John Madden: The Oscar-winning Old Cliftonian

John Madden: The Oscar-winning Old Cliftonian


The latest in our Clifton Memories series sees us look at the early days, artistic inspirations and the exceptional film career of Oscar-winning John Madden, the director behind Shakespeare In Love and The Best Exotic Marigold 

Hotel. It all started at Clifton College.

Read our biography of Old Cliftonian John Madden here.

The building blocks for success

Born on the 8th April 1949 in Portsmouth, Madden showed his passion for the arts at an early age. Madden excelled during his education at Clifton College, and his love of all things theatrical led to a budding friendship with pupil Roger Mitchell, who would go on to direct hits such as Notting Hill and Changing Lanes.

Life at Clifton provided Madden with the foundations necessary to further both his academic and directorial passions. He went on to study for a BA degree in English Literature at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1970.

After working in theatre posts in the UK, Madden moved to Wisconsin to work on the National Public Radio project Earplay, and later taught playwriting at the Yale School of Drama. 

Starting out on the small screen

After Earplay’s demise in 1983, Madden returned to the UK where he worked on series such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse, The Widowmaker and the 1990 detective drama Prime Suspect. Starring Helen Mirren, Prime Suspect ran for seven seasons, becoming a staple on ITV and earning Madden a BAFTA nomination.

Making his mark in the film world

Madden’s success on TV saw him graduate to big screen projects. He used the love of literature that had followed him from his early days at Clifton to embark upon turning the Edith Wharton masterpiece Ethan Frome into his first feature film starring Liam Neeson and Patricia Arquette. Madden went on to direct the 1994 FBI drama Golden Gate which was met with mixed reviews. 

1997’s Mrs Brown was Madden's biggest success yet. The romantic story about Queen Victoria after the death of her husband won Dame Judi Dench an Academy Award nomination for her role as the monarch and earned more than $13m worldwide, giving Madden a higher profile than ever before. However, it was his next film, 1998’s Shakespeare in Love, that got him recognised on the world stage.

Directing Shakespeare in Love


With an A-list cast that included Joseph Fiennes in the title role alongside Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck and Judi Dench, Madden’s direction brought the ensemble cast together.

In an interview with the BBC, Madden said that Shakespeare in Love was a "dream project", but that it was difficult to make. "Comedies are notoriously difficult and this was more difficult than most because of the demands of the language style, never mind the complexity of the film and the number of stories it was telling.

“But I was inspired by Tom Stoppard’s script. We all knew we were working on something wonderful and praying we were doing something right."

Critics and audiences alike adored the period drama, with Janet Maslin of The New York Times describing it as “pure enchantment”, and Rotten Tomatoes awarding it a score of 92%. Madden was lauded at the 52nd BAFTA awards ceremony, with the film being nominated for fifteen awards and winning three, including Best Film. It was a similar story at the 71st Oscars awards ceremony, with Shakespeare in Love nominated in thirteen categories (including Best Director for Madden).

It was the big winner of that year’s awards, taking home seven gongs including the all-important Best Picture – beating Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan in the process.

Continued success in the 21st century

Following the success of Shakespeare in Love, Madden’s gift for directing continued to translate into big screen success. He went on to direct a further seven films, most notably Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

The latter two films both incorporated the ensemble cast that Madden has become known for, and were again substantial box office successes. He then went on to make Miss Sloane, a political thriller starring Jessica Chastain as the anti-gun lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane, which won her a Golden Globe nomination.

Of course, as Madden has come from relative obscurity to enjoy the fruits of success, he has made it a personal mission to encourage young and unknown directorial stars to pursue their creative goals. As an active Jury Member of the digital studio Filmika, he brings such stars to the attention of industry experts with the aim of furthering their film making careers.

Start here, go anywhere

We are very proud of the many and varied successes of the College’s alumni. Among other things, we aim to foster a love of the Arts that can last a lifetime and lead to a range of careers and interests, from performing on stage or screen to playwriting and film making. If you’d like to take a look at what we offer or when our next open days are taking place, then you can do so here