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British lead and supporting actress Pauline Collins is most closely associated with the role of Shirley Valentine from the play and 1988 film. For her portrayal of the frowsy British housewife who escapes to Greece to find herself, Collins won a Golden Globe, a BAFTA award, and an American Oscar nomination. For the theatrical version, which opened in 1989 at the Booth Theater in New York, she won many awards including a Tony, a Drama Desk Award, and the Outer Critics Circle Award. In Great Britain, Collins is perhaps best known for her many years as a television actress in shows such as Upstairs Downstairs, Thomas and Sarah, and Forever Green, in which she co-starred with her husband, John Alderton. In 1997, Collins played a leading role in Paradise Road, the story of women incarcerated in a POW camp during WWII who defied their Japanese captors by founding a vocal orchestra.

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