Sylvia Syms, Versatile British Actress, Is Dead at 89

Sylvia Syms, a British actress whose many roles in a career of more than 60 years included Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Queen Mother, died on Friday in London. She was 89.

Her death, at Denville Hall, a retirement home for actors and entertainers, was announced by her family.

Sylvia May Laura Syms was born in London on Jan. 6, 1934, to Edwin and Daisy (Hale) Syms. She was educated at convent schools and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and began her acting career onstage in the George Bernard Shaw play “The Apple Cart” in 1953.

She became a stalwart of the British cinema soon after she playedthe title role in the 1956 movie “Teenage Bad Girl.” Among the many films in which she appeared in the late 1950s were the World War II adventure “Ice Cold in Alex” (1958), starring John Mills, in which she played an army nurse, and “Expresso Bongo” (1959), a satire of the music business. In that movie she portrayed the stripper girlfriend of a sleazy talent manager played by Laurence Harvey.

In 1961 she was the wife of a closeted lawyer played by Dirk Bogarde — a role several other actresses had turned down — in the thriller “Victim,” the first British film to deal openly with homosexuality.

Ms. Syms never achieved the level of stardom that some had predicted for her. One reason is that she rarely worked in Hollywood (although she did have a prominent role in Blake Edwards’s 1974 Cold War drama “The Tamarind Seed”). Another, according to The Daily Telegraph, is that her ability to disappear into the roles she played kept her from being, in her words, “instantly recognizable as me.” But she remained busy well into her 80s.

Her notable later roles included Margaret Thatcher — in the 1991 television film “Thatcher: The Final Days” and later on both TV and stage in “Margaret Thatcher: Half the Picture” — and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Motherin Stephen Frears’s Academy Award-winning 2006 film “The Queen.” In that movie Helen Mirren played her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.

The next year, Ms. Syms was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire by the real Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

From 2007 to 2010, Ms. Syms had a recurring role as a dressmaker on the long-running BBC soap opera “EastEnders.” Her last role was in an episode of the historical drama series “Gentleman Jack,” a BBC-HBO co-production, in 2019.

Ms. Syms’ marriage to Alan Edney ended in divorce in 1989 after 33 years. She is survived by her daughter, the actress Beatie Edney, and her son, Ben Edney.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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