Stephen Frears

Stephen Arthur Frears (born 20 June 1941)[1] is an English director and producer. He has directed numerous acclaimed films since the early 1980s, including My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), Dangerous Liaisons (1988), The Grifters (1990), High Fidelity (2000), The Queen (2006), Philomena (2013), Florence Foster Jenkins (2016), and Victoria & Abdul (2017). He has received two nominations for the Academy Award for Best Director.

Stephen Frears
Stephen Frears OIFF 2014-07-12 113913 (cropped).jpg
Frears at the Odesa International Film Festival in 2014
Stephen Arthur Frears

(1941-06-20) 20 June 1941 (age 79)
EducationGresham's School, Norfolk
Alma materTrinity College, Cambridge
  • Director
  • producer
Years active1963–present
Spouse(s)Mary-Kay Wilmers
(m. 1968; div. early 1970s)
Anne Rothenstein
m. 1992)

Frears is also known for his work on various television programs, including Fail Safe (2000), The Deal (2003), Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight (2013), A Very English Scandal (2018), State of the Union (2019), and Quiz (2020). He has received four Primetime Emmy Award nominations, with one win.

In 2008, The Daily Telegraph named Frears among the 100 most influential people in British culture.[2]

Early lifeEdit

Frears was born in Leicester, England.[3] His mother, Ruth M. (née Danziger), was a social worker, and his father, Russell E. Frears, was a general practitioner and accountant.[3] Frears was brought up Anglican, and did not find out that his mother was Jewish until he was in his late 20s.[4][5][6]


From 1954 to 1959, Frears was educated at Gresham's School,[7] a boarding independent school for boys (now co-educational) in the market town of Holt in Norfolk. This was followed by Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1960 to 1963.[8]


At the University of Cambridge, Frears was assistant stage manager for the 1963 footlights Revue, which starred Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese, Bill Oddie and David Hatch.[9] After graduating from the University, Frears worked as an assistant director on the films Morgan – A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966) and if.... (1968). He spent most of his early directing career in television, mainly for the BBC but also for the commercial sector.

Frears contributed to several anthology series, such as the BBC's Play for Today. He produced a series of Alan Bennett's plays for LWT, taking responsibility for working in the gallery on The Old Crowd while Lindsay Anderson worked with the actors.

Frears in Sweden, 1989, promoting his film Dangerous Liaisons

In the late 1980s, Frears came to international attention as a director of feature films. His directorial film debut was the noir detective spoof Gumshoe (1971) but it was not until his direction of My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) that he came to wider public notice. The interracial gay romance, based on a Hanif Kureishi screenplay and shot on 16 mm film, was released theatrically to great critical acclaim. It received an Academy Award nomination and two nominations for BAFTA Award. The success of the film helped launch the careers of both Frears and actor Daniel Day Lewis.

Frears worked with Adrian Edmondson on Mr Jolly Lives Next Door, a 45-minute programme starring Peter Cook in The Comic Strip Presents television comedy series that aired on Channel Four in 1988. In 1985, Frears had also directed a Comic Strip parody of Daphne Du Maurier's novel Rebecca.

Frears next directed the Joe Orton biopic Prick Up Your Ears (1987), a collaboration with playwright Alan Bennett. His second film adapted from a Kureishi screenplay was Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987). Dangerous Liaisons (1988) was shot in France, with a cast that included Americans Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Based on the late 18th-century French novel of romantic game playing and adapted by Christopher Hampton, the film received numerous Academy Awards and BAFTA nominations. Frears was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Direction. Frears had further critical success with his next film The Grifters (1990), another tale of con artists. The film earned Frears his first Academy Award nomination for best direction.

Frears directed The Queen (2006), that depicts the death of Princess Diana on 31 August 1997. The Queen also achieved immense critical acclaim, box-office success, and awards. Frears himself received his second Academy Award nomination for best direction, and actor Helen Mirren won numerous awards for playing the title role.

