|Born||Eileen June Atkins
16 June 1934
|Spouse(s)||Julian Glover (1957-1966)
Bill Shepherd (1978-)
Atkins was born in a Salvation Army women's hostel in East London (The Mothers' Hospital in Clapton), to Annie Ellen (née Elkins), a barmaid who was 46 when Eileen was born, and Arthur Thomas Atkins, a gas-meter reader who was previously under-chauffeur to the Portuguese Ambassador. She attended the Latymer Grammar School, Edmonton and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Her mother was told by a gypsy that Eileen would be a great dancer, so she was sent to dancing classes from an early age, and appeared dancing in working man's clubs as "Baby Eileen" throughout the war years.
Among her accomplishments are the creation of two television series - along with Jean Marsh she created the concept for an original television series, titled Behind the Green Baize Door, which became the award-winning ITV series Upstairs, Downstairs. The same team was also responsible for the BBC series The House of Eliott.
As an actress her television work has included Three Sisters (1970), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1971), The Lady from the Sea (1974), Electra (1974), the villainess "Vanity Fair" in Dornford Yates' She Fell Among Thieves (1977), Sons and Lovers (1981), Oliver Twist (1982), Smiley's People (1982),Titus Andronicus (1985), The Burston Rebellion (1985), A Better Class of Person (1985), Roman Holiday (1987), The Lost Language of Cranes (1991), Cold Comfort Farm (1995), Talking Heads (1998), Madame Bovary (2000), David Copperfield (2000), Wit (2001) and Bertie and Elizabeth (2002).
Atkins has regularly returned to the life and work of Virginia Woolf for professional inspiration. She has played the writer on stage (A Room of One's Own and Vita and Virginia, winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show for the former) and screen (the 1990 television version of Room); she also provided the screenplay for the 1997 film adaptation of Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway - starring Vanessa Redgrave (her stage costar in Vita and Virginia) - and made a cameo appearance in the 2002 film version of Michael Cunningham's Woolf-themed novel The Hours.
She has appeared in countless stage productions in and around London, including A Delicate Balance (1997), Cymbeline (1988), Honour (2003), John Gabriel Borkman (1996), Mountain Language (1988), The Night of the Iguana (1992), The Unexpected Man (1998) and The Birthday Party (2005).
Dame Eileen has appeared on Broadway many times as well, scoring four Tony nominations as Best Actress in a Play. Her debut was in 1966, in Frank Marcus' The Killing of Sister George. Next was the Russian play The Promise (which closed after less than a month in 1967). In 1972's premiere of Robert Bolt's Vivat! Vivat Regina!, she played Elizabeth I to Claire Bloom's Mary, Queen of Scots. The Scandinavian novelty The Night of the Tribades barely ran for two weeks in 1977. A bit more successful were 1995's new version of Jean Cocteau's Indiscretions , directed by Sean Mathias (which co-starred Kathleen Turner and Broadway debutant Jude Law) and 2004's The Retreat from Moscow, William Nicholson's play about a marriage in ruins, with costars John Lithgow and Ben Chaplin.
In January 2006, she took over the lead role in the Broadway production of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer-prize winning play Doubt also featuring Ron Eldard and Jena Malone. Her off-Broadway work has included A Room of One's Own (1991) and The Unexpected Man (2001).
In the autumn of 2007, she co-starred with Judi Dench and Michael Gambon in the BBC1 drama series Cranford playing the central role of Miss Deborah Jenkyns. This performance earned her the 2008 BAFTA Award for best actress, as well as the Emmy Award.
She returned to London's West End in January 2008 to play Mrs Rafi in Edward Bond's The Sea at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. The play closed in April 2008. Later in 2008, she appeared at the Vaudeville Theatre in The Female of the Species, a play which outraged the feminist Germaine Greer because of its connection with an incident in her life. The play was, however, generally very well received, with The Sunday Telegraph reviewer Tim Walker giving it five stars and describing it as "great theatre."
Atkins was created a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1990, and raised to Dame Commander (DBE) in 2001. In 2008 Atkins signed onto 2009 dark comedy, Wild Target, with such actors as Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt and Rupert Grint. She will be playing Nighy's mother, Louisa.
She has most recently played the evil Nurse Edwina Kenchington in the BBC Two sitcom, Psychoville.
Atkins was married to Julian Glover in 1957; they divorced in 1966. She has been married to her current husband, Bill Shepherd, since 2 February 1978. She has no children. Atkins was propositioned by Colin Farrell on location in 2004, shortly before she turned 70; she said the incident helped her pass that milestone far more easily than she otherwise would have expected. The Oldie Magazine awarded her the 'Refusenik of the Year' award for this incident.