Ruth Wilson plays her own grandmother Alison Wilson in new BBC1 drama Mrs Wilson, which also features more than one Mrs Wilson. We’ll give you a second to get your head around that one.
The three-part period drama introduces us to Alexander “Alec” Wilson (Iain Glen), a novelist and MI6 agent who also happened to be the actress Ruth Wilson’s grandad. After his death, his carefully kept secrets were revealed when his wife Alison made a discovery: he had more than one wife.
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Here are all the characters you need to meet – and the stars who play them…
Ruth Wilson plays her grandmother, Alison Wilson
Who is Alison Wilson? Alison met her soon-to-be husband Alexander “Alec” Wilson while working as his secretary at MI6 during the Second World War. They soon married and had two sons, Nigel and Gordon. Alec spent periods working “undercover” after the war and also writing his novels, while Alison went to work as a secretary. But after her husband’s death from a heart attack at their Ealing home in 1963, she suddenly discovered that his life was a patchwork of lies…
What else has Ruth Wilson been in? On TV, she is best known for her roles as Alice Morgan in the crime drama Luther and as Alison Lockhart in US drama The Affair. Her film credits include Anna Karenina, The Lone Ranger, Saving Mr Banks, and Dark River. She is also a stage actress with multiple Olivier Awards to her name, and plays Marisa Coulter in Philip Pullman series His Dark Materials.
Iain Glen plays Alec Wilson
Who is Alec Wilson? Ruth Wilson’s real-life grandfather is the mystery at the heart of this drama, especially after his death when the truth starts to come out. As a novelist, a spy, and an MI6 officer, he was married to more than one woman and had more than one family, weaving clever stories to keep his lives from colliding.
What else has Iain Glen been in? The actor has starred as Jorah Mormont in Game of Thrones, Dr Alexander Isaacs in the Resident Evil movies, and Sir Richard Carlisle in Downton Abbey. Other recent credits have included Delicious, Cleverman, and My Cousin Rachel.
Elizabeth Rider plays Gladys Wilson
Who is Gladys Wilson? The woman who believes she is the “real” Mrs Wilson. She is startled to discover that Alison Wilson was also married to her husband Alec.
What else has Elizabeth Rider been in? Her long CV includes roles as DCI Lynette Driver in Doctors and Mary in Doctor Foster, as well as appearances in Doctor Who, Our Zoo, Lewis, The Casual Vacancy, Waking the Dead, and Call the Midwife.
Fiona Shaw plays Coleman
Who is Coleman? A formidable MI6 boss, who we first meet when Alec and Alison are both working for her in 1940.
What else has Fiona Shaw been in? She actually played the very similar role of secret service boss Carolyn Martens in Killing Eve, give or take the period setting. Aside from this, Fiona Shaw is known for her role as Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter movies, and for playing Marnie Stonebrook in True Blood, but she’s also a highly experienced stage actress with a couple of Olivier Awards.
Keeley Hawes plays Dorothy
Who is Dorothy? We don’t want to ruin episode two for you, but if you’re curious (and don’t mind spoilers!) you can have a read of the real-life story behind Mrs Wilson.
What else has Keeley Hawes been in? Recently she has been on our screens playing Home Secretary Julia Montague in BBC drama Bodyguard. She also plays Louisa Durrell in The Durrells, and has previously starred in The Missing, Line of Duty, Spooks and Ashes to Ashes.
Patrick Kennedy plays Dennis Wilson
Who is Dennis? Alexander Wilson’s son from his marriage to Gladys. When his father dies and the truth about his marriage to Alison comes out, Dennis is the one who takes control and helps plan the logistics of the funeral.
What else has Patrick Kennedy been in? If his face looks familiar, that’s because he’s been in a ton of movies and TV shows including The First, Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire, Parade’s End, and Atonement.
Otto Farrant plays Nigel Wilson
Who is Nigel? Alison and Alec’s younger son. He is around 18 years old when his father dies, and the bereavement hits him hard. (Nigel also happens to be Ruth Wilson’s father.)
What else has Otto Farrant been in? In 2013, he appeared in The White Queen as Thomas Grey. He’s also played Petya Rostov in War & Peace, and Evan Jones in Marcella.
Calam Lynch plays Gordon Wilson
Who is Gordon? Alison and Alexander’s eldest son.
What else has Calam Lynch been in? The actor made a brief appearance in the movie Dunkirk.
Anupam Kher plays Shahbaz Karim
Who is Shahbaz Karim? A mysterious man who Alison meets at Alec’s funeral. He knew her husband when he was living in India between the wars.
What else has Anupam Kher been in? The Indian actor has appeared in over 500 films in several languages, as well as many plays. English speakers may know him from Sense8, The Big Sick, or The Boy with the Topknot.
Barbara Marten plays Alison’s mum Mrs McKelvie
Who is Mrs McKelvie? Alison’s mother. She strongly disapproves of her daughter’s choice of husband, and is horrified to see her young grandsons living in such poverty.
What else has Barbara Marten been in? The actress has appeared in The Mill, Public Enemies, Kidnap and Ransom, EastEnders (as DS Haydon), and Casualty (as Eve Montgomery).
Wilf Scolding plays Mike
Who is Mike? Again, we don’t want to ruin episode two for you, but take a look at the real-life story behind Mrs Wilson to see where Mike fits into the story.
What else has Wilf Scolding been in? Wilf Scolding made an appearance in Game of Thrones as Rhaegar Targaryen. He’s also played Freddie in The Passing Bells, the Prince of Wales in Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III, and Anton van Lalaing in Borgia.
Ian McElhinney plays Father Timothy
Who is Father Timothy? A Catholic priest who provides Alison with spiritual guidance as the truth about her husband emerges, and as she struggles with her grief.
What else has Ian McElhinney been in? Aside from starring as Barristan Selmy in Game of Thrones, Ian McElhinney has played Granda Joe in Derry Girls, Val-El in the TV series Krypton, Theodore Swift in Ripper Street, Morgan Monroe in The Fall, and General Dodonna in Star Wars movie Rogue One.
All three episodes of Mrs Wilson are repeated back to back on PBS Masterpiece on Sunday 28 February 2021 from 8/7c.
This article was originally published in November 2018