Frances de la Tour is an English actress who is best known for her portrayal of Miss Ruth Jones in the series ‘Rising Damp.’ In a career spanning five decades, she is mostly known for her theatre work. She has also appeared in a number of prominent roles in films and TV shows. This three-time Olivier Award winner can perform roles in the genres of comedy, tragedy, and drama with equal ease; however, she does agree that comedy is harder than tragedy. In addition to the Olivier Awards, she has also won a Tony Award, an Outer Critics Circle Theatre Award, a New York Drama Desk Theatre Award, and a Variety Club Award. Besides acting, she has been quite vocal about social issues. She is a socialist and in the 1970s she became a member of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party.
Childhood & Early Life
Frances de la Tour was born on July 30, 1944 in Bovingdon, Hertfordshire, England. Her father, Charles de la Tour, was proud of his French ancestry and he was very keen that his daughter learn the French way of life. Thus, he sent Frances to Lycee Francais school in London. She felt miserable over there.
Her parents separated when she was 12 years old. Her mother remarried and she began attending a private school in Cookham, Berkshire, England. There she got into poetry and took part in many poetry competitions.
At the young age of 17, she joined the Drama Centre London. She graduated at the age of 21 and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 1965.
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Frances de la Tour found herself playing small roles in numerous plays for her first six years with RSC. In 1970, she finally got the role that every actress dreams of—the role of Helena in Peter Brook’s legendary production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ Besides the comic representation of Helena, Brook’s interpretation of the play was refreshing, new, and rebellious.
Her role of Ruth Jones in the series ‘Rising Damp’ (1974-1978) made her a television star. The show was a huge hit and was featured in a 2004 poll conducted by BBC on the 100 Best Sitcoms.
In 1976, she was seen in her first movie, ‘To the Devil a Daughter,’ in which she played the role of a salvation army major.
In 1980, Frances de la Tour played the title role in ‘Hamlet’ at Mile End Road. This hit play was followed by the role of Stephanie in the play ‘Duet for One’ (1980). This was a play written for her by Tom Kempinski. She won her first Olivier Award for Best Actress for this play.
The year 1980 proved to be good for Frances de la Tour. She reprised the role of Ruth Jones in the movie version of ‘Rising Damp’ and this boosted her popularity even further.
In 1983, she essayed the role of Josie in Eugene O’Neill’s famous play, ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten.’ Her sensitive and powerful portrayal of Josie won her the second Olivier Award for the Best Actress.
In 1984, she played the lead role in George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Saint Joan.’ Her portrayal of Joan of Arc is regarded as one of the best portrayals in her career.
In 1992, she won her third Olivier Award (Best Supporting Actress) for Martin Sherman’s ‘When She Danced’ at the Globe Theatre. In 1999, she again teamed up with RSC to give the performance of a lifetime in ‘Cleopatra,’ in which she played the lead role opposite Alan Bates.
If there is a play that she is best known for, it has to be Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’ in 2004. She essayed the role of Mrs. Lintott. The play was a huge hit and got her a Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for the Best Actress in a Play.
She reprised the role of Mrs. Lintott in the movie version of ‘The History Boys’ (2006). She was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Actress in a Supporting Role for this movie.
In 2005, she gave a critically acclaimed performance in Dario Fo’s ‘Peace Mom,’ a play based on Cindy Sheehan’s work. In 2009, she featured in Alan Bennett’s ‘The Habit of Art’ at the Royal National Theatre. She again teamed up with Alan Bennet in 2012 for his play ‘People.’
Besides plays, she has given many memorable performances in movies also. ‘Time Bandits’ (1981), ‘Murder with Mirrors’ (1985), ‘Harry Porter and the Goblet of Fire’ (2005), ‘Harry Porter and the Deathly Hallows’ (2010), ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (2010), and ‘Hugo’ (2011) are some of her well-known movies.
Frances de la Tour’s role in the series ‘Rising Damp’ propelled her to stardom. Her character Ruth Jones is a spinster who works as a college administrator. She is pursued by Rupert Rigsby, the miserly landlord who rents out his shabby building to tenants. Leonard Rossiter essays the role of the landlord. The series is now regarded as a classic British comedy.
In the play ‘The History Boys’ she gave one of her best performances. Her character, Mrs. Lintott, was specifically written for her by Alan Bennett, the playwright. This comedy drama takes a look at the British teaching methods, staff room rivalry, and lawlessness in adolescents. The play was a global success and earned her a Tony Award.
The play ‘Duet for One’ earned her the first of her Olivier Awards. It is a very intense play based on the life of Jacqueline Du Pre, a renowned violinist who develops multiple sclerosis and is forced to reevaluate her entire life. Frances, who essayed the role of Stephanie Anderson, did justice to her character.
Family & Personal Life
Frances de la Tour was once married to Tom Kempinski, a British actor and playwright. The exact dates of her marriage and divorce are not known. She has a daughter and a son.