Frears' other films include Western The Hi-Lo Country (1998), which won him the best director award at the Berlin Film Festival, High Fidelity (2000), which features a number of scenes where star John Cusack addresses the audience directly, Dirty Pretty Things (2002), and the British theatre comedy Mrs Henderson Presents (2005).

Frears returned to directing for television with The Deal (2003), which depicts an alleged deal between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown over which of them should become leader of the Labour Party in 1994.

Frears has also directed two films adapted from novels by Roddy Doyle, The Snapper (1993) and The Van (1996).

Frears holds the "David Lean Chair in Fiction Direction" at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, where he teaches.

His film Hero (1992), starring Dustin Hoffman, was a major box office disappointment. Frears was nominated for a Razzie Award for his direction of Mary Reilly.

His Irish adoption drama, Philomena (2013), written by Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan, won the best screenplay award at the 2013 Venice Film Festival and the BAFTAS, and was nominated that year for Best Picture at the BAFTAs and the Academy Awards. It stars Coogan and Judi Dench. The same year, HBO released his television drama Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight, which depicts the US Supreme Court deliberation over banning Muhammad Ali from boxing for refusing to serve in the US Army during the Vietnam War.

His biopic of disgraced cycling champion Lance Armstrong, The Program, starring Ben Foster, was premiered in the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.

Many of Frears' films are based on stories of living persons, but he has never sought to meet any of his subjects.[10]

National Life Stories conducted an oral history interview (C1316/07) with Stephen Frears in 2008 for its The Legacy of the English Stage Company collection held by the British Library.[11]

Personal lifeEdit

Frears lives in London with his wife, the painter Anne Rothenstein, and their two children.[citation needed] .[citation needed]

In 1968 Frears married Mary-Kay Wilmers, with whom he had two sons, Sam and Will Frears (a stage and film director). Frears left Wilmers while she was pregnant with their second son Will. They lived on Gloucester Crescent in Camden Town. The couple divorced in the early 1970s.[12] The live-in nanny that Wilmers hired in the early 1980s, Nina Stibbe, wrote letters home describing the North London literati life; these were compiled and published, and turned into a 2016 TV series, Love, Nina.

Early in his career, Frears made a programme featuring the band the Scaffold and is name-checked ("Mr Frears had sticky-out ears...") in their hit song "Lily the Pink".[13]

Political viewsEdit

In April 2015, Frears was one of several celebrities who endorsed the parliamentary candidacy of the Green Party's Caroline Lucas at the 2015 general election.[14]

In December 2019, along with 42 other leading cultural figures, Frears signed a letter endorsing the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership in the 2019 general election. The letter stated that "Labour's election manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership offers a transformative plan that prioritises the needs of people and the planet over private profit and the vested interests of a few."[15][16]



Year Title Notes Ref.
1967 The Burning Short film
1971 Gumshoe
1984 The Hit
1985 My Beautiful Laundrette
1987 Prick Up Your Ears
1987 Sammy and Rosie Get Laid
1988 Dangerous Liaisons
1990 The Grifters
1992 Hero
1993 The Snapper
1996 Mary Reilly
1996 The Van
1998 The Hi-Lo Country
2000 High Fidelity
2000 Liam
2002 Dirty Pretty Things
2005 Mrs Henderson Presents
2006 The Queen
2009 Chéri
2010 Tamara Drewe
2012 Lay the Favorite
2013 Philomena
2015 The Program
2016 Florence Foster Jenkins
2017 Victoria & Abdul


