Lily James

Lily Chloe Ninette Thomson[1] (born 5 April 1989),[2] known professionally as Lily James, is an English actress. She studied acting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and began her acting career in the British television series Just William (2010). Following her supporting role in the period drama series Downton Abbey (2012–2015), she had her film breakthrough as the title role in the fantasy film Cinderella (2015).

Lily James
James at the Australian premiere of Baby Driver in 2017
Lily Chloe Ninette Thomson

(1989-04-05) 5 April 1989 (age 31)
Esher, Surrey, England
Alma materGuildhall School of Music and Drama
Years active2010–present

James went on to play Natasha Rostova in the period television series War & Peace (2016), and took on starring roles in several films, including the action film Baby Driver (2017), the war drama Darkest Hour (2017), the period drama The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018), the musical Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018), and the romantic comedy Yesterday (2019).

Early life

Lily James was born on 5 April 1989 in Esher, Surrey,[1][3] the daughter of Ninette Mantle, an actress, and James "Jamie" Thomson, a musician.[4] She has two brothers, one older and one younger.[1] Her paternal grandmother, Helen Horton, was an American actress.[5][6] She attended Tring Park School for the Performing Arts[7] and subsequently went on to study acting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, graduating in 2010.[8][9] Shortly thereafter, she signed with Tavistock Wood management in London.[10]


Her television credits include Ethel Brown in the 2010 BBC production of Richmal Crompton's Just William, Poppy in the fourth series of ITV's Secret Diary of a Call Girl (2011), and the rebellious Lady Rose in Downton Abbey.[11] Lady Rose later became a main character in the fourth and fifth series of the programme.[12] James also appeared as Lady Rose in the series finale.[13]

In 2011, James played Taylor at the Young Vic Theatre in Tanya Ronder's stage adaptation of the novel Vernon God Little directed by Rufus Norris,[14] Nina in Russell Bolam's modern adaptation of The Seagull at Southwark Playhouse, and Desdemona in Daniel Evans' production of Othello at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, alongside Dominic West and Clarke Peters.

James at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con

In 2012, James played the role of Katrina in Play House and Marijka in Definitely the Bahamas in a double-bill written and directed by Martin Crimp at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London as part of the theatre's fortieth anniversary. Charles Spencer of The Telegraph wrote that "it is performed with a persuasive mixture of mischief and deeper feeling by Obi Abili and Lily James, the latter combining a mixture of neuroticism and glowing sexual allure that proves extraordinarily potent."[15] James played the role of Korrina in the Warner Brothers film Wrath of the Titans and starred in Fast Girls, written by Noel Clarke, centred around a group of young female athletes competing in the World Championships.

James played the titular character in the 2015 live-action Disney film Cinderella.[16] James was photographed by Annie Leibovitz as Cinderella, in the blue gown her character wears to the ball, for the December 2014 issue of Vogue.[17][18] James also made her singing debut in the film singing "Sing Sweet Nightingale," "Lavender's Blue" and "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" from the 1950 animated film in the end credits.

In 2016, she returned to television in the 2016 BBC historical drama series War & Peace, playing the character of Natasha Rostova. She also starred in her second major film, playing the role of Elizabeth Bennet in the action-horror film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a parody of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It received mixed reviews and failed to break even at the box office. James played the role of Juliet in the Garrick Theatre's production of Romeo and Juliet directed by Rob Ashford and actor-director Kenneth Branagh in 2016.

In 2017, she appeared in several major films. She played Debora, the love interest of the main character, Baby, in the action film Baby Driver. She played Elizabeth Layton, a secretary to PM Winston Churchill, in the war drama film Darkest Hour. She headlined the World War II drama film The Exception, playing a British agent posing as a servant to the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II.

James starred as the younger version of Meryl Streep's character, Donna Sheridan, in the sequel to Mamma Mia!, titled Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. The film was released in July 2018.[19] The same year, James played author Juliet Ashton in the 1940s period drama The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society who exchanges letters with the residents of Guernsey, an island off the coast of Normandy that was German-occupied during World War II.[20]

In November 2018, James was cast as the second Mrs. de Winter in a new adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Gothic romance Rebecca. It will be directed by Ben Wheatley and co-star Armie Hammer.[21]

Personal life

James' father, James Thomson, died from cancer in 2008. She took her father's given name as her stage name when she learned there was already an actress named Lily Thomson.[22][23]

She has been in a relationship with actor Matt Smith since 2014.[24][25]



Year Title Role Notes
2012 Chemistry Ines Short film
Wrath of the Titans Korrina
Broken Older Skunk
Fast Girls Lisa Temple
2015 Cinderella Cinderella
Burnt Sara
2016 Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Elizabeth Bennet
The Exception Mieke de Jong
The Tale of Thomas Burberry Betty Short film
2017 Baby Driver Debora
Darkest Hour Elizabeth Layton
2018 Sorry to Bother You White Detroit (voice) Cameo
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Juliet Ashton
Little Woods Deb Hale
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Young Donna Sheridan
2019 One Red Nose Day and a Wedding Miranda Short film
Yesterday Ellie Appleton
Rare Beasts Cressida
2020 Rebecca The second Mrs. de Winter Post-production
TBA The Dig Peggy Preston Post-production


