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The English Wife (1996)

The English Wife is a one-off drama.  It was commissioned by Meridian, produced by Hartswood Films and first broadcast on 4 August 1996 (ITV, 9:15-11:15pm), as the first instalment in the ITV Drama Premieres strand of programmes.


The English Wife image #1

Above are a couple of publicity photos that were taken for The English Wife.

Please click on each image to see the full version.


The English Wife is a dark, disturbing account of an English au pair's nightmarish experiences in a French mansion. 

Young and unassuming, Elena is employed by the glamorous Caroline Griveau, English wife to a French businessman, and asked to look after the couple's seven-year-old autistic son, Bertrand.  While Elena gradually develops a close bond with the mute boy, his parents remain distant, ambiguous figures.

Unbeknown to the au pair, the Griveaus are hopelessly embroiled in the criminal underworld.  When her personal safety is put at risk by the couple's behaviour, Elena takes drastic action.

The drama is the first programme in the long-running series of ITV Drama Premieres.


Elena ... Geraldine O'Rawe
Madame Caroline Griveau ... Zo Wanamaker
Monsieur Griveau ... Jean-Louis Tribes
Alain ... Stanislas Carr de Malberg
Bertrand ... Jamie O'Brien
Madame Vardot ... Isabelle Petit-Jacques
Bernard ... Michael Chaume
Michael ... Jean Claude Falet
Madame de Castell ... Hlne Dujeudin
Teacher ... Dani Claverie-Lucas
Revenue Inspector ... John Rowe
Knife grinder ... Jean Grcault
Foreman ... Didier Jeanaud
Labourer ... Georges Berdot


Writer: David Reid
Director: Simon Shore
Producer: Beryl Vertue
Executive Producer for Meridian: Colin Rogers
Photography: Gavin Finney
Film Editor: Barry Vince
Production Designer: Alison Riva
Music: Daemion Barry
Sound: Graham Ross


Filming The English Wife in the beautiful French countryside enabled Zo to relax a little.  The cast and crew spent around two months filming on location in picturesque Aubeterre-sur-Dronne.

As Zoe explained in an interview at the time, the drama offered ' a wonderful opportunity to work in France with French actors and a young director, Simon Shore [...] I've only been to France twice in my life.  But I've always been in love with it, the wine, the food and the enjoyment of the life they have.  So I was in heaven.' 

In her role as the wife of a crook, Zoe gives a typically multi-layered performance.  'On the surface, they [Caroline and her husband] are a couple with a very glamorous lifestyle,' she remarked when the drama was originally broadcast, 'but all sorts of dodgy things are going on underneath.  People are after them for money, and they can't cope with their son.  It would have been easy to play them as cut-out villains but there's more to them than that.  I actually felt a lot of sympathy for my character.'

While a fight between Caroline and Elena was well choreographed, Geraldine O'Rawe (who plays Elena) told The Stage: 'by the time we shot the scene, emotions were so heightened that the dialogue was completely improvised.  It really seemed to come from the heart.'

The English Wife won the Silver Hugo award at the 31st Chicago International Film Festival in 1996.

Shortly before appearing in The English Wife, Zo starred in a BBC Radio 4 drama as Caroline's transatlantic equivalent.  Three-part series The American Wife was written especially for Zo by Richard Nelson and originally broadcast during January/February 1996.  She played Ann, who finds herself emotionally and culturally isolated, after leaving her home in the USA and marrying an unfaithful Englishman.  Together, The English Wife and The American Wife draw on Zo's Anglo-American cultural background.

Related links

Rex Features: The English Wife photos (from the programme and behind-the-scenes)

Hartswood Films: The English Wife programme details

IMDb: The English Wife programme details

BFI Film & TV Database: The English Wife programme details

With thanks to Nadine for the photos.

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