Welsh Actors You Should Know: Jonathan Pryce

Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip in "The Crown"

Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip in "The Crown"

(Photo: Netflix)

Jonathan Pryce is an actor almost everyone likely recognizes, yet who somehow has never reached the heights of fame he's likely deserved as a performer. Having starred in everything from prestige films, blockbuster franchises, and popular television series to Broadway musicals and West End Shakespeare, the man has truly played every kind of role, from everyday types to literal royalty, and rarely put a foot wrong doing it. Pryce has been an over-the-top Bond villain, a fan-favorite Game of Thrones character, a literary icon, and sang opposite Madonna in an Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptation. The "remarkable performances that actually didn't make it on this list" titles—which include films like Glengarry Glen Ross, Ronin, The Age of Innocence, and The New World—are every bit as impressive as the ones that did. And his central role as Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in the final two seasons of Netflix's The Crown has introduced him to an entirely new audience that likely has little experience with his extensive back catalog of work. (Recommendation: There's a lot, so just start with a genre you find interesting!)

Pryce has won two Tony Awards, two Oliver Awards, and a knighthood for his services to drama and charity, though he didn't snag his first Oscar nomination until 2019, for his performance in The Two Popes. Notoriously private, he hails from Carmel, Flintshire in Wales, and is married to actress Kate Fahey (Archipelago), with whom he has three children. 

Here are our picks for some of Pryce's all-time best and most memorable roles. 

'Miss Saigon'

Technically, Miss Saigon isn't a television series or feature film, it's a stage musical from the early 1990s by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil (a.k.a. the guys behind Les Miserables). A retelling of Madame Butterfly set during the Vietnam War it tells the tragic story of a doomed romance involving an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover. 

Pryce won both a Tony and a Laurence Olivier Award for his performance as the Engineer on Broadway and in the West End. A French-Vietnamese hustler and owner of the Dreamland nightclub, he's sleazy, vaguely likable in spite of it, and capitalist down to his bones. He also gets one of the best songs in the whole show, a paean to American excess called "The American Dream". 


Carrington, a 1995 biopic about the life of the English painter Dora Carrington, is peak mid-90s indie cinema. Starring Emma Thompson as the eponymous Carrington, the film focuses primarily on her unusual relationship with author Lytton Strachey, as well as other members of the infamous Bloomsbury Group, an association of English writers, intellectuals, and artists that included such notables as Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forester, Vanessa Bell, John Maynard Keynes, and more. 

Pryce plays Strachey, the author of Eminent Victorians whose writing was filled with a combination of sympathy, psychological insight, irreverence, and wit. Pryce's performance almost fully embodies those maxims: He gets all the best lines, each of which is delivered with a perfectly dry, often snarky edge. He and Thompson are wonderful together, fully leaning in to the odd codependency and generally indescribable strange bond between the pair. 


Some of you may not remember what a huge deal it was when pop superstar Madonna was cast as Eva Peron in the big-budget theatrical version of Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical Evita. (She had to take a ton of voice lessons! It was a whole thing!) 

Stage musical veteran Pryce was cast alongside her as Argentian president (read: dictator) Juan Peron, and though he doesn't get the good songs she or Antonio Banderas's Che does, he more than holds his own as a man who projects public confidence and destiny, even as he privately battles anxiety about the power dynamics in his marriage. 

'Tomorrow Never Dies'

Tomorrow Never Dies's Elliot Carver is like the Platonic ideal of a Bond villain, a supersmart, overly posh, sneering media baron who's plotting to kick off a war between England and China in the name of selling more newspapers and expanding his corporate empire. While it's not the most traditional sort of world domination, Pryce is clearly having the time of his life, sneering and snarking his way through some seriously stilted dialogue with the same verve as if it were Shakespeare. 

A delightfully entertaining, scenery chewing highlight of what is otherwise a fairly unmemorable Pierce Brosnan-led entry in the James Bond franchise. 