Year Title Notes Ref.
1969 Parkin's Patch 2 episodes
1969 Report: St - Ann's Nottingham Documentary television film
1969 Tom Grattan's War 5 episodes
1971–1973 Follyfoot 4 episodes
1972 A Day Out Television film
1973 Full House Episode: "#1.15"
1973 Sporting Scenes Episode: "England, Their England"
1973 The Cricket Match Television film
1974 Second City Firsts Episode: "Match of the Day"
1975 Daft as a Bush Television film
1975 Three Men in a Boat Television film
1975 Play for Today 3 episodes
1976 BBC2 Playhouse 2 episodes
1977 ITV Play of the Week 2 episodes
1977 ITV Playhouse 2 episodes; also producer
1977 Black Christmas Television film
1978 Me! I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf Television film; also producer
1978 Doris and Doreen Television film; also producer
1979 Afternoon Off Television film; also producer
1979 One Fine Day Television film; also producer
1980 Bloody Kids Television film
1982 Walter Television film
1983 Walter and June Television film
1983 Saigon: Year of the Cat Television film
1983 The Last Company Car Television film
1984 The Comic Strip Presents... 3 episodes
1984 December Flower Television film
1986–1993 Screen Two 2 episodes
2000 Fail Safe Television film
2003 The Deal Television film
2013 Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight Television film
2018 A Very English Scandal Miniseries; also executive producer
2019 State of the Union Miniseries; also executive producer
2019 The Loudest Voice Episode: "2015"
2020 Quiz Miniseries; also executive producer [17]

Awards and honoursEdit

Steve Coogan with Frears at a screening of Philomena in 2013

Over his distinguished career, Frears has amassed numerous awards and nominations, including two Academy Award nominations, four Primetime Emmy Award nominations (one win), a Golden Globe Award nomination, and 17 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award nominations (three wins).

In 1990, Frears earned his first Academy Award nomination for directing the film The Grifters. In 2006, he earned his second nomination for The Queen. At the Primetime Emmy Awards, he was nominated for Fail Safe (2000), Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight (2013), and A Very English Scandal (2019), before winning for State of the Union (2019). He has also been acknowledged by the Cannes, Berlin, Venice, and Toronto film festivals.



  1. ^ "Real-life hero". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  2. ^ "The 100 most powerful people in British culture: 61-80". The Telegraph. 18 March 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Stephen Frears Biography". Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  4. ^ "Hidden Heritage Inspires Director" Archived 10 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Naomi Pfefferman, "Frears and Pfeiffer reunite for Colette courtesan drama ‘Chéri’", Jewish Journal, 20 May 2009. Archived 21 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Nick Curtis, "'I hope you find it vulgar'"". Evening Standard. 10 November 2005. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  7. ^ "Film director returns to Gresham's". Gresham's School. Norfolk. February 2017. Retrieved 17 September 2017.
  8. ^ "Real-life hero". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  9. ^ New Arts Theatre Club programme (July 1963)
  10. ^ Husam sam Asi (25 November 2015). "Stephen Frears on telling real life stories in cinema – Interview". Youtube. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  11. ^ National Life Stories, 'Jellicoe, Ann (1 of 11) National Life Stories Collection: The Legacy of the English Stage Company', The British Library Board, 2008. Retrieved 21 February 2018
  12. ^ Wroe, Nicholas, "Mary-Kay Wilmers: 'I like difficult women. Not just because I'm a bit difficult myself. I like their complication'" (A Life In... Books), The Guardian, 24 October 2009. Retrieved 7 February 2011.
  13. ^ Scaffold, "Lily the Pink" lyrics. Archived 23 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Elgot, Jessica (24 April 2015). "Celebrities sign statement of support for Caroline Lucas – but not the Greens". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  15. ^ "Vote for hope and a decent future". The Guardian. 3 December 2019. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  16. ^ Proctor, Kate (3 December 2019). "Coogan and Klein lead cultural figures backing Corbyn and Labour". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  17. ^ "Matthew Macfadyen, Michael Sheen to star in miniseries 'Quiz'".
  18. ^ "Stephen Frears reçoit les insignes de commandeur des Arts et des Lettres" (in French). Agence France-Presse. 18 March 2009. Archived from the original on 24 January 2013. Retrieved 20 March 2009.
  19. ^ "Award Winners". Odessa International Film Festival (in Russian). Archived from the original on 26 September 2015.

External linksEdit