was her portrayal of Beatrice in “Screaming” (1992). Later that year, she was cast to play Homily in the TV mini-series “The Borrowers”, which followed the story of small, 6ins (15cm)-tall humans who lived in the English hinterland. Penelope starred opposite Ian Holm, and the series won two BAFTA Awards (Best Children’s Programme, and Best Film/Video Photography- Fiction).

Penelope followed with numerous guest roles, and the early 2000s saw her as Monica Gossage in five episodes of the series “Bob & Rose” (2001), and then as Barbara Poole in the 2007 series “Five Days”, which brought her a nomination for the Royal Television Society, UK Award- Actor, Female.

From 2010 to 2015, Penelope played her most notable TV series role as Isobel Crawley in the romantic drama series “Downton Abbey”. She was seen in 52 episodes of this story about the wealthy, aristocratic British family Crawley, their lives, and those of their servants.

Besides Penelope, the stars of the show were Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern and Phyllis Logan; it had 229 award nominations and won 59, including 15 Primetime Emmys.

Penelope and her co-stars won two Screen Guilds Actors Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, in 2015 and ’16.

Next, Penelope was cast to play Pauline in the 2016 TV mini-series “Brief Encounters”, followed by her most recent role as Anne in the series “After Life”; from 2019 to 2022, Penelope made an appearance in 15 episodes of this comedy-drama, which followed the story of Tony, who after the death of his wife, becomes a totally different person from the nice guy he was. Penelope starred opposite Ricky Gervais, who is also the creator of the series, which won the Comedy.co.uk Award for Best New TV Sitcom in 2019.

Love life and relationships

Penelope was married twice. Her first husband was the late actor, Daniel Massey, perhaps known best for his role in the British TV drama “The Roads to Freedom”. The two married in 1975, and unfortunately had a stillborn son. In 1977, Penelope gave birth to their daughter, Alice, about whom nothing is known today. Penelope and Daniel divorced in 1984, and two years later, Daniel married Penelope’s sister Linda, with whom he was wed until he died in 1998.

In the early ‘90s, Penelope met her future second husband, Ian Holm. The two married in 1991, and as mentioned, they starred together in the series “The Borrowers”. To a younger audience, he is probably known best as Bilbo from the movie franchise “The Lord of the Rings”.

In 1989, Ian Holm was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II, then he was named Knight Bachelor in the 1998 Birthday Honours for services to drama, so by marrying him, Penelope became Lady Holm. However, the two divorced in 2001, and they didn’t have children together.

As of January 2023, it seems that Penelope is single; she hasn’t spoken about her love life after she divorced Ian Holm.

How rich Penelope Wilton is?

Penelope has amassed a sizable fortune through her roles in hit television shows and popular films. She’s still an active actress, and will soon be seen in two new films, which will undoubtedly contribute to her earnings. Her net worth is estimated to be more than $1.5 million, as of early 2023.


As Managing Editor at The Biography, I oversee a skilled team to produce insightful biographies of influential figures. My responsibilities include managing the editorial process, conducting detailed research, crafting engaging narratives, and ensuring the accuracy and quality of our content. At The Biography, we aim to deliver in-depth profiles that provide valuable insights into the realms of business, entertainment, and more. Our commitment to meticulous research and dynamic storytelling highlights the significant journeys and successes of inspiring individuals.

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