'Wolf Hall'

Star-studded drama Wolf Hall is perhaps the most prestige Tudor series in recent memory, boasting a cast that includes Damian Lewis, Mark Rylance, Claire Foy, Kate Phillips, Jessica Raine, Mark Gatiss, Joanne Whalley, Anton Lesser, Harry Lloyd, and more. The story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith's son who became King Henry VIII's closest advisor and one of the architects of the Protestant Reformation in England, this is a series that checks all the boxes of what a period drama is supposed to be and do.

Pryce plays Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, one of the medieval period's most powerful religious figures, a former Archbishop of York, papal legate, and lord chancellor of England. A master of foreign policy, Wolsey was at one point King Henry's right hand, negotiating three major peace treaties, overseeing Parliament and the Court of Chancery, and introducing monastic and educational reforms. He ultimately fell from power due to his inability to secure the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and, as a result, Pryce gets the chance to play Wolsey at both his most secure and most desperate. 

'Game of Thrones'

In the grand scheme of the sprawling fictional universe of Game of Thrones, the High Sparrow is one of the series' more enigmatic figures. The leader of the militant religious group known as the Sparrows that split off from the Faith of the Seven in response to the destruction wrought by the War of Five Kings, the character is a fascinating mix of sincere belief and dangerous fanaticism. 

Pryce joined the show in Season 5, and his character immediately became a key player in the larger political conflicts between Houses Lannister and Tyrell, allowing the actor to go toe-to-toe with some of the series' biggest names, including Dame Dana Rigg's Olenna Tyrell and Lena Headey's Cersei Lannister. And his initial kindly grandpa act masks a sharp, wily, and thoroughly ruthless embrace of power.

'The Wife'

The Wife is a movie destined to be remembered for the fact that star Glenn Close lost out on a much-expected and very well-deserved Oscar win to Olivia Coleman's performance in The Favourite, but we don't talk enough about the fact that Pryce's stellar performance alongside her was almost completely forgotten come awards season. 

Pryce played "The Husband," for lack of a better descriptor, the acclaimed author Joe Castleman who has received word that his work has won the Pulitzer Prize. There's just one problem: His wife, Joan (Close) has been the secret author behind his work for the bulk of his career. Pryce's self-satisfied, quietly narcissistic portrayal definitely takes a backseat to Close's more long-suffering Joan, but neither of their performances work without the other.

'The Two Popes'

The Two Popes follows the largely unprecedented story of the papal transition of power after Pope Benedict XVI decided to resign as head of the Catholic Church --- Popes have stepped down while still alive before, but it's incredibly rare and hadn't happened since the 1400s --- and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen to replace him. Pryce plays Bergoglio both before and after he takes the papal name of Francis opposite Anthony Hopkins as Benedict. Despite their different pasts, approaches to leadership, and thoughts about the future of the Church, the central relationship between the two men is surprisingly warm and even playful, and Hopkins and Pryce have wonderful chemistry together. 

Pryce finally nabbed an Oscar nomination for his performance in this movie, a grounded, sweet, and ultimately hopeful portrayal that is all the more remarkable for how against type it is for him. (Let's face it, he's much more likely to get cast as a Bond villain than the head of the Holy See.)

'The Crown'

Pryce is the third and final actor to take on the role of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in Netlix's The Crown. Sadly, given the show's steadily expanding cast and narrative focusthe final two seasons deal with Charles and Diana's divorce, her tragic death, the start of William and Kate's relationship, and a lot more—he's the Philip with the least to do, but boy does he make every moment he's onscreen count.

From his waspish criticisms and one-liners to his pitch-perfect reaction shots, Pryce absolutely makes the most of every moment he's onscreen. His Phillip is perhaps a bit more mellow (and less shout-y) than history would have us believe was actually the case, but the unexpected warmth and kindness Pryce discovers in both the later years of Philip's marriage to Elizabeth and his mentor-like relationship with Prince William is lovely to watch onscreen

Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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