Will She Do? is the story of a girl from a council estate in Tottenham, born in 1934 to an electric-meter reader and a seamstress, who was determined to be an actress.
Candid and witty, this memoir takes her from her awkward performances in working-men’s clubs at six years of age as dancing ‘Baby Eileen’, through the war years in London, to her breakthrough at thirty-two on Broadway with The Killing of Sister George, for which she received the first of four Tony Award nominations. She co-created Upstairs, Downstairs and wrote the screenplay for Mrs Dalloway (for which she won an Evening Standard Award) and at aged eighty-six, this is her first autobiographical work.
Characterised by an eye for the absurd, a terrific knack for storytelling and an insistence on honesty, Will She Do? is a wonderful raconteur’s tale about family, about class, about youthful ambition and big dreams and what really goes on behind the scenes.
Eileen Atkins is best known in recent years for playing Martin Clunes’ Aunt in Doc Martin, as Queen Mary in The Crown or for her appearances in Gosford Park and Cranford. But did you know she also co-wrote the series of Upstairs Downstairs as well as The House of Eliot with Jean Marsh? A contemporary of Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Vanessa Redgrave, she did not go to RADA or come from an acting dynasty. This biography, which she wrote during the first lockdown, describes her humble beginnings living on a council estate in Tottenham, where her ambition was aroused at an early age by her mother and her dance teacher. Despite the Second World War, she started out as a child, singing and dancing in Working Men’s Clubs, dressed in unsuitably risqué clothing. Later her secondary school drama teacher raised her sights to classical theatre by teaching her about Shakespeare and refining her accent.
Her lack of the right contacts meant that breaking into the accepted acting circles was difficult, even after her marriage to Julian Glover, a highly successful Shakespearian actor. This frank, well written biography describes the ups and downs, successes and failures of a hard-working actress, determined to succeed. She includes amusing anecdotes about her fellow actors and disputes with directors sometimes caused by her short temper. If you remember the well-known actors of the 1960s you will be amazed by the number of them who were her friends.
The account leads up to the breakup of her first marriage in 1966 and her tremendous success in the controversial production of The Killing of Sister George. There are so many questions I wanted to ask Eileen Atkins about her life after that time but in a recent interview she said that she does not intend to write a sequel. I would, however, highly recommended this fascinating autobiography.
Will She Do? on Amazon UK