As David Suchet brings Lady Bracknell to the London's Vaudeville Theatre stage in The Importance of Being Earnest, we take a look at some other surprising transformations. Seems male actors who've played women in films are not as rare as you'd think...

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1. Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin as Wife in A Busy Day

Actors who’ve played women in films are nothing new. Way back in 1914, Charlie was donning a dress and clowning around as a character simply credited as Wife. The  jealous woman chases her husband, who has an eye for a pretty girl, with ever more comic consequences in the silent movie short A Busy Day. Who’d have thought it!

 

2. Alec Guinness

Alec Guiness playing Lady Agatha Dascoyne from movie Kind Hearts and Coronets

In Kind Hearts and Coronets, the 1949 Ealing comedy, Alec Guinness was definitely busy. He played all eight of the aristocratic D’Ascoyne family, who a distant poor relative is planning to murder. Among the eight is the grand old dame Lady Agatha D’Ascoyne. Looks like she’d give Downton’s Lady Violet a run for her money!

 

3. Divine

Divine as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray

Perhaps the most infamous of all actors who’ve played women, the late great Divine was no stranger to female roles in films, and was a favourite choice of his friend director John Waters when it came to casting movies. Among other characters, he played the Babs Johnson, the filthiest person alive, in Pink Flamingos; career criminal Dawn Davenport in Female Trouble and bored housewife Francine Fishpaw in Polyester. But of course, no-one could forget mum Edna Turnblad in the 1988 version of Hairspray!

 

4. John Travolta

John Travolta as Edna Turnblad

When Hairspray was remade in 2007, surprisingly John ‘swivel-hips’ Travolta donned the fat suit and the glam dresses as the updated version of Tracy Turnblad’s mum Edna. She’s certainly got the Saturday Night Fever.

 

 5. Alastair Sim

Alastair Sim playing headmistress in Belles of St Trinians

Headmistress Millicent Fritton is run rings around  by her school’s unruly pupils in The Belles of St Trinian’s. One of the best loved actors who’ve played women, Alastair Sim played both Millicent and her devious brother Clarence in this 1954 comedy. Case of driving yourself to distraction, it seems!

 

6. Rupert Everett

Rupert Everett playing the headmistress in St Trinians

Years later, it’s Rupert Everett who takes on the role of Camilla Fritton who’s now headmistress of  St Trinian’s. And in this 2007 visit to the school of teenage terrors, he also plays Carnaby Fritton. And doesn’t he suit a blonde wig?!!

 

7. Adam Sandler

Adam Sandler playing Jill in Jack And Jill

Adam Sandler plays both title roles in 2011 comedy Jack and Jill, as successful advertising executive Jack is paid the annual unwelcome Thanksgiving visit by his twin sister Jill. Double the trouble!

 

8. Ben Wishaw

Ben Wishaw as Georgette in Cloud Atlas

The 2013 film Cloud Atlas was unusual in that all the main actors played multiple roles across time, many of them playing both male and female roles. Perhaps none so glamorous as Ben Wishaw’s character Georgette.

 

9. Hugh Weaving

Hugh Weaving as Nurse in Cloud Atlas

But, then again, fellow Cloud Atlas actor Hugh Weaving cuts a fine figure as Nurse Noakes among other roles…

 

10. Quentin Crisp

Quentin Crisp as Elizabeth I and Tilda Swinton as OrlandoQuentin Crisp was, in real life, known for his flamboyant style, but his everyday wear was not quite as flamboyant as his costumes in this role. He played Queen Elizabeth I in the 1992 movie Orlando, which also saw Tilda Swinton playing the male title role.

 

11. Terry Jones

Terry Jones as Brian's mother in Life of Brian

Finally, who could forget the utterly odd character Mandy Cohen, mother of Brian in the 1979  comedy Life Of Brian? ‘He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!’ Mandy squawks when her son’s mistakenly taken to be Jesus. Yes, without even attempting to look feminine, those Monty Python chaps always knew exactly how to don a dress and utter those classic comedy lines!