Phoebe Fox has a range of varied period roles under her belt, from her part in The Aeronauts alongside Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne, which is set in the 1860s, to playing the lead in WWII horror, The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death.


Now, Fox stars as Marial in 18th century comedy-drama The Great, with Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult, which follows the escapades of a Russian Emperor and his new Empress.

Here, the actor discusses the books which have inspired her most and lines up her final Fantasy Bookshelf selection. Fox shares the lessons she takes from a fictional count, which childhood story she was devastated by and the book she is most looking forward to reading next.

My Fantasy Bookshelf Logo

What was the last book you couldn’t put down?

I have been making up for lost time lately. Filling in the gaps left by a teenage predilection for partying over studying and the pursuit of acting over education.

This led me to The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Her voice chimes as clearly today as it did 60 years ago. Reading it felt so personal, like I must be the first person to have discovered her. I am amazed that she only wrote one novel, and it’s this explosion of wit, and trauma and everything between.

Which book would you like to see adapted for screen next?

I would love to see an adaptation of Less by Andrew Sean Greer. It has all the things I want in a film; love, travel, humour.

If you could star in an adaptation as a character from any book, which would it be?

I can’t think of a specific character from a book that hasn’t already been adapted (cough, Hermione, cough, Harry Potter). But, I am being hounded by a friend to write a film in which I can play Susan Sontag.

More like this

I thought I’d just put that out into the universe, in case anyone reads this who has been itching to make that Susan Sontag biopic...

Which character from a book do you wish you could be more like?

Lately I have been taking a lot of cues from the Count in A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. He is a man dealing with the upheaval of the world as he knew it.

He finds himself to confined to one building for the foreseeable future, without the comforts or social interactions that defined his life before.

Yet, he remains full of love and optimism for mankind, whilst acknowledging that we must embrace change in order to grow. We could all be a bit more like the Count, I think.

Phoebe Fox The Great
Phoebe Fox as Marial in The Great, on Channel 4 MRC TelevisionHulu

Is there anything you have read which has inspired your career path in any way?

I was obsessed with The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown when I was a child. It’s about a group of kids who create their own Amateur Theatre company. I was already absolute in my decision to be an actor by this point, but if anything, it confirmed to me that I was on the right path.

Later on my mum found out it was the first in a series of a books. I was bloody devastated when we then failed to find any of them, as they were all out of print. Maybe I’m still a bit devastated actually; I never got to know how the story ended.

What is the best reading recommendation you’ve ever been given?

Sight by Jessie Greengrass was put up on Instagram by an acquaintance, so no one actually recommended it to me personally and yet it had a profound effect on me.

The book deals with the conflicting emotions brought to the surface when you are deep in the throes of your ‘child-bearing’ years. It’s one of the only novels I’ve read in which I felt moved to underline whole passages, so I wouldn’t forget them.

What was the last book you read and would you read it again?

I have just finished Bad Behaviour by Mary Gaitskill. I’m not normally into short stories, surprisingly for someone who has such a low boredom threshold, but I found each piece completely riveting.

The subjects she explores; being a writer, being a woman, sadomasochism, prostitution etc, are thrilling, and matched by her beautiful turn of phrase. I don’t tend to re-read things, but never say never.

I have Nell Zink’s latest book Doxology waiting on my nightstand. I love the story of how she was discovered. She sent her writing to Jonathan Franzen out of the blue, he wrote back, and the rest is history.


The Great airs weekly on Channel 4 on Sundays at 9pm – take a look at our full TV Guide

Read Phoebe Fox’s Fantasy Bookshelf

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown

Sight by Jessie Greengrass

Bad Behaviour: Stories by Mary Gaitskill

Doxology by Nell Zink