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‘Siân Phillips at 90’ to air on BBC on Saint David’s Day

21 Feb 2024 4 minute read
Siân Phillips

A new documentary, Siân Phillips at 90, is set to air on the BBC on Saint David’s Day, offering an intimate, personal account of the iconic Welsh actor’s life and career.

From Hollywood to the West End, acclaimed Welsh actress Dame Siân Phillips has done it all – and shows no signs of stopping.

Iconic roles

Born in Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, at the foot of the Black Mountain, Siân has had a glittering career spanning nine decades.

As a young child, she started performing in local Eisteddfods, which she found highly educational.

After catching the attention of BBC producers, she worked through her teens as an announcer and in radio plays, as well as touring with the Welsh Arts Council, before eventually moving to London to join RADA.

In the film Siân vividly recalls a life-changing visit to the theatre aged six.

She says; “I thought, this is what I want to do, this is where I want to live, up there under the lights. I thought I was in heaven. And when I got home, I wrote in my diary; ‘I am now resolved to being an actress’.”

From those early days, Siân went on to have a glittering, international career that has spanned nine decades. Her most iconic roles include appearances in I, Claudius, How Green Was My Valley, The Snow Spider, Dune and Goodbye Mr Chips. But her path to success hasn’t been easy.

Siân speaks candidly about her tumultuous, sometimes destructive, marriage to screen star Peter O’Toole. Considered the great, glamourous, couple of their time, all was not as it seemed at home. Siân describes how O’Toole tried to stop her from forging ahead with her career, and how she would work under the radar at times.

Siân recalls, “I missed what I call the Golden Years, which are the years from 29 until 45. Those are the years when you really lay down the foundation of your career.”

TV work

Siân says of her TV work, “Real movie stars were very snooty. No-one would dream of being in a television play. But I always knew that television was very important and that it was going to become more and more important.”

At 90 years old, Dame Siân Phillips is still active, with an energy and enthusiasm for work that belies her age, maintaining three diaries to keep her schedule, and regularly doing pilates to stay fit.

Featuring interviews with Siân’s daughter Pat O’Toole, plus friends and co-stars including Sir Derek Jacobi (I, Claudius), Dame Eileen Atkins, Nigel Havers, the Siân Phillips Award recipient Rakie Ayola and Matthew Rhys, who starred alongside Siân Phillips in his first role (House of America).

International acclaim

Sir Derek Jacobi, friend and fellow star of I, Claudius says: “Dame Sian Phillips, she’s up there with all our leading actresses. She has beauty, she has talent. She has huge charisma and is one of those actresses in whose company you are very happy to be.”

In the feature, we follow Siân as she rehearses her latest show It’s All Greek with Alex Jennings. Aged 90, her drive to keep working is undiminished.

Dame Eileen Atkins says of her friend; “Behind a lot of huge glamorous success stories is a hard, hard worker. No-one works harder than Siân. Siân Phillips the actress was made in Wales.”

Siân is an internationally acclaimed actress in television and film, but the theatre remains closest to her heart.

“I love the theatre. No matter how badly your day’s going, when you come to the theatre and hear the orchestra, you feel on top of the world. It’s like being home,” says Siân.

Siân Phillips at 90 airs on BBC1 Wales at 9pm on Friday 1 March and will also be available on BBC iPlayer shortly afterwards.


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Alistair Wylie
Alistair Wylie
1 month ago

Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen is not at the foot of the Black Mountains, but it is close to the Black Mountain, which is a different place. And the sentence contains a non-sequitur as her “glittering career” is not a consequence of being born there.

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