Fiona Shaw: From muggle to Marnie

Fiona Shaw as Aunt Petunia
Fiona Shaw as Aunt Petunia

Alan Ball’s casting of actress Fiona Shaw caught many fans, of both HBO’s originals series True Blood and the actress herself, by surprise. Many, familiar with Shaw only through the Harry Potter films. wondered whether Harry’s muggle Aunt Petunia Dursley could muster the magic needed to become the evil were-witch Hallow. In fact, Shaw has quite the impressive preternatural resume.

Shaw’s first brush with the preternatural arguably came in 1984 when she portrayed Miss Morrison in The Crooked Man episode of TV series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The great detective would, of course, deny any supernatural or paranormal links to his cases, however, his powers of observation and deduction are so far beyond that of the common man as to merit the term. Four years later, Shaw would take up the role of Clytemnestra, born of the same egg as her sister Helen of Troy although they had different fathers and the wife of Agamemnon, in the Iphigenia at Aulis episode of the television series Theatre Night, firmly placing her among the ranks of preternatural stars.

In 1993, Shaw entered the world of video games as Lena in Super Mario Bros. She would reprise the role, or at least discuss it, four years later in The Making of Super Mario Bros., a short film made for television.

It wasn’t until the 21st Century, however, that Shaw would really establish herself as a preternatural icon. Even before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone hit theaters in 2001, she had made her mark in the preternatural community as Irma Prunesquallor in the television mini-series Gormenghast. It is worth noting that another future Harry Potter alum, Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursley), also appeared in Gormenghast as did Stephen Fry (who narrates the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire video game), The Tudors Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Dracula (or Saruman) himself (Christopher Lee). For those who don’t know, Titus Awakes: A Novel, the fourth and final book  in Mervyn Peakes’ epic series which was thought never to have been completed, has been found and was published on 7 July, 2011.

Shaw’s tenure as Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter franchise has endured from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone to the most recent Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Although Petunia is a muggle and has no magic, she plays a central and influential role in Harry’s life.

“Of course we knew. How could you not be? My perfect sister being who she was. My Mother and father were so proud the day she got her letter. ‘We have a witch in the family. Isn’t it wonderful?’ I was the only one to see her for what she was…a freak! And then she met that Potter. And then she had you, and I knew you would be the same. Just as strange, just as…abnormal. And then, if you please, she went and got herself blown up, and we got landed with you.” Petunia Dursley, Harry Potter and the Socerer’s Stone.

Some will point out that this quote, the first real glimpse we get inside of Aunt Petunia is nothing but sour grapes because it was Lily, not petunia who was the witch. This may well be, for it is after Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that Shaw becomes a witch, or at least the voices for the witches in the English version of the Spanish and Portugues production of the Shakespeare inspired Midsummer Dream animated film. In an interesting twist, Billy Boyd (Pippin/Peregrin Took from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy) voiced Puck in the English version of Midsummer Dream.

Shaw also had brushes with the preternatual as Agatha in Dorian Gray and Grandmother in The Tree of Life which is currently in theaters around the globe.

Which brings us to Marnie and True Blood. Although fans of Shaw and the HBO original series True Blood, have only seen the start of Season 4, it is obvious there is more to Marnie Stonebrook than just an aging witch. There are hints she is a talented channel as well as a conniving and calculating witch. Could she also be possessed? Only time and the rest of the rest of True Blood Season 4 will tell.

Fiona Shaw S4
Fiona Shaw as Marnie Stonebrook in True Blood Season 4

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