Year Title Role Notes
2010 Just William Ethel Brown 4 episodes
2011 Secret Diary of a Call Girl Poppy 8 episodes
2012–2015 Downton Abbey Lady Rose MacClare 21 episodes
2016 War & Peace Countess Natasha Rostova 6 episodes
TBA The Pursuit of Love TBA


Year Title Role Venue
2011Vernon God LittleTaylorYoung Vic Theatre
OthelloDesdemonaCrucible Theatre
2012The SeagullNinaSouthwark Playhouse
2016Romeo and JulietJulietGarrick Theatre
2019All About EveEve HarringtonNoel Coward Theatre

Awards and nominations

Year(s) Association Category Work Result Ref.
2014Screen Actors GuildOutstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama SeriesDownton AbbeyWon
2015Screen Actors GuildOutstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama SeriesDownton AbbeyWon
2015Teen Choice AwardsChoice Movie Actress: Sci-Fi/FantasyCinderellaNominated[26]
2015Harper's Bazaar Women of the Year AwardsBreakthrough AwardCinderellaWon[27]
2016Kids' Choice AwardsFavorite Movie ActressCinderellaNominated[28] AwardsBest Actress in a PlayRomeo and JulietNominated[29]
2017Satellite AwardsBest Actress in a Miniseries or TV FilmWar & PeaceNominated
2018People's Choice AwardsThe Female Movie Star of 2018Mamma Mia! Here We Go AgainNominated[30]
2018 Harper's Bazaar Women of the Year Awards Editor's Choice N/A Won


  1. Mahalia Chang (14 July 2017). "Everything You Need To Know About 'Baby Driver' Star Lily James". Elle. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  2. "Lily James: Actress (1989–)". (A&E Networks). Archived from the original on 30 December 2018. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  3. Kaleem Aftab (12 July 2017). "Lily James: "You're at the Mercy of Circumstance"". The Talks. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  4. Pietras, Emma (20 March 2015). "Cinderella and Downton Abbey's Lily James amazing rise to Hollywood star". Daily Mirror. Archived from the original on 9 October 2015. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  5. Hansen, Pal \ (23 December 2012). "Fallen angel: How Lily James is bringing scandal to Downton Abbey this Christmas". The Independent. Archived from the original on 27 June 2015. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  6. "Lily James found comfort in drama". Belfast Telegraph. 3 January 2014. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  7. "Branagh and Lily James in new venture". Tring Park School for the Performing Arts. 17 April 2015. Archived from the original on 5 October 2016. Retrieved 3 October 2016.
  8. "Lily James". Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Archived from the original on 3 October 2016. Retrieved 3 October 2016.
  9. Mottram, James (15 March 2015). "Disney's Cinderella: Why Downton Abbey star Lily James is not just another English rose". The Independent. Archived from the original on 5 October 2016. Retrieved 3 October 2016.
  10. "Lily James to Star in Disney's 'Cinderella'".
  11. "The Tatler List". Tatler. Archived from the original on 5 February 2016.
  12. "Ones to Watch in 2011". Female First. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.
  13. "Lily James to return for final episode of Downton Abbey". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  14. "What's On – Young Vic". Archived from the original on 2 March 2015. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  15. Spencer, Charles. "Play House/Definitely the Bahamas, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, review" Archived 2 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine, The Daily Telegraph, 19 March 2012, accessed 19 November 2014
  16. ‘Downton Abbey’ Star is New Cinderella Archived 2 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  17. "The New Trailer, Poster and Photos for Disney's Cinderella!". Archived from the original on 21 November 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  18. Camhi, Leslie. "What Would Cinderella Wear? Costuming Lily James and Cate Blanchett in Kenneth Branagh's Forthcoming Film". Vogue. Archived from the original on 22 November 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  19. Jenna Busch (12 July 2017). "Mamma Mia Sequel Casts Baby Driver's Lily James". Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  20. Tenreyro, Tatiana. "This New 1940s Drama On Netflix Spotlights A Heroic European Book Club". Bustle. Retrieved 12 August 2018.
  21. Kroll, Justin; Kroll, Justin (14 November 2018). "Lily James, Armie Hammer to Star in Daphne du Maurier Adaptation 'Rebecca'". Variety. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  22. McElroy, Naomi. "10 things you didn't know about actress Lily James –".
  23. "'Downton Abbey's' Lily James reveals her real-life Cinderella story". New York Post. 11 February 2015. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  24. "Lily James unsure of marriage". The Associated Press. 7 January 2019. Retrieved 20 June 2020.
  25. Hodge, Gavanndra (15 June 2019). "Lily James: 'We are trying always to be happy, but unhappiness is just as real, just as important'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 June 2020.
  26. Staff, Variety (17 August 2015). "Teen Choice Awards 2015 Winners: Full List". Archived from the original on 2 February 2016.
  27. Kallon, Catherine (4 November 2015). "Lily James In Erdem – 2015 Harper's Bazaar Women of the Year Awards". Archived from the original on 8 December 2015.
  28. "Kids' Choice Awards: Adele, Justin Bieber, 'Star Wars' Among Nominees". Archived from the original on 6 February 2016. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  29. "Harry Potter leads winners of the 17th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards". Archived from the original on 20 February 2017. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  30. "People's Choice Awards 2018: The nominees". USA Today. 24 September 2018. Retrieved 25 September 2018.

Further reading