Charity Wakefield is British acting royalty; you probably recognize her grandfather, James Hayter, as Mr. Tibbs from Are You Being Served? or as Mr. Jessop in the 1968 musical Oliver! But, aside from her notable acting lineage, we at GBH Drama Club find ourselves impressed with her many talents in her own right. Whether she's playing the strong and savvy Mary Boleyn in Wolf Hall, or the breathy, ditzy Marilyn Munster on Mockingbird Lane, Wakefield is an actress who defines each character she portrays as intriguing, enjoyable, and downright fun to watch.
Here are a few of our favorite roles from this accomplished actor:
Marianne Dashwood in Masterpiece’s Sense & Sensibility
We have to start with 2008's Sense & Sensibility, a mini-series so nice, we’ve shown it twice! While Masterpiece co-produced this series in 2008, we’ve just reacquired it for streaming this year, much to the joy of Drama After Dark. Penned by the astounding Andrew Davies — also known for his takes on Austen’s other tales, Sanditon and Pride & Prejudice — this is one of the more risqué retellings of the classic Austen story, as well as one of the better casts. Joining Wakefield is Harriet Jane Morahan (My Mother and Other Strangers), Lucy Boynton (Endeavour, Murder on the Orient Express) Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Legion) and Linda Bassett (Call the Midwife, East is East). With a cast like that, and a classic Austen story, you certainly can’t go wrong, and including Wakefield as this version’s Marianne Dashwood ups the ante. As with Wakefield’s other roles, she brings an unexpected interpretation to this Miss Dashwood, imbuing her with joy and romanticism, creating a young woman looking for love everywhere — except the very place where she finally finds it.
You can watch Sense & Sensibility on WGBH Passport today.
Mary Boleyn of Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall is another Masterpiece mini-series, documenting Thomas Cromwell’s rise in Henry VIII’s court. The film differs greatly from the airy fancifulness of Sense & Sensibility, bringing a darker sense to the already morbid tale — literally. For increased realism, the series was filmed on location at Dover Castle, Penshurst Place, and Stanway House in Kent, all by candlelight. This realism in production design was complemented by a delightful cast, including Mark Rylance (Dunkirk, The BFG), Claire Foy (The Crown, Little Dorrit) and Anton Lesser (Endeavour, Game of Thrones). Wakefield joins the cast as Mary Boleyn, a smart woman who is not against using her sexuality to maintain her position in court. As always, Wakefield brings depth and detail to the character, creating a vivid portrait of a woman often overlooked in the history books. While Claire Foy and Mark Rylance may have gotten the majority of the kudos for this show, Wakefield deserved far more accolades than she received for her portrayal.
Georgina in The Great
The Great has been one of the many boons helping us to limp through time spent at home throughout the pandemic. This satire from Hulu covers the rise to power of Russian Empress Catherine the Great. The series co-stars Elle Fanning (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) and Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite), who are supported by a fantastic cast — including Wakefield as Georgina Dymov, Peter III’s lover. Unlike many of Wakefield's earnest, sweet characters, Georgina is a vicious manipulator. While Mary Boleyn may have been a survivor just trying to get by, Georgina is ambitious and underhanded to the extreme. As always, Wakefield's work in the role is delicate, creative and inspired — the perfect foil to Elle Fanning’s Catherine.
Marilyn Munster on Mockingbird Lane
If comedian Eddie Izzard stole every scene in this pilot remake of The Munsters, then Wakefield’s portrayal of the saccharine Marilyn was a firm runner-up. If you didn’t catch this 2012 special, or the original series from the 1960’s, here’s the skinny: it’s your typical sitcom family… except supernatural. Lily and Herman, the parents, are a vampiress and Frankenstein’s monster, respectively; Grandpa, Lily’s father, can also be counted amongst the undead; Eddie, Lily and Herman’s son, is a werewolf; and Marilyn, Lily’s niece, is a ‘disappointingly’ average teen with Barbie doll good looks. Mockingbird Lane takes a more serious spin on the plot than the 1960’s series, with Eddie showing his first signs of werewolfism, Herman’s heart needing to be replaced, and Grandpa looking to find his (highly suspect) place in the neighborhood. As Marilyn, Wakefield shines as an unexpected element of comic relief, her breathy voice and blonde bob belying an independent woman unafraid to go after what she wants.