Oscar Directors: Frears, Stephen–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

August 28, 2020

Stephen Frears Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: middle class; mother nurse; father accountant

Social Class: Jewish (mother)

Nationality: UK



First Film: Gumshoe, 1971; age 30

Breakthrough: My Beautiful Laudrette, 1985; 34

First Oscar Nomination: Dangerous Liaisons, 1988; age 37

Other Nominations: The Queen; 2006; age 45

Genre (specialties):


Last Film:


Career Output:

Career Span:

Marriage: 2, one painter; son director





Stephen Arthur Frears (born 20 June 20, 1941), the English director and producer, has directed 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 Oscar nominations for Best Director.

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]

Frears was born in Leicester, England. His mother, Ruth M. (née Danziger), was a social worker, and his father, Russell E. Frears, was a general practitioner and accountant. 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.

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.

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 life
Frears lives in London with his wife, the painter Anne Rothenstein, and their two children.[citat

In 1968 Frears married Mary-Kay Wilmers, with whom he had two sons, Eliau 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 views
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]


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