British actress. She was made a DBE in 1956.
Born in Croydon, Ashcroft studied drama at the Central School of Dramatic Art and began her long and distinguished career playing Margaret in Dear Brutus (1926) at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. She made her London debut at the Playroom Six as Bessie in One Day More (1927). Naomi in Jew Süss (1929), Desdemona to Paul Robeson's Othello, and Juliet in Gielgud's 1935 production of Romeo and Juliet were just a few of her many notable performances. Memorable, too, were her portrayals of Lady Teazle in Sheridan's The School for Scandal (1937–38) and Cecily Cardew in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (1939).
Her first appearance in New York was at the Martin Beck Theatre as Lise in High Tor (1939). In Oslo she gave one of her most highly acclaimed performances in the title role of Hedda Gabler (1955) and was awarded the King's Gold Medal. The Chalk Garden (1956) and The Lovers of Viorne (1971) brought Evening Standard awards and in 1962 she was chosen Best Actress at the Paris Theatre Festival while touring in The Hollow Crown.
She has also appeared on television, notably in The Jewel in the Crown (1983) adapted from Paul Scott's Raj Quartet, and in films – for her performance in David Lean's A Passage to India (1984) she won an Oscar for best supporting actress. She also won a Venice Film Festival Award for her performance in the television play She's Been Away (1989). In 1962 the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon was named in her honour. Other honours included honorary doctorates and special awards from the British Theatre Association (1982) and BAFTA (1990).